The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

To Be a Great City, Must We All Look Alike? July 7, 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010


To Be A Great City, Must We All Look Alike?

Recently I received an e-mail from a Dallas church leader whom I greatly respect, and it contained this statement regarding people who are homeless in Dallas: “We don’t want them on our streets.  We don’t want them in our neighborhoods.  We can’t have it both ways.”

The debate on how and where homeless citizens will be housed has long been debated nationally, and the fight of neighborhoods to exclude homeless housing even has its own acronym:  NIMBY — Not In My Backyard.  This conversation in Dallas has recently become more open and heated because of a dispute between the agencies representing homeless citizens — in particular, the Dallas Housing Authority and The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center — and homeowner / business associations in North Oak Cliff, over the city’s plan to house up to one hundred homeless individuals in Cliff Manor.  WhiIe painful, the discussion is also desirable, because it is leading to a higher-profile airing of the many sides of the Permanent Supportive Housing issue.

For me, it brings to mind a question that is not always asked:  why do we object so vehemently to seeing poor people on our streets and in our neighborhoods, and is this objection reasonable?  Is having our streets free of ‘the poor’ a desirable goal?

I am reminded of several visits I made to Paris, France, several years ago when one of my daughters studied and worked there.  I found it to be the most exhilarating and beautiful place I’d ever been — architecturally stunning, and fascinating in its diversity.  The thrilling, dizzying mix of all sorts of people — on the streets, in the crowded cafes, rushing into the Metro; reading, sitting, lying on the grass; running, walking, cycling; old men and kids bowling in the parks — these things make it a vigorous, animated city, and I fell for it the first time I was driven through its environs by my future son-in-law.

I especially liked walking in the evening to the Champ de Mars, the park in front of the Eiffel Tower.  There I saw families picnicking, dogs chasing Frisbees, and people of every description playing games or music — even juggling fire!  Those gathered at day’s end in the large open grassy space are poor and rich, dressed up and dressed simply.

When I compare life in Paris with my experiences working with homeless people in Dallas for the last six and a half years, one particular difference leaps to mind.  Cities across America, including Dallas, continue to develop and implement strategies to get people who are homeless out of sight.  These include passing special laws that target homeless individuals — ‘sleeping in public,’ ‘criminal trespass,’ ‘blocking the sidewalk,’ — so-called ‘Quality of Life’ ordinances for which a person in business clothing would not be ticketed but which allow police to pinpoint those who ‘look homeless’ and try to hustle them from view.

We all know how the Quality-of-Life-Ordinance story concludes:  tickets that cannot be paid by homeless individuals, warrants for their arrest, jail terms which make their complicated life situation even more challenging, the filling of jails with people who are in fact generally not a social threat.  This much-written-about practice of shifting the homeless from emergency services to prison to back on the street is not only the costliest way of doing business, it’s utterly inhumane, because so many of the homeless are mentally ill and do not belong in jail.  So the people authorities want to get rid of haven’t gone anywhere, only now they have more obstacles to overcome in order to get their lives together.  It makes no sense at all.

While we strive here to keep our homeless citizens out of public view by enforcing these laws, in Paris no one was being ticketed for lying on the grass of the park or sitting on its benches, because everybody does these things — talking, laughing, singing, sleeping.  Yet, somehow that city has a spectacular ‘quality of life’ because its public life is vibrant and diverse.

I have come to realize that by trying to control the access of our least fortunate citizens to places and aspects of our common city life, we are attempting to create an environment that is homogeneous and sterile rather than one that is vital and alive.  Could this be a reason why revitalization in downtown Dallas continues to lag?  Is it really interesting to interact with and observe only people who are polished and look as though they just breezed in from ritzy a suburban mall?

The homeless are with us.  When we don’t see them, it is only because they have been forced into hiding.  We are creating a deceptive level of comfort for ourselves by forcing from view people who make us uncomfortable in their poverty.

The desire for homogeneity in communities used to manifest itself primarily in terms of skin color: Jim Crow laws, segregation.  While racism is still a significant problem in our country, now it seems that we at least pay lip service to the desirability of racial diversity, and civil rights laws are in place to enforce equal rights and give access to the judicial system when they are violated.  Whether you believe that racism has gone underground or has actually decreased, it’s still apparently acceptable to shun people because of their economic situation, especially when it comes to individuals who ‘look homeless.’  What is wrong with having people on the streets of our cities who may be dressed in clothing and groomed in a manner that is not ‘up to’ our middle class standards?  It seems to me that successful cities are not merely hothouses designed only for the rich and well-heeled.  A great city is a place where all kinds of people can live, as well as simply ‘be’ — not only people who look or dress a certain way.

Perhaps it would be a good thing if the current discussion, which began by a debate over the location of Permanent Supportive Housing for people experiencing homelessness, precipitated an identity crisis for us as a city and led us to look at ourselves both deeply and objectively.  Is it possible for us to step back and re-invision the Dallas of tomorrow from a different perspective?  Does our vision for ourselves really need to include having our streets free of everyone who doesn’t ‘look like us’?

Recently at Dallas City Council, two homeless women in attendance at the public meeting were asked by an advocate to stand.  Outraged, a city leader said he felt ‘ambushed.’  One puzzles as to what could possibly motivate such a statement.  Perhaps seeing people who are poor being called attention to in a meeting (a meeting that is in fact open to everyone) is offensive to some because it puts a human face on homelessness.  When we see and come to know people who are ‘poor’ as fellow human beings, it’s no longer quite as easy to marginalize them.  Once we see their humanity and recognize it as identical to our own, we may realize: it’s not ‘us and them’.  These could be our neighbors and our friends.

What is the cost to us as a city when we pursue policies that exclude a certain group of people from public life?  Besides the vibrancy which comes from diversity, at risk is also the greater good of the city — its moral fiber, its wholeness, its ability to address and solve hard problems such as homelessness.

I’ll bring up a point that I’ve not heard mentioned as we’re swept along in the tide of this essential and critically important battle to provide housing for 700 to 1000 long-term, street-dwelling homeless people in Dallas:  there will be a few people — a few — who will not want to go into housing, even though the vast majority want very much to be housed.  Therein lies a hidden danger in having as our goal city streets that are pristine in the sense of being homeless-and-beggar-free. It is important that our success in housing people does not become a further excuse to persecute those who are unable or unwilling to be housed.  It is not a ‘blight’ to see people on the streets of our town who ‘look homeless’ — ie, poor — but it is truly tragic when people desperately want housing and are unable get it.

We have to be wary of having as our goal a city which is visibly free of ‘poor’ people if the impetus for that goal is the desire within ourselves to live insulated lives, free of the necessity to view the suffering of others.

As the Dallas public becomes increasingly educated through informed public dialogue about the benefits of Permanent Supportive Housing, perhaps holding in our hearts an honor for our differences can help us understand that those who have had a very different life path from our own can still be excellent neighbors.

It is not easy or simple to walk the path of reaching out to those who are down on their luck by including rather than excluding them from public life, because when we do this, we share in their pain, and we may become temporarily uncomfortable.  But the upside is that our lives will be richer and more meaningful by far when we embrace our differences and realize that we are all — rich, poor, and in between — much greater and finer than we ever dreamed when we are able to work and live together.

KS

This article appears in the July, 2010 edition of Street Zinehttp://www.thestewpot.org/

and on Pegasus News.comhttp://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2010/jul/13/dallas-be-great-city-must-we-all-look-alike/?refscroll=13

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The Medium Is the Message June 25, 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Medium Is the Message


“McLuhan understood “medium” in a broad sense. He identified the light bulb as a clear demonstration of the concept of “the medium is the message”. A light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. He describes the light bulb as a medium without any content. McLuhan states that “a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence.” ~~ Wikipedia


Marshall McLuhan is right.  And that is primarily what I took away from the Town Hall Meeting at Methodist Hospital this past Monday night over the city’s plan to house up to 100 homeless individuals in Oak Cliff Manor.  The [forgive the hyperbole] rabid [forgive the hyperbole again] mob mentality became the message — and the incivility [ understatement] of many in the group was, tragically, mostly what many of us gleaned from the interchange.  Whatever valid points were made by ‘the O.C.’ and its more rational, civil residents were lost in the cat calls and shouting down of speakers by the more outspoken [understatement also] representatives of the neighborhood.  I would have been deeply embarrassed to have them represent me, and I think many of the reasonable Oak Cliff residents may have felt the same.

You can keep up with the unfolding drama here:

http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/

Meanwhile, a message from the thesaurus:

Uncivil:  ‘Lacking in social refinement’

Synonyms:  rude, discourteous, disgracious, disrespectful, ill, ill-bred, ill-mannered, impertinent, impolite, incivil, incondite, inurbane, mannerless, uncalled-for, uncourteous, uncouth, ungracious, unhandsome, unmannered, unmannerly, unpolished, brusque, crusty, curt, gruff, harsh, intrusive, meddlesome, crabbed, surly, boorish, churlish, clownish, loutish


That doesn’t say it all, but it’s a start.

KS

 

‘Tough’ Versus ‘Love’ February 19, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010


‘Tough’ Versus ‘Love’


On the day before the Big Snow of February, 2010, two weeks ago, a Crisis Intervention team from the City of Dallas — (now part of the Dallas Police Department) — raided the homeless camps under a bridge.  All of the personal possessions of the camp inhabitants — clothing, blankets, coats, years’-worth of belongings — were shoveled up by two bulldozers, and four to five loads comprising the contents of the ‘cardboard community’ were dumped into city trucks and taken to the landfill.

Raids by the city of homeless camps are commonplace and routine in Dallas.  I would suggest, however, that our city has reached a new ‘low’ in terms of human decency and compassion when a raid is conducted under these circumstances and in this weather.  Where does one start to address such an occurrence?

By early the following week, people in the camp were still without adequate [cardboard] shelter, blankets, coats and clothing.  Their non-replaceable personal possessions were permanently lost.  Think of the time that intervened between the raid and the week that followed.

At our house, where family members who were without power stayed together, we built a snow igloo, drank coffee, changed wet clothing about ten times a day, scrounged firewood that was dry enough to make a fire in the fireplace, and watched movies together at night under piles of blankets.  Even with the added warmth of the fireplace, the central heating rarely stopped.  It was a great snow — a fun adventure.

Not so much fun, however, if you’d just lost your cardboard home and everything you own in a raid by a city that is supposed to have your best interest at heart.

Witnesses to the ‘sweep’ say that, just prior to the raid, no warning was given.  The trucks arrived at 10 minutes to 2 P.M., and at 2 P.M., the dozers started scooping up the small cardboard community.  It is my understanding that the city has agreed, after outrage by ‘housed’ citizens and advocates about these sweeps in the past, to give at least an hour’s notice to camp dwellers. Instead, in this case, the camp members were allowed a ‘one-time carry’:  in other words, all that they could gather in their arms one time, they were permitted to keep.  Of course, those who were at work at the time of the raid were out of luck.

If you were allowed a ‘one-time’ carry of your personal belongings, what would you choose?

Officials are also supposed to offer shelter at the time of the raid as an option.  Witnesses say this procedure was not followed in this case.

Here is the city’s perspective:  they want to force these homeless individuals into shelters.  But the individuals involved don’t want to go.

The shelters provide an invaluable, lifesaving service with remarkable dedication.  Yet there are good reasons why some people don’t want to go into them, feeling that they’re safer in a community on the street.

If  the goal of these raids is to encourage homeless individuals to get permanently off the street, it seems counterproductive to seize their belongings, when these belongings often include personal papers such as birth certificates and other identification which are critical to seeking housing.

Could it be that, if we’ve spent $23 million on a homeless assistance center and still have people living on the street, their presence is simply an affront to the city’s stated goal of Ending Homelessness by 2014?

These sweeps by the city are obviously ineffective, inhumane, and have been rejected by many cities nationwide as unacceptable practice in dealing with street-dwelling homelessness.  It is a mark against our city that they continue here with impunity.

KS

Link:  Pegasus News: “Dallas homeless sweeps are counterproductive”

http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2010/feb/22/dallas-homeless-sweeps-are-counterproductive/


Link:  Dallas Homeless Network Blog:

http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/2010/02/tough-versus-love-dallas-homeless.html

 

Cold Weather Policy and Our Homeless Neighbors February 14, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Cold Weather Policy and Our Homeless Neighbors


Driving around downtown in the cold weather in the days preceding the Big Snow in Dallas, I began pondering our city’s Cold Weather Policy for our neighbors who are living on the street.  I had recently learned during the monthly Homeless Advocacy Meeting at The Stewpot that a January, 2010 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless points to 40 degrees F as the temperature recommended for activation of Cold Weather Policy nationwide.

The City of Dallas currently has a policy of 32 degrees — freezing — for such activation:  putting shelters on overflow and opening enough emergency shelters to give everyone a bed.

I was happy to learn this week from Dennis Strickland, Lead Case Worker at The Bridge, that staff there has implemented a policy closer to the NCH recommendation:  37 degrees, or a wind chill of 37 degrees.  They also now allow ‘self-referral’ of guests after 10 PM during cold weather.  There was at least one night during the Big Snow that the gates of The Bridge were not closed for re-entry at 10 P.M., which means there was an open campus. Homeless guests are allowed to sit up in the Welcome Center all night, and, if necessary after referrals and pick up from other shelters, the dining room can be opened for sleeping after getting in extra staff.

These are important and significant improvements over last winter and show an ongoing commitment to accommodate our friends on the street and keep them safe from injury and hypothermia.  The Bridge staff seem to be coping as best they can within the limits of their space availability.

I would love the see the city as a whole move toward adopting all of the recommendations in the NCH report.  The entire report is worth a read.  Here are some highlights that struck me as particularly pertinent.  It is of particular concern that, although ours is far from the most harsh climate in the United States, it is in fact the most dangerous for people living outdoors.

http://www.nationalhomeless.org/publications/winter_weather/index.html

p. 15

the most dangerous cases of hypothermia do not occur when the ambient temperature is far below freezing.  Instead, Dr. O’Connell says, the worst cases they see arise when the days are warm (between 40F and 50F) and the nighttime temperature drops to the mid-30’s.

Temperature cut-offs should be avoided, since the effectiveness of a shelter is decreased when the population it serves does not know, from night to night, whether the shelter will be open.  If a temperature cut-off is necessary, due to financial or other reasons, the cut-off should be at least 40F in order to prevent the most dangerous cases of hypothermia, according to Dr. O’Connell.

p.17

An exemplary winter shelter would be open 24 hours each day between October 1 and April 30, regardless of temperature, as well as any other days during the year when the temperature falls below 40F.  It would also admit all homeless people, regardless of sobriety status or past bans, unless they are violent or causing an extreme disturbance.

It is also important to note that a consistent, across-the-board policy throughout a set number of months and all shelters builds trust between the homeless population and the service providers attempting to help them and indeed to keep them alive.

KS

http://www.nationalhomeless.org/

 

Comfort and Community January 12, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Comfort and Community


There’s both a reality and a myth, it would seem, that some people experiencing homelessness would choose to stay on the street even if they were offered shelter.  I’ve been one of those among many who has said in the past, ‘I don’t know anyone who would rather be on the street than indoors.’

Yet look at this video from Channel 11 during last week’s bitter cold snap:

http://cbs11tv.com/local/operation.code.blue.2.1409978.html


When I saw in the Dallas Morning News on January 6 stating that city officials were launching Operation Code Blue to try to get people indoors for the bitterly cold weather that was upon us, I felt both hopeful and cynical:  we’ve been through these ‘Operations’ more than once, and what that has sometimes meant for ‘homeless’ people walking around downtown has been offering them the limited options of shelter, mental health facilities or getting a citation.  At the camps, it’s generally meant ticketing and as well as confiscating the temporary homes and belongings of those living there — even as recently as a few weeks ago.

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/010710dnmetcoldhomeless.4f9af7d0.html

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/DN-codeblue_07met.ART0.State.Edition2.4bb01fe.html

I’ve often wondered, is the theory of the these city policies that if you take misery and add to it a greater portion of misery, the sum of the misery will encourage people to make a change?  I’m not sure if that accurately elucidates the philosophy, but I know it doesn’t work, as has been proven time and again both in Dallas and across the world.  People have to be ready to move out of their situation, and their options have to be manageable.

I won’t attempt to explain the complexities of why someone would turn down shelter on a night in Dallas when the temperatures sink into the teens, because I don’t fully understand them.  For certain, in past winters, I’ve known many people experiencing homelessness who have sought refuge in Dallas shelters and the homeless assistance center and been turned away for lack of space — even when the shelters have expanded their hours (beyond a 4 P.M. cutoff to secure a space) and lifted their space limitations to accommodate more people for cold weather policies.  Certainly a number of people living outdoors have increasingly lost faith in the system that provides shelter.  Yet I got an additional insight into their perspective last Thursday afternoon when I drove to one of the camps with one of my adult daughters to see how people were faring in the bitter cold.

We pulled up in my car and spoke to one of the camp leaders, whom I know.*

I introduced him to my daughter and asked, ‘So the city’s been here trying to get you all to go into shelters?  How did that go?’

‘Did you see us on television?’  he asked.  ‘We didn’t want to go.’

I said I hadn’t seen the television coverage.  ‘Is the city strong-arming you?’ I asked him, and, to my surprise and relief, he said, ‘No.’

Then he surveyed the immediate landscape of surprisingly tidy cardboard homes and belongings stored in plastic bags along the sidewalk under a freeway overpass, and he swept his hand in an arc over what was around us.  And a look of tenderness that took me aback passed over the face of this tough man.

‘This is our safety,’ he told my daughter and me.  ‘This is our shelter.’  There was pride in his voice.

And in that moment, I understood something that I haven’t quite fully gotten in my six years of visiting the camps from time to time.  Whatever camp life looks like to the rest of us — and, in this weather, it looks pretty grim — it represents life, community, survival and independence to the people who live there.  It may not seem like much compared to the comforts of a warm place to sleep, and yet…

After all, independence and self-sufficiency are two of the premier American — and democratic — values, are they not?

I believe that, until we understand this sense of and desire for community, operating alongside autonomy, which every human being needs and values above many other things (apparently including comfort and convenience), we will have great difficulty in resolving the issue of long-term street-dwelling homelessness.

KS

*[Ironically, this is the same man whose Bible and birth certificate were confiscated by the city in a sweep which I wrote about in this blog post.  This is a perfect example of the counterproductivity of the sweeps, as, at the time of this post, he was very motivated and going through the process of getting off the street, yet he’s still out there.]

https://theintermittentvolunteer.wordpress.com/?s=the+bible+and+the+birth+certificate

 

Overwhelming Need November 14, 2009

 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

With winter upon us, it’s a good time to reflect upon the extremes of need that will exist this year for those who are not yet housed and are living on the street.  I found this entry in my journal from the end of last summer, when I still volunteered at the Second Chance Cafe, run by The Stewpot at the Bridge, and thought I would share it.  KS


Journal Archives, Friday, August 16, 2008


Overwhelming Need


Sometimes the amount of need among people who are experiencing homeless in Dallas — even with the welcome advent of the Bridge, our new homeless assistance center — seems overwhelming.  This was one of those nights.  The enormity of the problems of the people involved, the monumental scope of the pain in their lives, the scarcity of readily available solutions, such as adequate housing:  these things were at the forefront of my mind tonight as I left the Second Chance Cafe at the Bridge after helping to serve dinner to somewhere between seven hundred and eight hundred people.

 

Of course, this evening’s bright spot was, as it always is, looking into the eyes of people as they came through the food line.  Always, but even more so tonight, the eyes of the guests meeting mine as they came through the line — almost without exception — were full of light, respect and dignity, longing for acceptance,  willingness to respond with love to the smallest kindness — so much more so than I would ever be able to be in their circumstances.  They almost always say ‘Very Blessed,’ or at the least ‘Can’t complain,’ when asked how they are doing.  The other great blessings are the other volunteers, who show up every week, and the Stewpot staff, which shows up every day.

 

I find that if I just hand somebody a plate in the food line at the Bridge, they may be looking down, preoccupied or frowning, and go on their way with a ‘thank you,’ but without ever looking up.  If I greet them or ask how they are doing, their whole face, their whole being changes — they become radiant.  If I say their name, they become a friend.  And that is no different than you or me.  It’s just that the desperate nature of their circumstances keeps it real:  they know how much it means to have a friend, and what it means not to have any.

 

Why is it that sometimes, like tonight, I look at homeless individuals and the scope of homelessness in Dallas and feel weighed down by the challenges?  Is it seeing people as their ‘diagnosis’ or label rather than seeing them just as the people they are, in the here and now?  Maybe. 

 

I usually see the beauty when I go to the Bridge.  Tonight I could only see how far there is to go.  It was one of those rare times when I say to myself, “How do those who deal with this face to face every single day — for example, the Stewpot staff or the caseworkers and management at the Bridge — how do they do it all the time without losing hope or becoming jaded?”  Granted, I think, write or talk about homelessness in Dallas every day, but I go to the Bridge only a couple of times a month.

 

Perhaps it’s a ‘fix-it’ mentality that one can get into, although trying to ‘fix it’ is a necessary component of approaching the problem as a whole.  Sometimes, though, until we can figure out what we need to ‘do,’ maybe it has to be enough just to go to where the pain is and ‘be with’ it.  It seems that there is tremendous grace in that.  In face, maybe, while action is necessary, being present for someone is the most important part of taking action anyway.

 

Granted, it may not be enough to ‘hang out’ with people who are experiencing homelessness.  But being with them, talking with them, sharing their concerns — one human to another — is one of the most essential parts of what we do, just as it is with our families.

 

KS

 

Standing in a Circle August 28, 2009

 

Friday, August 28, 2009

 

Standing in a Circle

 

Imagine that each of us who cares about and works to solve the problem of long-term, street-dwelling homelessness in Dallas is standing in a circle.  In the center of the circle is the problem — one that is enormous and complex:  it is a given that each of us sees it and its solutions from a different perspective because of the position in the circle which we stand.

 

Some of us sit at desks inside nonprofits and make policy.  Maybe we ‘make the rounds’ to see how things are ‘on the ground’ within our organization, or maybe we don’t.  This alone will help determine our perspective. Those who do make the rounds and who attempt to be the link between the employees on the ground, the homeless guests, those who sit upstairs making policy, and the public have a particularly hard job.

 

Others inside nonprofits work closely with the homeless population in a direct way, talking to them, touching them.  Some of us befriend them; others think we should keep our distance.  Friendship is vital to those on the street who have nothing: so are boundaries.  Which looks more vital depends on where we stand.

 

Some of us take our homeless friends into our churches and homes for meals and prayers when no one else wants them.  Others of us go out on the street and offer hungry people food and drink people.  All of it matters.

 

Some of us go out, from time to time, and talk to people where they live in cardboard boxes under freeway overpasses, or where they sleep, as best they can, out of sight in the city.  This is one of the things I occasionally do (there are others who do much, much more.)  I listen to and try to understand their problems and struggles; I bring them clean, dry clothing;  I drive them to the doctor.  I go home and research what services are available to help them, and I share the possible solutions with my friends under the bridge, offering to aid them in getting through the system. Sometimes I plead with them to get help a particular kind help if I think it’s vital.  But they are human beings and are free to choose what is best for them.

 

For one of my friends, her place ‘in the circle’ this week was at the gates of a highly visible and well-funded nonprofit serving the homeless population in Dallas.  There, she observed and documented abusive language by guards directed towards homeless people trying to gain admittance to the property.  Not every guard.  Not every homeless person.  But any is too many.  This verbal abuse by some employees has been a common and persistant practice since this facility opened.  Why is it still happening, my friend wants to know?  She shared this information with the staff of the nonprofit itself and with others in the service community.

 

Others ‘in the circle’ criticized how and why she did what she did.  Why didn’t she do it differently?  Better still, why didn’t she ask them how they wanted her to do it?  The answer is that she stands at her own place in the circle, and it’s a place very few have the ability or fortitude to stand.  She is one of the very few people who successfully brave the often thankless role of ‘linking person’ between the ‘powers that be’ regarding homelessness in Dallas and the extremely vulnerable people on the street.  I don’t know anyone who could do what she does.  I most certainly could not.

 

How things look when I stand with my friends who are living under the freeway overpass is quite different from how things look sitting in an office making policy that determines much of how they live, but that does not mean my view is more right or that it’s better.  It simply means that I have information — in my mind, in my heart, in my soul, in my experience — that someone who has not been there doesn’t have.  

 

It is equally true that someone sitting in an office in a nonprofit agency or at City Hall may have a great deal of information that I don’t have — an overview, or an awareness of the scope of certain problems.  From this, perhaps they design a policy that seems good and even vital, but that policy may look untenable from where I stand.

 

I try to carry forward with me as I go along my path the assumption of good will from everyone in the circle toward our friends on the street.  It is easy to become cynical as I listen to expert public relations and know full well that what happens in practice is quite different from how it seems in a sound byte, and that how it sounds is going to have a great deal more impact on public policy and opinion than how it is — because the people experiencing the results of policy generally don’t have a voice.

 

KS