The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

A Message From Karen Dudley & The Dallas International Street Church August 15, 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Personal Message 


Pastor Karen   

 “Where there is no vision the people perish”

Proverbs 29:18

In talking with more and more youth there seems to be a lack of vision for their generation.  Many are meandering through life without purpose or goals.  With this mindset it should come as no suprise that many find themselves in bondage to drugs, alcohol, cutting and abusive relationships.  In other words they are perishing. And adults are no better in that they suffer from the same emptiness.  No vision.  Thats where the church stands in and and cast the vision of God before His people in order that they may get a vision for themselves, their marriage, their family, etc. If we want to stop the perishing in our communities then we the church must begin to cast the vision of God but before we can do that we must first have a vision of God ourselves.




Small Things With Great Love December 19, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011


Small Things With Great Love


My son-in-law sent me this story today.  What these two people are doing is not small, but the love they express — each in her or his own way — is great indeed.  It reminds me, despite the difficulties in the world, that there are people out there quietly doing wonderful things every day.  KS





Austrian chef, Catholic nun are spirit behind Trinity Cafe

Monday, December 19, 2011 01:16:00 AM

Dec. 19–TAMPA — Alfred Astl frets a lot.

And with good reason: He’s the chef at Trinity Cafe, a restaurant that serves the homeless and working poor in downtown Tampa. He operates on a razor-thin budget, stretching pennies instead of dollars, in order to feed the growing throng of hungry people who come for a free noontime meal Monday through Friday.

“He always thinks he’s going to run out, which he never does,” confides Sister Maureen Dorr, the 81-year-old Franciscan nun who stopped in to volunteer 10 years ago and never left.

“I tell him not to worry. I happen to know another man who multiplied. He really had a way with loaves and fishes, and so does Alfred.”

That’s how it is with the Austrian chef with the serious demeanor and the fun-spirited Catholic sister who’s a bit of a flirt. They are the yin and yang of Trinity Cafe. He does the nourishing — creating innovative and well-balanced meals from soup to dessert at about $2 a serving. She does the nurturing — walking among the homeless guests to dispense hugs, give counsel and offer prayers.

“Sister Maureen is an angel on earth. And Chef Alfred is a grizzly with the heart of a teddy bear,” says Cindy Davis, program director. “They are the heart and soul of the cafe. To have them working here together is a real blessing for us and every guest who works through the door.”

Neither seeks out attention. But they got it anyway last month.

Sister Maureen was named a local hero by Bank of America, which came with a $5,000 check. Astl, 61, was chosen as a community hero by the Tampa Bay Lightning — an honor that came with a $50,000 award. Both directed their winnings to the cafe’s food account.

Davis says the windfall came at a time when the nonprofit needs it the most.

The cafe’s $455,000 annual budget — which depends on donations and grants — is being challenged by an increase in the number of people it serves. The limit was supposed to be 200 meals a day; that’s jumped to about 230. And looming in the future is a $650,000 project that will allow the cafe to relocate from its current cramped quarters at the Salvation Army to its own permanent building in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood.

When the cafe eventually moves, it will be open seven days a week. And it will keep that same “dining with dignity” tradition, using volunteers from churches and community organizations to serve patrons at tables covered in white cloths and set with silverware.

That’s a touch Astl insists upon.

Before coming to Trinity Cafe, he spent 35 years in the hotel and food industry, honing his skills as a chef in exclusive settings from Aspen to New York. He worked at a Four Seasons, country clubs, high-end inns and corporations. He owned his own continental restaurant in Tampa with wife, Sandy. He worked for the late George Steinbrenner’s Yankee Trader at Bay Harbor Inn. For four years, he served as division chef for five Rusty Pelican restaurants.

But for all the prestige and money that came with his career, Astl got burned out. He missed out on seeing his two sons grow up. Working six or seven days a week, sometimes 18 hours a day, took a toll on his health.

Then he saw the help wanted ad for a chef to work “five days a week, lunch only.” He thought it would be a nice break for a little while. That was 10 years ago.

Obviously, there are differences. He doesn’t deal in ahi tuna or Kobe beef anymore. He haggles with food proprietors on the cost of odd-shaped chicken breasts. $1.34 a pound? I’ll give you 60 cents.

Good quality food is a must, he says, “but I have to get it cheap.” And nothing is wasted. Today’s leftover braised corn is tomorrow’s corn chowder. Every meal starts with salad or soup, a healthy portion of protein, a starch, a vegetable, a dessert and a piece of fruit. That same gourmet style he developed when working in exclusive restaurants is reflected here.

“I approach this the same way I did everything else — I come in and do the best with what I have,” Astl says. “Only I know this is the only meal of the day for these guests.”

While the chef is working his magic in the kitchen, Sister Maureen is making the rounds in the waiting lines and at the tables. Some of the faces are familiar; once a week, she’s at the jail, counseling and ministering to those who ran afoul of the law. She has a special fondness for the men, and often offers herself as a dance partner in the middle of the dining room.

“Stay with God,” she whispers to a bearded man, sitting forlornly against the fence while waiting for the cafe to open. “He won’t abandon you. Don’t give up. He’s here.”

For 40 years, Sister Maureen worked in education as a teacher and administrator. She says this is just another extension of what she has done since entering religious life at age 17.

“St. Francis taught us about living out the gospel and serving the poor,” she says. “But truth is, I don’t minister to them. I minister with them. I firmly believe there are such good people who have had bad opportunities. They show me the way to God as much as I try to show them.”

She acknowledges her advanced age, but quickly dismisses any notion of retirement. “Nuns don’t retire,” she says with a laugh. “We just get recycled. As long as God gives you the health, you keep on moving.”

Yes, Astl and Sister Maureen admit, their personalities are different. He’s all business, quite serious about the balance between pinching pennies and providing a substantive meal. She’s quick to crack jokes and wrap her arms around a lost soul who needs a human’s touch. Both agree that those differences don’t matter. The bond they share — their compassion for the poor — trumps everything.

“She is marvelous,” Astl says with admiration. “Just marvelous how she connects with everyone.”

“And he is a God-centered man,” Sister Maureen says. “Though he doesn’t think he is, I know it’s true.”



Change November 16, 2011

Filed under: Christianity,healing,inspiration,Leadership,peace,Vocation — Karen Shafer @ 8:02 pm

Wednesday, November 16, 2011



Change — even change for the better — is often approached with apprehension.  “In giving up something,” people think, “will I be left with nothing?”  It takes courage to renounce the known for the unknown.  It is not easy even to renounce a famliar pain for an unknown, and therefore uncertain, happiness.  The mind is like a horse that for years has pulled its delivery wagon.  The horse grows accustomed to its daily route, and cannot be convinced easily to walk a new one.  The mind, too, will not lightly abandon its old habits, even when it knows they cause only misery.


Beneficial changes should be embraced with courage.  As long as one’s hope for better things are opposed by fear of their attainment, the mind can never be at peace.  Accept change, therefore, as life’s only constant.  Our lives are an endless procession of gains and losses, of joys and sorrows, of hopes and disappointments.  At one moment we find ourselves threatened by the storms of trials;  moments later, a silver lining brightens the gray clouds;  then, suddenly, the skies are blue again.


                                  ~~ Paramahansa Yogananda, The Wisdom of Yogananda, Volume 5



Generic Ministry Cares for Boston Homeless in All Weather March 1, 2011


‘Generic Ministry’ cares for Boston homeless in all weather

by Karen Shafer, February 10, 2011

The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.” -Hubert Humphrey, 1977

The Boston area has been slammed by an unusually large amount of snow this winter, even by New England standards — six snowstorms in a month — but that does not stop John Mark, Judi, Mick, Robert, Scott and the dedicated volunteers of Generic Ministry in the small town Needham, Massachusetts from hitting the streets of downtown Boston every Tuesday and Wednesday night to care for those who are homeless.  During a visit to my family in January, 2011, it was my privilege to ride along with this dedicated group for two nights in the midst of the some of Boston’s most extreme weather in years, and to learn a little bit about the situation for our homeless brothers and sisters in the Boston area.  Although Boston provides an adequate number of shelter beds for its homeless population, there are always people in any city who are ‘shelter resistant’ — unable or unwilling to cope with going into shelters, often due to mental illness and its ramifications.


The Generic Ministry van is equipped with shelves of warm clothing organized by size and type, with hanging racks of winter-worthy coats, with bins of socks, underwear and hygiene products, and with military surplus blankets, all of which are stocked and sorted twice weekly by a ‘behind-the-scenes crew’ made up of Robert (who also coordinates all contacts), Rick, and Scott, and by Martha, who finds online deals for the toiletries.  Sandwiches made by school children in Needham and adjacent towns are available, as are bottled water, juice, chips and desserts.


John Mark loads the van on a cold January night


Street feeding is not prohibited in Boston as it currently is in Dallas, and requires no registration or permit, but I was still surprised the first night when we pulled up right on the busy street next to the sidewalk across from Boston Common and opened up the van for the distribution of food and clothing.  The food giveaway is run by volunteers who themselves are formerly homeless, and they were waiting for us in front of a popular hamburger restaurant when we arrived.  Immediately about thirty people came out of nowhere and formed a line behind the truck to request warm clothing, while traffic on the busy street patiently drove around us.  Generic Ministry volunteer Mick filled orders for specific clothing items and sizes from inside the van.  Short a worker for manning the food line, Anthony and James, who head up the formerly-homeless volunteers, put me to work distributing food from a table on the sidewalk, although we had to search for a path through the snow bank, which was about waist high.  (By the time I left the area a week later, the snow banks were higher than your head!)


After everyone had been served, the remaining sandwiches, chips, desserts and bottled water were given to the formerly-homeless volunteers to distribute among people who sleep in train stations, doorways, alleyways, and on church steps throughout the city.  At this point there was ample time for visiting and street counseling.  The Generic Ministry volunteers have warm and mutually-respectful relationships with their street friends and seem to know them well.  They hand out cards printed with information about shelters, emergency services,  medical care and rehabilitation, but their service goes way beyond this.  If someone is in need of transportation to a shelter or the emergency room (there are three major hospitals in the area), they will transport them in their van — or call 911 if appropriate, and they keep track of the situations and challenges of individuals from week to week.


One of the people I’ll always remember from that first night is Harry.  He had brought with him a beautiful spiral bound notebook tied with ribbons, and I saw him ask John Mark for his signature.  It turns out he was collecting autographs in celebration of the life of Sargent Shriver and his advocacy for those living in poverty and with disabilities.  Then he pulled a twenty dollar bill from his pocket and gave it to John Mark as a donation for the ministry.


The next night, as we made the ministry’s usual stops around downtown Boston, Harry met us again at one of the locations to help out.  I was sitting in the front seat of the van with the door open, and he came up to say ‘hi’.  He was so cold that his teeth were chattering and he was shivering, as the temperature edged in the direction of zero for the second night in a row, but his dedication is such that he had gotten a ride from the halfway house where he lives in a small town outside of Boston to come and aid the ministry.  I offered him a blanket to wrap around himself, but he laughed as he declined it — “Oh, I’m not homeless!” he said.  John Mark later told me that Harry had collected clothing for his homeless brothers and sisters in the past and gotten a ride for the half-hour trip to the ministry headquarters to deliver it in person.


A highlight of the Wednesday night outing was a visit to the Pilgrim Church Homeless Shelter in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a neighborhood of Boston, where Generic Ministry delivers desserts weekly.  The shelter operates without guards, metal detectors or policing of any kind, except for the self-policing done by those who stay there, despite the fact that Pilgrim Center takes in men who have been banned from other area shelters.  Out of respect for those who were already bedded down for the night and those who were waiting in line to get in, I walked through quickly, but the order and calm of the shelter space — a church sanctuary with the pews removed — made a deep impression on me.


Later, outside on the snow-covered parking lot, I was introduced to the church’s pastor, The Rev. Mr. John Odams, and I asked him how the shelter works so well without guards.  “We used to have a policeman on duty, but he didn’t have anything to do,” he told me.  “I’m not sure why it works.  Maybe it’s because it’s more an atmosphere of a home than a shelter.”  A large number of those who stay at Pilgrim Shelter have aged out of foster care, not having been adopted by the age of eighteen, so the shelter is run under the direction of the United Homes Adult Services division of Children’s Services of Roxbury.


Keeping an eye on the weather, we left Dorchester and drove into downtown Boston.  An emergency weather declaration had been issued for Boston that night — with the expectation of a winter gale predicted for 9 P.M. and slated to bring at least an additional eight inches of snow on top of the approximately four feet that had already fallen this winter — which means any car blocking roads or impeding snowplows can be towed by the city at the owner’s expense.  As we drove around downtown, emergency vehicles were busy removing cars that had been left parked in order to make way for snow plows and sanding trucks.  Despite the amount of snow that had fallen in the last several weeks, the streets of downtown were clear of snow, having been plowed and sanded aggressively in preparation for the next round that night.


The ministry know the whereabouts of a number of individuals and groups who ‘sleep rough’ in the downtown area and makes about a dozen stops on its Wednesday night rounds.  In front of a downtown Seven-Eleven, we saw one of their ‘regulars’ — Sammy — sitting hunched over on a low windowsill.  Judi got out to check on him, while we pulled over by a snow bank and parked the van next to the sidewalk in the valet area of an elegant-looking restaurant.  I was surprised that no one asked us to move, though there were a number police cars cruising the area, as the streets were still actively being cleared of parked cars.  Judi came back to the van with the message that Sammy had a leg injury and wanted to go inside somewhere for the night, so together she and John Mark helped him into the van.  It had seemed at first that Sammy was willing to go into Pine Street Inn, a major Boston shelter, or to the hospital, but en route to the shelter he made the decision to go back to his camp in the back of a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority train station, so we took him there, and Judi and John Mark helped him limp inside.


Sammy had left Barbara McInnis House (which provides respite medical care for homeless men and women) against medical advice that same week, and, on our way to his camp, he and Judi discussed his plan for re-admittance.  I was struck again by the nonjudgmental and respectful-yet-realistic approach that Judi took with him, acknowledging his rights as an individual to make choices — good or bad — yet encouraging in a calm and supportive way the healthy choice of rehabilitation and medical care.  It is because of this non-patronizing approach that Generic Ministry — called ‘earth people’ by their homeless friends — has the trust and confidence of this extremely wary, at-risk population.


At one point we parked in a cab stand, and the cabbies waited patiently in line behind us as a small group of people lined up for clothing, blankets and sandwiches and we visited with them.  A prosperous-looking man walked by and stopped to watch what we were doing.  He looked at the ‘Generic Ministry’ name on the side of the van and nodded:  “I like it,” he said.


Mick & John Mark making the rounds after a snowstorm

As we continued our rounds, including a visit to another MBTA station encampment, I expressed my surprise that people are allowed to seek out and create their own shelter in the downtown Boston area, considering the restrictions on homeless people in Dallas and other cities and the amount of resources that many cities spend on policing to keep them off the street.  Here is a conversation from a Boston Herald article which seems to sum up the city’s approach towards it homeless citizens.  The article covers a high-profile homeless woman who refused to go indoors for this cold snap, saying she could handle this level of cold.


Homeless woman shuns shelter as temps turn deadly

By Christine McConville / The Pulse / Tuesday, January 25, 2011

“I’m not that cold,” she said, as she showcased her seven layers of clothing. “I can handle it.”Not possible, Boston police Superintendent in Chief Daniel Linskey told the Pulse. While police can’t force people off the streets, he said, he doubts the wisdom of testing the elements.  “This cold is a different type of cold. It’s lethal. You can have negative effects just being exposed to the elements for a few minutes,” Linskey said.

This weekend, the city ordered evening shelters to remain open during the day and relaxed requirements for other, sober-only facilities. There’s the obvious threat of frostbite and hypothermia, said Dr. James O’Connell, who provides medical care for Boston’s many homeless.  And in extreme weather conditions, chronic medical conditions can really tax the body, he said.  “There’s nothing good about staying outside in this,” he said.

Each year in Boston, one or two people die from the extreme cold, he said, numbers kept down by active campaigns to get people into shelters….

No one can force [the woman] indoors.  “It’s a tricky situation,” O’Connell said. “People have the right to live their life the way they want.”

Linskey agreed.  “If someone can show us their sleeping bag and a heat source, and they are lucid and have the method and manner to survive the cold weather, we would allow them that option, if what they are doing is legal,” Linskey said. “If they’re drunk or in harm, we can put them in protective custody, but mainly, we’re just looking for them to go to the shelter.”

Yesterday, the city’s push appeared to be largely working. The Pine Street Inn was setting up extra cots to accommodate the overflow crowd, shelter spokesman Barbara Trevisan said.

O’Connell said he’s seeing some patients indoors for the first time.  “There’s an elderly man in his mid 70s, and this weekend was the first time in 26 years I’ve seen him sleep in a bed, rather than a sidewalk,” he said. “With the bitter cold and all the snow, even though he struggles to be around other people, he realized it’s better to be inside.”

This article seems to represent a fundamentally different view of homeless issues and civil rights than what we are accustomed to seeing in many cities, and certainly in Dallas.  Perhaps it can be classified as ‘non-criminalization’.  One often hears about the ‘rights of individuals’, but this so often means that the rights of those who have financial means supersedes the rights of those who do not:  property owners, business owners and organizations of those who are housed are more likely to be heard than those who are disenfranchised and have nothing.


At our last stop, a small tent camp on Boston Harbor that had been in the news because of the city’s efforts to persuade people living there to come inside during the extreme cold, Judi and John Mark delivered some supplies to the campers on foot.  Then, as we began the drive home, we looked up at the Boston skyline, which was just beginning to be shrouded in a mist of snow.  “It’s here,” said John Mark, of the impending snowstorm.  It was making its appearance just over an hour past its predicted start time and had thankfully given us a grace period to complete our rounds.  By the time we reached my family’s house about twenty minutes away, the footprints that we’d left on the driveway just a few hours earlier were completely obscured by the steadily falling snow.


Generic Ministry, Needham, Massachusetts

Pilgrim Church Homeless Shelter, Dorchester, Massachusetts

Pine Street Inn, Boston, Massachusetts

Barbara McInnis House, Boston, Massachusetts

This article appeared in the March, 2011 issue of Street Zine.


Relationship January 17, 2011

Filed under: Christianity,healing,inspiration,Leadership — Karen Shafer @ 9:47 pm

Monday, January 17, 2011

“You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people.  In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”

~~ Thomas Merton


Psalm 140 January 13, 2011

Filed under: Christianity,inspiration,Leadership — Karen Shafer @ 9:05 pm

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Psalm 140

Deliver Me, O Lord, from Evil Men

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.


1 Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men;

preserve me from violent men,

2 who plan evil things in their heart

and stir up wars continually.

3 They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s,

and under their lips is the venom of asps. Selah


4 Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked;

preserve me from violent men,

who have planned to trip up my feet.

5 The arrogant have hidden a trap for me,

and with cords they have spread a net;

beside the way they have set snares for me. Selah


6 I say to the Lord, You are my God;

give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O Lord!

7 O Lord, my Lord, the strength of my salvation,

you have covered my head in the day of battle.

8 Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked;

do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted! Selah


9 As for the heads of those who surround me,

let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them!

10 Let burning coals fall upon them!

Let them be cast into fire,

into miry pits, no more to rise!

11 Let not the slanderer be established in the land;

let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!


12 I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted,

and will execute justice for the needy.

13 Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name;

the upright shall dwell in your presence.


The Wilkinson Center: ‘Blessed’ November 26, 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010


Here’s a beautiful letter and appeal from Brian Burton, Executive Director of The Wilkinson Center.  It speaks for itself.




Brave people walk through our doors every day. Listen for five minutes to the wide ranging narrative of stories shared by the newly poor, working poor and homeless people, and you will agree.

One of my first awakenings here was walking through the hallways and asking people waiting for food, “How are you today?” Their consistent response surprised me. Despite a life lacking in possessions, safety, security, employment, health or even shelter, I heard them reply to my question over and over, “I’m blessed.”

Often the statement rolls off the tongues of bodies crippled by years of neglect and abuse. Some manage to smile or raise their hand above their head, as though they have discovered a place of solace and hope.

No matter how bad things get for the “I’m blessed” crowd, their attitude transcends circumstances and plucks hope out of thin air. “Tomorrow will be better, things will work out,” they explain to my disbelieving face.

The State of Texas is about to balance much of its galactic deficit on their backs, and yet these “I’m blessed” neighbors will, as they always do, forgive and love the rest of us. Mitigated by faith and our best attempts to “serve” them, they will make their own way with God, step by step, day by day, facing hardship and struggles inconceivable to me.

Indeed, they have discovered a place of solace and hope. It is a place accessible only when all else has been stripped away: a deep overflowing reservoir of faith in God and an implacable belief in a better tomorrow.

This Thanksgiving, given the anxiety that hangs thick in the air we breathe, it behooves us all to tap into that place of faith these neighbors have found so abundantly. In return for guiding us there, the least we could do is to thank them by sharing the resources we have that will make their hopes for a better tomorrow come true.

Thanks for giving,

Brian Burton