The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

You Can’t… August 26, 2013

Monday, August 26, 2013

 

Wise Words From Someone Who Knows…

“You can’t preach [the Gospel] to someone who is starving.

You can’t entertain people who are dying.”

~~  Pastor Karen Dudley, Founder and Senior Pastor, Dallas International Street Church

 

Common Cathedral February 13, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2012

 

Common Cathedral

 

I’ve just been invited by my daughter, her family, and a wonderful friend who is a nurse serving the homeless community in Boston to attend services at Common Cathedral one Sunday in the next few weeks.  Can’t wait!

 

http://ecclesia-ministries.org/common_cathedral.html

 

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

 

Personal Message 

from 

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.

 

 

 

Coercion or Cooperation? January 10, 2012

Monday, January 9, 2012

Coercion or Cooperation?

Pine Street Inn in Boston, Massachusetts, New England’s largest resource for homeless men and women, sends Outreach vans onto the city’s streets 365 nights per year — in the cold, snow and rain — offering homeless men and women help in the form of warm blankets, hot meals, clean clothes and transportation to shelter.  The journal below allows us to follow a van on one night’s journey and details some of the experiences of the shelter’s outreach volunteers.

Imagine just for a moment that you are one of the homeless women or men described in the article.  As you read, ask yourself whether you would respond better to the approach used by Pine Street — one of respect and trust building — or to the methods used by many other cities, which often includes this choice:  “Do you want to go to a shelter or go to jail?”  KS

 

 

One Night’s Journey

December 2011

Have you ever wondered what happens to Boston’s homeless men and women on cold winter nights?



Every night, Pine Street Inn’s Outreach vans head out, loaded with warm blankets, hot meals and clean clothes, offering rides to shelter. Through the cold and snow, the Outreach teams crisscross the city from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., serving people in need.

Here are just a few of the situations that Outreach counselors Nelson, Vincent and Maggie encounter during one night on the vans.

10:05 p.m., Financial District

Outreach counselors find two homeless women in their 60s, Susan and Annie, huddled together in an alley. Susan was assaulted the previous night, and Annie is determined to stay by her side “to protect her.” Maggie offers the women hot soup and a sandwich. She listens as they tell their story, but senses that it will take time to build their trust before they will accept a ride to the shelter. Reluctantly, the Outreach team moves on, but they will check on Susan and Annie again tomorrow.

1:30 a.m., Washington Crossing

Outside a coffee shop, the Outreach team finds Donald, whom they have encouraged to go to shelter before. Tonight, he accepts a ride to Pine Street. On the way, Donald tells the counselors that he has been sick. By the time the van arrives at Pine Street, Vincent has arranged for Donald to see a doctor the next morning.

3:45 a.m., Boston Common

It’s cold and raining when Nelson spots a light coming from under a bridge. There, Nelson finds James, who is trying to stay dry. Nelson has known James for three months and is slowly trying to build his trust and convince him to spend the night at Pine Street. James has not been ready in the past, but tonight when Nelson asks if he’d like a ride to the shelter, James says “yes.”

A warm bed and a hot meal were his first steps on the road to a better life. Today – with the help of Pine Street – James has a full-time job and is living in his own apartment.

5:00 a.m., Pine Street Inn

The outreach vans return to Pine Street and the counselors meet to talk about the individuals they spoke with the night before and prepare for the next night’s journey.

Video link: “Human Dignity is Paramount:

http://www.pinestreetinn.org/about_history.php

http://www.pinestreetinn.org/



 

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.”

 

 

Mayoral Forum Held at The Stewpot April 16, 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2010


Mayoral Forum Held at The Stewpot This Week


The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church, Dallas, held a mayoral forum Thursday, April 14, 2011 to give Dallas Mayoral candidates an opportunity to address questions regarding the concerns and well-being of Dallas homeless citizens.  Present at the event were vendors of the homeless newspaper Street Zine (published by The Stewpot), Stewpot and Crossroads Community Services staff, Bridge Homeless Assistance Center staff and homeless advocates.  The forum was organized by Street Zine Editor, Pat Spradley and other Stewpot staffers, and the candidates were invited to the event by homeless advocate Clare Nilson.

Panelists were former Dallas Police Chief, David Kunkle, and former Homeless Czar, Mike Rawlings. Candidates Ron Natinsky and Edward Okpa were invited but unable to attend.

The questions ranged from their support of sales of the homeless newspaper published by The Stewpot, Street Zine and the needs of homeless citizens generally, to questions about the Bridge Homeless Assistance Center, and specifics regarding the candidates’ opinions of so-called Quality of Life ordinances, passed by Dallas and other cities to limit the presence and movements of homeless citizens in public places.  Those attending learned about the opinions of the men regarding homelessness and a little of their personalities as well.

Everyone involved in the event is appreciative that the two candidates took time to attend and offer their perspectives on the important issues facing those experiencing homelessness in our city.  Much gratitude as well goes to Ms. Spradley, Ms. Nilson and the Rev. Dr. Bruce Buchanan, Executive Director of The Stewpot, as well as Stewpot staff, for hosting this event.

KS

Check the Street Zine Facebook page next week for an update on this important and informational event and see some pictures as well at :

www.facebook.com/pages/Street-Zine/157413954313713?sk=wall

 

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

http://bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1311794

“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

www.genericministry.org

Pilgrim Church Homeless Shelter, Dorchester, Massachusetts

http://www.pilgrimchurch1862.org/ministrytothehomeless/pilgrimhomelessshelter.html

Pine Street Inn, Boston, Massachusetts

http://www.pinestreetinn.org/

Barbara McInnis House, Boston, Massachusetts

http://www.bhchp.org/specializedservices.htmhttp://www.bhchp.org/pdf/BMHBrochure-JYP.pdf

This article appeared in the March, 2011 issue of Street Zine. http://www.thestewpot.org/sz.asp


 

Empty Streets December 14, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Empty Streets


Last night I realized that this is the first year in many that I haven’t given away my winter coat, hat and gloves to someone living on the street.  However, lest this admission be seen as my attempt to cast myself as St. Karen for past impulsive generosity — the same sort of thing I’ve often seen other advocates do — I’ll quickly add that this year’s new self-care feels good.  I ordered a good wool coat from a catalog in early fall and am wearing it right now — indoors, sitting in a cafe.  And I fully intend to keep it with me until spring.

However, if I were inclined to drive around in downtown Dallas, as I’ve done for the past seven winters, and look for people who are out on the street and in need of warm clothing in order to give them something to wear or a blanket, I’d be hard put to find them.  The streets of our fair city are pristine these days late at night — free from those in need or want and, for that matter, of everyone else.

Last week I attended a lecture near downtown that ended around 10 P.M., so I drove through the central business district afterward — past The Stewpot, past The Bridge, past Austin Street Shelter.  It was cold, but not bitter, so there was no one waiting on the sidewalk outside The Bridge for ‘overflow’ to go into effect due to cold weather policy, and I saw only two people, walking quickly, on the streets.  At Austin Street last winter in my ’rounds’, I always found between five and twenty people sleeping either on the sidewalk or in the parking lots adjacent to the shelter.  But this year all of those areas are fenced in, and there was nary a backpack, sleeping bag or plastic-grocery-sack suitcase to be found.

I’d like to think this is a result of the unstinting efforts of homeless service providers and advocates to solve the problem of homelessness in Dallas — that we are a glistening city, a beacon on a hill, because there are no longer any homeless people in the downtown area.  But, as the newly-strengthened panhandling ordinances passed by the Dallas City Council show us, we are still, in Dallas, extremely concerned about the appearance of things, and I think the empty streets are much more likely to be a result of policing.  Our unhoused brothers and sisters are still with us.  They just don’t dare show themselves on the streets of downtown at night.

I’ve written about this in the past, so I won’t repeat my thoughts here.

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

http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2010/jul/13/dallas-be-great-city-must-we-all-look-alike/

But, like many others, I’m concerned that the creation of new ‘solicitation-free zones’ in the expanded ordinance has at its heart a deeper purpose than the desire to protect the middle class and the tourist who are visiting downtown from aggressive and ‘vewy scawey’ panhandling homeless people, and I worry about its application in practice.

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/tv/stories/DN-panhandle_11met.ART.State.Edition1.27fee36.html

Here’s a quote from the Dallas Morning News article above:

“Bradley Kizzia, an attorney for Groden, said he is concerned the ordinance is written so broadly that the city could use it to crack down anytime on people like his client.

Groden was arrested in June for selling conspiracy theory merchandise in Dealey Plaza without authorization. He has sued the city, arguing his free speech rights were infringed.

“Nowhere in the [amended ordinance] does it even mention begging or panhandling. Rather, the ordinance is specifically aimed at ‘solicitation,’ which is broadly defined. I’m suspicious of the city’s intent and how the Dallas Police Department will be asked to apply the ordinance,” Kizzia wrote in a recent e-mail.

Kizzia said the ordinance appears to be tied to the Super Bowl and could be used to round up any number of people the city doesn’t want on the streets.

“The language of the ordinance’s prohibition on ‘solicitation’ is not aimed only at aggressive, coercive, or threatening conduct. Watch it be used against the likes of street musicians in the West End (who leave open their instrument cases for tips) and street preachers who accept donations,” he wrote.

First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers said the ordinance is targeted to panhandlers who work the streets for handouts.”

How will such a broadly written ordinance be interpreted by city officials, and how will it play out to those trying to survive on the streets?  It remains to be seen.

I can’t help feeling, as I reflect on the last seven years during which homelessness in Dallas has been an issue to which I’ve paid attention:  we just don’t get it in Dallas, and we never will.

KS

 

Recipe: Your Tax Dollars at Work August 17, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Recipe:  Your Tax Dollars at Work



Take: one group of faithful Christians from the Korean Church on a recent Sunday

Add: homeless individuals on the streets of downtown Dallas who are hungry and thirsty

Stir gently.

Toss in: food, conversation, loving concern

Let steep at approximately 105 degrees for 15 or 20 minutes.

Add some chilled bottled water.

Stir again.

Let spirits rise.

Bake at somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 degrees heat index.  It is best to cook this in the late afternoon on hot asphalt or concrete.

Just as the recipe is put into the oven, add 9 police cruisers, a paddy wagon and an ambulance.  (Ambulance may be required in case the police cruisers, paddy wagon, homeless citizens and church members don’t combine properly.)

Arrest first two ingredients — homeless people and church members — before they combine completely and something good happens.

Take all to jail and run their names to check for warrants. Be especially careful of the church members, as they can be an explosive, dangerous ingredient, doing good deeds where they may be unwarranted.

Release those ingredients which don’t have warrants.  Put the remaining ingredients in containers.  (Beware:  containers may already be overfilled.)

Yield: your tax dollars at work during an historic budget crisis in Dallas in which about 440 city employees will be laid off.  Though no one in the fire or police departments will be laid off, they will likely be required to take five furlough days by the fiscal year’s end.

http://cbs11tv.com/local/proposed.dallas.budget.2.1851343.html

KS

 

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

 

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

 

Our Calling June 11, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010


Wayne Walker and ‘Our Calling’


I first met Wayne Walker a number of years ago on the parking lot of the then-city-shelter, The Day Resource Center.  It was a Friday night, and, as they did every Friday night, he and his group of fellow church members were serving a delicious hot dinner to around three hundred of Dallas homeless citizens.  They’d allowed me to join them to give away some gently used clothing I’d collected.

After dinner and the clothing giveaway, we all joined hands for a prayer circle, as people took turns praying aloud — for help with housing, with mental illness or addiction challenges, with family problems, or intercessory prayer for loved ones not present.  Everyone seemed to feel free to pour out their hearts with unfettered honesty, because it was clear that here — among this group that went by the name ‘Our Calling’ — people who were accustomed to being judged harshly in society were accepted and loved for exactly who they were.

It surprised me, because Wayne and his group were prosperous-looking, middle-class folks, many from North Dallas, and I wasn’t accustomed to seeing this kind of unconditional love for my street friends from folks who were ‘housed.’  In the coming months, I too would pour out my heart in prayer in front of this extremely diverse group, would (to my embarrassment) begin to cry in front of them over some private heartache, and would find myself lifted up in love by many hands on my shoulders — some weathered from living outdoors and some smooth.

It didn’t take long to realize:  here was Christian Love-In-Action — the way it’s ‘spozed to be’ [to borrow from the title of a book I like a lot.]  All my [unjust] stereotypes of North Dallas churches were swept away.  These people weren’t doing what they did for ‘flash’:  during and after dinner, I’d see them sitting quietly at picnic tables on the parking lot talking caringly to people who were struggling with homelessness, treating them with an equality, lack of condescension and sense of friendship that is rare.

During these years of Friday nights on the Day Resource Center parking lot, we invited then-mayoral-candidate Tom Leppert to come and serve dinner with us, which he graciously did.  I watched as Wayne took Mr. Leppert aside and asked him the ‘hard questions’ about homelessness and how he intended to help.  I was impressed by Wayne’s candor.

Wayne — a happily-married father of four and a trained theologian — was at that time employed to head up the media department of Dallas Theological Seminary.  As I got to know him better over weeks and years, I continued to learn more of (and be moved by) his knowledge and understanding of ‘street culture,’ the very personal relationships he had developed with people living on the streets,  and his unbending compassion and advocacy for the struggles and challenges in their lives.

For as long as I’ve known him, Wayne has expressed a deep longing to help and serve full-time among the ‘poorest of the poor’ living on the streets.  It is such a joy to see him doing that now and getting the recognition he deserves.

KS

Here’s a recent clip about him and his ministry from Channel 8:

http://www.wfaa.com/video/featured-videos/Our-Neighbor-Helping-the-homeless-95497244.html?utm_source=OurCalling+Newsletter&utm_campaign=c83a828ef8-06_03_10&utm_medium=email

http://www.ourcalling.org/

http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/2010/06/called-to-help-homeless.html

 

What Makes a City Great? May 28, 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

What Makes a City Great?


~~ a description of street life in 1788 Paris, France ~~

“Summer arrived, and in Paris the life of the boulevards went on as pleasantly as ever.  Pleasure seekers gathered in the warm evenings to stroll along the broad walks under the huge trees, the roads were filled with carriages, the tables crowded at the outdoor cafes and gardens, where musicians played and people paused to rest and refresh themselves.  A visitor from England admired the ‘cheerfulness and whimsical variety of the spectacle, the confusion of riches and poverty, hotels and hovels, pure air and stinks, people of all sorts and conditions, from the Prince of the blood to the porter.’  Ordinary Parisians put on their best silk breeches and ruffled shirts and came in groups to stroll or dine, dandies paraded on horseback, fashionably dressed women sat at the little tables surrounded by their admirers.  Footmen, enjoying an evening’s liberty, sat and drank beer, old soldiers lounged and smoked, and talked of long-ago campaigns, shopwomen in their chintz gowns flirted with hairdresser’s assistants who courted them, hat in hand.”

“The buildings are very good,” the English traveler went on, “the walks delightful…”  There were amusements in abundance, from plays and acrobats… magicians and rope-dancers… There were puppet shows and concerts… and dancing dogs.  And there were many things to buy, cakes and fruit and flowers, prints and fans and lapdogs.  Peddlers ran along the roads… jumping up on the steps of the fine painted carriages to offer their wares to the elegant ladies and gentlemen inside….  There was much political talk, and the street orators held forth on the evils of the tax burden… but for the most part the worries of the day were forgotten.”

~~ To the Scaffold, The Life of Marie Antoinette, by Carolly Erickson, p. 198


The description of 1788 Paris above reminds me very much of Paris today in terms of its lively culture, and of why I love it.  It’s exhilarating and beautiful — architecturally stunning, but fascinating in its diversity as well.  The thrilling, dizzying mix of all sorts of people — on the streets, in the crowded cafes, rushing into the Metro, old men and kids bowling in the parks, people reading, walking, cycling — make it a vigorous, animated city, and I fell for it the first time I was driven through it’s environs by my future son-in-law about a decade ago.

When I’ve been fortunate enough to go there, I like most to walk in the evening to the Champ de Mars, the park in front of the Eiffel Tower, in order to watch the activities there:  families picnicking, dogs chasing Frisbees, people of every description playing games or music, or even juggling fire!  It is LIFE — vibrant, diverse, thrilling.  The people gathered at day’s end out in the large open space are poor, rich, dressed down, dressed up.  And — imagine this — no one is arresting homeless folks for lying on the grass of the park because everybody lies or sits on the grass — talking, laughing, singing, sleeping.  No ‘Quality of Life’ ordinances being enforced, yet, somehow — voila! — a spectacular quality of life!

One night at 1 A.M., the police blocked off the city streets to make way for over a thousand roller bladers who whizzed past the Eiffel Tower as those of us on the sidewalk whooped and yelled and clapped, cheering them on.  It was a night I’ll remember always.

http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk/

Begging (panhandling in our terms) is a way of life for some in Paris, and even a profession for a few.  I remember my first ride on the Metro (subway).  To my surprise, a father and son came through the train car asking for money.  They were polite, low-key, almost matter-of-fact about begging.  Many people ignored them, some people contributed, they moved on, and that was it.  Not everyone likes begging, not everyone gives, but one can ignore it if one chooses.

What makes a city great?

These are the sorts of things which make a city fantastic and which draw people to it from around the world.  Successful downtowns are not 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 just ‘be’, in open, green spaces — not just people who look or dress a certain way — EVERYONE.

The question of what makes a great city is a topic of heated debate in Dallas right now, particularly in terms of the question of where within the city to place affordable and permanent supportive housing.  Generally, in downtown and in outlying neighborhoods, the attitude towards permanent supportive housing and formerly homeless individuals who might be housed there can be tagged by the acronym NIMBY (not in my backyard.)

Cities across American continue to develop and implement strategies to ‘get the homeless out of sight’, both on a daily basis and in particular for special tourist events like The Olympic Games [see a recent article on Vancouver in The Street Zine, May, 2010.] These include passing ‘special’ laws that target them — ‘sleeping in public,’ ‘criminal trespass,’ ‘blocking the sidewalk,’ as mentioned above — 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 story concludes:  tickets that cannot be paid by the homeless individual, 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.

Rethinking: Let’s Have A Productive ‘Identity Crisis’ in Dallas!

It would be wonderful if this discussion precipitated an identity crisis for us as a city and led us to look at ourselves both deeply and objectively [but I’m trying not to get my hopes up.] What if we took several steps back and reinvisioned the Dallas of tomorrow with new eyes?  Does our vision really need to include having our streets free of everyone who doesn’t ‘look like us?’

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 to some extent (I think it’s both), it’s still apparently acceptable to shun people in terms 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?

Take a look at the debate over where the EVERgreen Residences, a beautifully-designed permanent supportive housing project put forward by First Presbyterian Church Dallas and The Stewpot, will/ will not be built and the at-times rabid opposition by the Expo Park / Deep Ellum business owners and residents.  When providing people access to safe, clean, well-designed permanent supportive housing is supposed give way to the ‘artistic ecosystem’ that is said by residents to be developing in an area where bars and entertainment are a large part of the social scene, maybe it’s time to seriously reconsider our priorities and the power that affluent neighborhood associations have to scuttle much-needed projects in Dallas.

http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2010/04/what.php

http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2010/04/strong_expo_park_showing_oppos.php

http://forum.dallasmetropolis.com/showthread.php?p=370143

Small groups with large opinions should be a part of policy making, but they should not be allowed to dominate it. When they do, nobody wins — except the influential neighborhood groups in the short run, and perhaps the particular council person in the area in the next election.  What is lost is the greater good of the city, its moral fiber, its wholeness, its ability to address and solve hard problems such as homelessness. So far in Dallas, in terms of housing, we have valiant efforts being undercut for the most part by powerful, affluent localized forces — a stalemate.

Where is bold, morally courageous, visionary leadership at the city government level?  If it’s going to show up, this would be a good time.  We have a lot of homeless and working people to house.  And housing is the only way we’re ever really going to get them off the street.

KS

A recommended read by Jim Schutze in The Dallas Observer: “City Hall’s Desire For A Fancy Downtown (Without Too Many Poor People) Costs Developers $30 Million”

http://www.dallasobserver.com/2010-05-06/news/city-hall-s-desire-for-a-fancy-downtown-without-too-many-poor-people-costs-developers-30-million/

This from the comments:  * JimS 05/08/2010 9:53:44 AM • There is an important element in this story which I neglected to get into my column or the subsequent blog item. The decision by Lockey and Mackenzie to obey the HUD rules and provide the amount of affordable housing called for in HUD’s national guideline was in good part a market decision. They told me they looked at what had been built already downtown and saw way more high-end capacity than the market wanted to absorb. They were well aware of the weaknesses in several of the completed projects and could see, for example, that Prudential would foreclose on the Mosaic, as in fact it did this week. They said to me, Why provide more chocolate cake when the market already has more chocolate cake than it can eat? So they saw a project that was more than half affordable as a good market play  – something that would rent up quickly instead of going belly up. I get the impression both of them also are people who think working people and young people are good for downtowns. And think about it. If you went to the quarter in New Orleans and all of a sudden it looked like Snyder Plaza in Highland Park, would you go back? Downtown Dallas is frozen and sterile because the people running it are afraid of anybody who isn’t rich. It would help if they were white, too. But that’s a suburb. Actually even our suburbs are more diverse than what has been created downtown. What we really see is an attempt at a replication of the Park Cities, where most of the decision-makers probably live. It’s their idea of cool. But they’re not cool. And they’re also not moving into it. To work for them, downtown Dallas would have to be Carmel. Which would suck. Anyway, I see a lot of comment here about listening to market forces. I think MacKenzie and Lockey would agree. They listened. The market forces said, More affordable. And City hall said, You’re toast.

 

It’s a Good Question, Isn’t It? May 14, 2010

Friday, May 14, 2010

It’s a Good Question, Isn’t It?

I first heard this song on a CD given to me by my friend, Sandy, and it’s one of my CD’s now:  Give Us Your Poor: 17 New Recordings To Help End Homelessness (Appleseed Recordings). Have you ever asked yourself this question?  We need to keep asking it. KS

Here and Now

by Mark Erelli

Cobblestone pillow
Newspaper sheets
Ten below zero
Sleeping on the street

Someday we all will have a home
A place to come in from the cold
Somewhere so high above the clouds
Why not here
Why not now

Pastures of plenty
For the tired and poor
Still too many hands empty
Behind the golden door

Someday we all will have a home
A place to come in from the cold
Somewhere so high above the clouds
Why not here
Why not now

Someday we all will live the dream
There’ll be no cracks to fall between
Somewhere where everyone will have enough
But here and now
It’s up to us

Someday we all will be at peace
And all of our suffering will cease
There’s more than enough to go around
Why not here
Why not now

Why not here?
Why not now?


 

‘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

 

Streamlined December 12, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Written December 2, 2009

Streamlined


“Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.”

~~ Matthew 5:42

My friend, Gabriela, who owns a lovely cafe in my neighborhood, has a streamlined method of communicating with me about clothing she collects for our neighbors experiencing homelessness downtown, because she’s done this kind deed so often.  Her e-mail says simply:  “Hey there, I have some male and female clothing items – shall i take them to your house?  pls advise.”  They appear at my house shortly, and I put them in the trunk of my car.

Shopping at Target tonight, I walk out into a cold rain, and an impulse tells me that this is the night.  Moving the clothes — two large bags — from my trunk into my front seat, I head to a place where I know people are sleeping outdoors under cardboard.

On my way, I drive through downtown, and the streets are whistle-clean of humans.  That means every single person without a home has a bed tonight, doesn’t it?  All six (or is it ten?) thousand of them?  Or have they somehow magically been swept away?

I say the streets are clear of human beings, but on a St. Paul Street corner, I pass woman with a small child knocking on the door at Family Gateway.  Since it is cold, dark and almost bedtime, I stop my car beside them.  ‘Do you have a place inside the Center already reserved?’  I ask the young mother.  ‘Yes, I have a room.  I go to school at night.  We just can’t get anybody to come to the door.  We’ve been here quite a while.’  ‘Let me call someone,’ I tell her.  ‘If you can’t get in, I’ll take you somewhere.’  I call my friend, Clare — who knows everything about helping people — to get a phone number for Crisis Intervention, realize I already have one, and just then, inside the glass door of the Center, a woman holding an infant opens the door for the mother and her little boy.  Thank God for the place.  Thank God when things work.

I drive to the encampment — a small gathering of cardboard-box houses — pull up and stop the car.  I haven’t been here for a while — the camp looks very sparse:  streamlined, as though it’s been cut down to its barest bare essentials.  It’s quite dark — not a spark of a campfire on this cold wet night.  I roll down my passenger window and ask the first woman who approaches if H. is there, a man whom I know I can trust.  She says, ‘I’m Samarah.  First I want to pray with you.’

I start to get out, but she says, ‘Just stay in the car,’ and takes my hand through the window, across the seat.  She talks for a while, then asks for prayers about her alcoholism.  I offer her some clothes.  ‘Na, I’m all right,’ she says.

A second woman says, ‘I’m ___’s wife — I just got out of TDC.’ (Texas Department of Corrections)  She shows me her nametag, as though I won’t believe her, and says ‘I don’t have anything.  Do you have hygiene stuff or underwear?’  Yes, in one of the bags, I say, and wonder, not for the first time:  what can be gained by releasing women from prison with absolutely nothing?  Maybe we feel their lives need to be as streamlined as possible when they’re starting over.

H. walks up.  He looks thinner, is in his sock feet.  I greet him, embrace him, and hand him the bags of clothes.  ‘You’ll share them out, right?’ I say to him, but he’s already ducking back inside their cardboard house with them in tow.

The wife looks into my car and asks, ‘What else do you have?’  I hand her some whole wheat bagels from my Target shopping.  H. comes back out and I give him a bag of Christmas M&M Peanuts I got at Target.  Now, THIS ONE THING feels sacrificial!  Everything else is easy, but giving away my Christmas M&M Peanuts, a generous handful of which I was planning to eat in the car…  that’s the TRUE measure of my love!  Ah, well, maybe without them I’ll be more…  streamlined.

Samarah introduces me to her boyfriend.  In a streamlined repetition of a conversation we’ve had a number of times over years, I ask H.:  ‘Has the City been here?’  ‘A few days ago,’ he replies briefly, ‘Wiped us out.’

I.  Somehow.  Don’t.  Feel.  That.  Much.  Because.  Things.  Don’t. Change.  Do.  They.  Just.  Numb.  Can.  I.  Not.  Work.  Up.  Any.  Outrage?

My emotions seem to have become streamlined, too.

Then, later, reading at bedtime, I am visited by an at-first-unnamed sadness.  Reflexively I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?  Everything’s fine.’  But soon I realize the sorrow is a familiar one and has been there all night — it was just hiding, tucked down inside me, the same way I’m tucked into my cozy bed with my book, down comforter and quilt.  I know then that I’m being visited there in my room by that ragged and rugged band of individuals who cling to a cold, hard, windswept stretch of sidewalk somewhere in Dallas, squeezed down to the barest minimum of space between a chain-link fence and a gutter — and who struggle to hold on to the LIFE and to the COMMUNITY they’ve created there.

We may not like their lives, the way they look, or how they conduct themselves.  But.

IF we are going to raid and raid and raid and raid and attempt to shut down the camps, THEN we need to be able to offer Housing First in a form that their inhabitants can deal with.

I.   Guess.  I’ll.  Just.  Keep.  Saying.  It.

KS

View Kim Horner’s latest Dallas Morning News article on housing for homeless individuals (one in an occasional series) here:

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/121309dnmethomeless.4003d95.html

 

Hard Questions October 8, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

 

Hard Questions

 

A friend of mine moved ‘off the street’ today and into housing, and it was big news.  His was a high-profile ‘success’ story, because this particular friend has been living a life of street-dwelling homelessness for quite a long time — fifteen years — and he has often been in the news, being a person who doesn’t mind being interviewed and is frequently poetically eloquent.

 

However, as is often the case, there is more to the story than its public version.  Isn’t there always?  The ‘more’ in this instance is that a couple of people — well, actually a person and a dog — got left behind when my friend moved into his new home.

 

I got a phone call from my friend’s ‘street wife’ of twelve years yesterday afternoon, saying that her husband had been informed by his employer, who had arranged for the housing, that he was to move into his new home early the next morning — only sixteen hours notice.  Initially, both husband and wife had expected that his housing would include a place for her, too.  When they recently found out this was not the case, they thought they’d have a week or so to try and make arrangements for her safety and well-being.  Additionally, his dog — his constant companion and best friend for eleven years — turned out to be over the weight limit for the housing and would need to stay behind.  And, in his new home, my friend will not be allowed to have visitors.

 

When the wife called me yesterday, she was distraught.  Media had been at their camp as well as at the new home.  Yet, even though his wife was present during the media visits, no mention was made of the her in any news report, nor of the fact that the dog (who did make it into the story!) and she are to remain behind in the ‘cardboard condo’ under the bridge.

 

The wife is frightened to stay out in the open camp without her husband and protector, with good reason.  So some of her ‘housed’ friends banded together today and came up with the money to pay for a two-weeks’ stay in a motel for her and the dog — a temporary fix, but better than sleeping alone under the bridge.

 

On the phone yesterday, she said she couldn’t understand why she couldn’t go with him — had the rules at the housing unit been made purposefully to exclude her?  I reassured her that no, I didn’t think that was the case.  Rather it was more likely to be an issue of funding-raising on the part of the charity providing the housing.  Generally, at least in this part of the world, any sort of housing subsidy for homeless couples requires that they be legally married, which these two people are not.  They would like to be, but there are intransigent problems with his obtaining a divorce from a wife he’s been apart from for decades.

 

I’ll refrain from discussing how her husband made the decision to go ahead with his move, but I spent the afternoon today with my friend, the wife.  As we ran errands in my car, we cried together, laughed together, and visited two of my close friends who have been consistent and steady friends to people who are homeless — both very kind, wise, forthright and resourceful women.  Each of them gave the wife good counsel and support.

 

I believe that, God willing, she will be all right, and, hopefully, more than all right.  She has skills and resources way beyond what most of us possess after living on the street for over a decade, and there are a number of people who are willing to help make accessible to her tools that will help her move out of her current plight.  But her situation raises a number of hard questions, because there are many long-term, stable couples on the street in the same situation — unable to marry for one reason or another;  unwilling to separate in order to get into housing.  

 

Is there a way to make peace between our religious beliefs and morals, and the urgent need to help people — especially women as the most vulnerable parties — move from street-dwelling homelessness to a more stable life of being housed?  What is our priority?


How do those of us who are advocates and service providers share the story of someone experiencing homelessness or poverty with the public in a way that still presents him or her as a person with dignity?  How do we raise funds and practice public relations in ways that will help people move out of homelessness and poverty, without inadvertently falling into the inglorious category of helpers referred to as ‘poverty pimps’?


How do we hold people up as examples of our hopes, dreams and plans for our own organizations without exploiting them? 

 

Where does the line get drawn between the landscape of our plans for them and that of their plans for themselves, and how do we gracefully and honorably navigate the overlapping territory?  How do we do things that we believe to be truly valuable in helping other human beings without falling into the trap of believing we are their saviors?


Whose highest good is being served in this situation, when the cost of housing a husband is that his street wife and dog are left living under a bridge?

 

KS

 

Link:  See Dallas Morning News Photographer Courtney Perry’s blog entry, “Complexities,”  in response to this post at http://courtneyperry.com/pblog/index.php

 

Guess What’s Illegal! September 5, 2009

Saturday, September 5, 2009

 

Guess What’s Illegal!

 

You’ll never guess what’s illegal in Dallas these days…

 

I went to see my friends Mary and Samuel at the home they call their ‘cardboard condo’ under a freeway overpass yesterday.  When I pulled up at the bottom of the hill near their camp, driving a car that is not my own, Mary didn’t know who was there.  Later she told me:  “Samuel asked me who was in that car, and I said ‘I don’t know — some white woman,’ until I could see it was you.”  Since Mary’s a ‘white woman’, too, we had a giggle about it, as we do about many things.

 

“You’re never going to believe what happened today!” she said as she climbed into the car’s passenger seat and began to soak up the solace of the air conditioning.  “We got a ticket — they’d been leaving us alone for a couple of weeks, so this was the first time lately — and guess what they wrote on the citation.”  

 

“Littering?  Sleeping in Public?  Obstructing the Place-Where-Nobody-Comes-Anyway?”

 

“No, get ready.  The ticket reads ‘old furniture, blankets, clothing and cups’.”

 

For some reason, this cracked both of us up.  Gallows humor?  Might as well laugh so ya’ don’t cry?  “Oh, man, seriously?” I asked, pulling out pad and pen, “I gotta’ write this down.”

 

“I know,” Mary said, “Can you believe it?  And there was only one cup — the one in my hand that I was drinking out of.”  We just sat there shaking our heads in amazement and looking at each other.

 

“Samuel said he’d just go ahead and serve a day in jail for it to get ‘time served,’ except then he’d have to miss work,” she said.

 

“Who issued the ticket?” I asked.  “The Marshalls?  The Dallas Police?  Were they polite?”

 

“DPD — the same two guys who always come, usually twice a week.  Yes, they’re polite.  No conversation, but nice.  I started to tell them, ‘Hey, you missed a couple of cans.  Shouldn’t you put ‘cans’ on there, too?  But I thought I’d better not say anything.”

 

“So ‘Old furniture, blankets, clothing and cup[s] are against the law now?” I asked her.

 

“I guess so.  First thing I said to Samuel, ‘I gotta’ tell Karen.  She’s never going to believe this one.’”

 

KS

 

The Soloist: Friendship and Freedom of Choice August 16, 2009

Sunday, August 16, 2009

 

The Soloist:  Friendship and Freedom of Choice

 

“Let your good deeds be like drops of water into the ocean, which then disappear.” 

 

If you have not seen The Soloist, I hope you will.  A friend who has worked among people on the street for over a decade highly recommended it, saying it changed her view of things.  “I’ve been trying to make them like me,” she told me, “but that’s wrong.”

 

I’ve just watched it, and it utterly reinforced one of the most challenging conclusions I’ve come to in knowing and caring about some of the people who are ‘chronically homeless’ in Dallas over the last six years:  one cannot have an ‘agenda’ for people who are experiencing homelessness.  And not having an agenda — yet still knowing them, loving them, being somewhat involved in their lives and trying to be of assistance to them in resolving critical, and sometimes urgent, issues in their lives — that is a very fine line to walk.

 

This past week, someone that I know, care about, and stay in touch with who lives outdoors under a bridge — we’ll call her Mary — became seriously ill.  I’ve become increasingly close friends with this woman and her husband this year and see them from time to time.  She didn’t call me until last Monday night, when the critical part of her illness, which had lasted several days, had passed.  Fortunately, they’d had the money for a motel room for three nights when she was sickest — wracked with pain, drenched in sweat, up all night trying to get her fever down with Tylenol with cold baths.  “We thought I was going to die Saturday night,” she confessed.  “We were really scared.”

 

By the time she phoned me Monday, she had improved but was still in a considerable pain, and they were back in their outdoor camp.  She thought she could make it through the upcoming night, but asked if I would be available to take her to the emergency room the next day if the pain became intolerable again, because her husband had to work, and, of course, they have no transport, their lone bicycle having been stolen a few months back shortly after they acquired it.  I said I would.  I offered them money for a motel room that night, but they declined.

 

The next morning, I got busy trying to find out what emergency medical services are available for homeless individuals besides the ER — information I felt I should have known but didn’t.  I called and e-mailed friends who are staff members at The Stewpot and an acquaintance who’s a caseworker at The Bridge and learned the following: 

~~ Parkland Hospital has a mobile medical unit (‘HOMES: Homeless Outreach Medical Services) which is at The Stewpot on Wednesdays and every other Monday.

~~ Parkland also runs a medical clinic at The Bridge each weekday.

~~ The Stewpot has a medical clinic in-house on Fridays.

~~ If one calls the City’s Crisis Intervention Team, there’s now a streamlined procedure set up to process a person with the medical emergency at The Bridge quickly, short-circuiting any expected wait in line which might occur.  But this would only be an option, for me at least, if the friend who is homeless agreed to it, and they are often unwilling to involve city government in their situation for fear of being ticketed.

 

When I was unable to get in touch with Mary by phone all that day, I drove to their camp in the late afternoon, armed with cranberry juice for a kidney infection she thought she had, a bag of ice to combat the heat, and dog biscuits for their dog.  I was shocked at how much thinner she’d become, noticeable just in the few weeks since I’d last seen her.  She’d never had cranberry juice before, but loved it, and we made plans to go together the next morning to the Parkland Mobile Unit at The Stewpot.  This time when I offered to loan her and her husband the money for a night out of the heat in the motel, she accepted.

 

The next morning when I drove up to the camp, she came walking down to the car and got in.  I handed her the breakfast I’d brought her to eat on the way and another bottle of cranberry juice, but now, suddenly, she was hedging about going to the Parkland Mobile Medical Unit.  She was really feeling OK and was no longer in pain, she said, and she looked better.  But I urged her to let me take her to the clinic anyway.  I knew that she has only one kidney with functions fully, and I so much wanted her to avoid another crisis.  As we sat in the air conditioning of the car and the morning outside heated up, I tried again to persuade her to go see the doctor.  I knew she’d be back out in that August Texas heat all day, barely recovered from her illness.  “Shouldn’t we just get you checked out, get you in the system for Parkland?  Then, if you have another crisis or if you need medicine for your kidneys, that will speed the process up for you when you go in.”  But she didn’t want to go — it was as simple as that.  I could see that she was grateful for my help but that she wanted me to support her decision.

 

And then…  there was a moment…  believe it or not, that I almost drove away with her in the car.  I had been worried about her, on edge for two days;  I had put things on hold to help her deal with her medical crisis;  I’d canceled other plans I’d had for that morning in order to drive her downtown.  I.  I.  I.  

 

I argued with myself silently, and the inner monologue was pretty simple, going something like this:  “Are you insane?  This is a grown woman with children and grandchildren!  OF COURSE YOU MAY NOT take her to the medical van at The Stewpot if she doesn’t want to go.”  End of monologue.  I hugged her goodbye, and, bag of breakfast and cranberry juice in hand, she climbed the hill back up to their camp.

 

I know better than that ‘friend-napping’ impulse implies, and it surprised me about myself.  It was my choice to try to help Mary when she was ill.  It was her choice, then, to say, “I’m OK now.”  Would I have had the same impulse with a friend who is housed and lives in the suburbs to drive away with him or her in the car?

 

We cannot have an agenda for those people to whom we want to offer assistance.  Suddenly, in that moment in the car when I had a momentary impulse to drive Mary to the Parkland Mobile Unit to get the medical care I thought she needed, I seem to have flown into maternal — or maternalistic — mode.  I remind myself that the life Mary is living requires strengths, skills, nerve and wisdom which I myself don’t possess.

 

There are very to-the-point discussions in The Soloist about just this sort of issue.  Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.) tries to get a shelter director to force homeless cellist Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) into psychiatric care, medication and housing.

 

Lopez:  “I want you to help him, because he’s sick and he needs medication and you have a team of doctors here.  Tell him to sit down with them.  Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?”

Shelter Director:  “Nathaniel’s made it quite clear he’s not ready to speak to a psychiatrist.”

“Force him…”

“That’s not what we do here…   Look, even if I did want to coerce Nathaniel into psychiatry… which I don’t, I couldn’t force him to take medication.  The law’s the law.  Unless he’s an imminent danger to himself or someone else…”


Later, Lopez’s ex-wife wisely tells him, “You’re never gonna’ cure Nathaniel.  Just be his friend and show up.”

 

I think The Soloist gets it very right.  We can’t fix people, nor is it our job to do so.  We can love them and do our best to offer them opportunities that we hope will make their lives better — if we so choose.  And they, as sacred human beings in their own right, have every right to accept or decline our offers of assistance.

 

And then there’s this optimistic bit of science at the movie’s end which one may view as a form of Grace, when Steve Lopez says of his friendship with Nathaniel Ayers:  


“There are people who tell me I’ve helped him — mental health experts who say that the simple act of being someone’s friend can change his brain chemistry, improve his functioning in the world.  I can’t speak for Mr. Ayers in that regard.  Maybe our friendship has helped him, but maybe not.  I can however speak for myself.  I can tell you that by witnessing Mr. Ayers’ courage, his humility, his faith in the power of his art, I’ve learned the dignity of being loyal to something you believe in, holding onto it, and, above all else, of believing, without question, that it will carry you home.”

 

Karen Shafer


 

 

The Garden Is Growing! May 15, 2009

Friday, 5/15/09

 

The Garden Is Growing!

Update on The Garden: South Dallas, Texas

 

Stewpot Crew, Mack Houston

 

The Garden: South Dallas, Texas — a community garden for, by and with people who are homeless or formerly homeless in Dallas — is thriving under the leadership of the Discipleship of the Dallas International Street Church at 2706 Second Avenue near Fair Park.  Team Leaders from the DISC took charge and led a work force of forty people from The Stewpot’s Community Court Project in a successful and fun Garden-Raising Day on Saturday, May 2, 2009.  On April 2 we had a lovely but trash-littered field behind the church; by day’s end of the Garden-Raising, we had seven fully-planted organic raised garden beds!

 

All of us involved that day were tremendously joyful and proud of our accomplishment.  Not only did these energetic and hardworking crews clean up the field and dig the turf out of the seven 4’ X 12’ garden beds, they hauled and laid concrete block borders, carried organic soil by wheelbarrow from the soil pile to fill the beds, trimmed trees, dug a flower bed, built garden benches and tables, and — the best part — at day’s end, everyone celebrated their labor by planting all seven beds with vegetables, herbs and flowers.

 

To view a slideshow by Mandy Mulliez of the the garden site, planning meetings,

and the Garden-Raising Day’s events, look here:

http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=1bf3gjjt.cpdg2dyx&x=0&y=bi27he&localeid=en_US

********

 For a video clip of The Garden Team Leaders speaking on television about their experiences, look here:  http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/2009/05/garden-south-dallas-video.html

 

 

For many of us, the best thing about the day was the way that teams of homeless and formerly homeless individuals from the two programs, the Dallas International Street Church and the Stewpot Community Court Project, pitched in and worked together in a spirit which was more than harmonious — it was truly joyous!  So many of us came away from the day elated with not only the significant physical accomplishments of the six crews, but the spirit of love, unity and camaraderie that we discovered working together.

 

More than once during the day, people came up to me and spoke of how hard it can be for people who live or have lived on the street to work together because of the challenges that each faces in his or her life.  They expressed happiness both in their creation of The Garden and in the way they were able to cooperate in order to create it.  Barry, one of the Stewpot supervisors, shared an observation of how people talked about their lives and their challenges with each other as they dug weeds, shoveled soil and planted seeds and plants.

 

Since the Garden-Raising, I’m proud to report that the six Team Leaders and their teams at the Dallas International Street Church have taken full responsibility for the care and nurture of their garden beds, watering them diligently, adding new plants, and reporting excitedly at our Garden meetings about which seedlings are emerging, what plants are producing, a couple of plants that are having problems and possible organic solutions.  We already have a burgeoning crop of green beans!  I quickly learned at our first full-church Garden meeting that we had many very knowledgeable and skilled gardeners in the congregation, and that knowledge grows and is spread around as people work side by side and share their expertise day by day.  A Friend of the Garden has even donated a hammock where the hardworking gardeners can rest from their labors!

 

Here are some of the things we are growing this season:  bush beans, Swiss chard, collards, Japanese eggplant, cucumbers, yellow crookneck squash, lettuce, onions, sugar-pod peas, carrots, okra, tomatoes, several varieties of peppers, strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, Italian-leaf parsley, cilantro, citronella, roses, marigolds, dianthus, zinnias, nasturtiums and about five other types of flowers — many of them tucked decoratively into the spaces in the concrete blocks.  One of our gardeners is creating a special butterfly and bee garden bed.  The gardeners have not only worked hard, they’ve been very creative in their garden design.

 

Something exciting and completely unexpected happened a week ago:  just as we had exhausted our initial Seed Money Fund, an Anonymous Angel left an envelope at my house.  On one side was written:  “DON’T ASK WHO…  PLEASE.  IT IS A GIFT.  KEEP UP WITH YOUR WORK.”  On the other side, it said:  “FENCE FUND.  GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS.”  Inside was… $500!  We are very grateful for such kindness, and this Saturday, May 17, the Stewpot DART Community Court Project is sending us another work crew, and we will install our new fencing!

 

If you are currently or formerly homeless, this is your garden, and you may become a gardener now or at any time by joining one of the teams at the DISC.  (The church office telephone is 214-928-9595.)

 

Although we are going to wait until fall growing season to invite groups of volunteers to come in from outside the community and work with us, everyone is ALWAYS welcome to visit us — just knock on the Dallas International Street Church door and ask someone to show you the path.  The Garden: South Dallas is a magical and serene place and one where we already love to sit with friends or alone, to talk or simply and quietly ‘find our peace.’

 

Karen Shafer

 

Special Thanks to:

Bruce Buchanan and the staff of The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church, Dallas

The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, especially Martha Lang, Outreach Director

The Garden Advisory Committee

Friends of The Garden for financial support and in-kind donations

Mandy Mulliez for photography

The Dallas Morning News and Michael Ainsworth for a photo spread of The Garden in the Metro Section on Sunday, May 3

Nancy Baker of White Rock Coffee for great coffee

Aaron Hardwick and Mindy of Breadwinners Restaurants and Catering for breakfast pastries for 100

Sandra Davis of SoupMobile for providing lunch for 100

Soil Building Systems for special pricing on Organic Growers Mix

Lowe’s at Northwest Highway & Jupiter for materials at cost

Louis, Cora and Anna for inspiration

and, OF COURSE, Pastor Karen Dudley for her great leadership, compassion and kindness to us all!

 

Wish List:

a bird bath

a bat house

birdfeeders

concrete blocks for additional beds

cash for additional organic soil purchase

any and all healthy plants

any and all seed, especially heirloom varieties

gardening tools and gloves

limb loppers and pruners

a pole tree trimmer

a subscription to Organic Gardening Magazine [http://www.organicgardening.com/]

 

E-Mail: thegardensouthdallas@earthlink.net

 

 

The Garden: South Dallas, Texas April 17, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009


“The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein;…”  ~~ Psalm 24

The Garden:  South Dallas, Texas

 

Gardeners, Mandy in Front


On the morning of April 2, 2009, I blithely put up a blog post here about gardens (“The Magic of Gardens”.)  I quote myself from that article:  ”The idea [of a community garden] is something that’s beyond my purview to [help] organize … right now,” – and I was convinced of that at the time.  However, by the same afternoon, I had received e-mails from staff members of two of the best nonprofit agencies benefitting people who are homeless in the City of Dallas saying that they were interested in being involved.

 

Janet offered the possible involvement of some volunteers.  Pat informed me that Pastor Karen Dudley, Founder and Senior Pastor of the Dallas International Street Church in South Dallas, had been wanting to start a community garden for years, and, most importantly, that she had access to land where it could be done.                                                                                           [http://www.kdministries.org/]


I realized that perhaps…  a community garden with and for Pastor Karen’s congregation and neighborhood and the street people of Dallas and was an idea whose time may have come.

 

Pastor Karen is a friend and someone I deeply admire (see “Miracle on Second Avenue”), and by the next afternoon, she and I were in the meadow adjacent to her church property, looking at a possible garden site.  A week later, several people met at the Street Church to discuss what was involved in undertaking such a project.  By the end of the meeting, these generous women, including Pastor Karen, had taken out their checkbooks and given us a significant start on a “Seed Money Fund.”  

 

Driving home, I phoned my church, The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, and asked Outreach Director, Martha Lang, whether they might be willing to contribute to our community garden’s Seed Money Fund.  I sent her a proposal that night and received a reply that she thought they could help.  Miracle of miracles, it is two weeks to the day since “The Magic of Gardens” was written, and… The Garden: South Dallas, Texas (so dubbed by Pastor Karen) seems to be coming to life.

 

Generosity of Friends


 

~~  Our Seed Money Fund is up to $550.00, raised from the Garden Committee and Church of the Incarnation.  $300 of this money will go to purchase organic soil from a Dallas company;  the rest will go for concrete blocks to construct the four raised beds for the first phase of The Garden.  (The soil on the land is not tillable.)

~~  We are incredibly blessed to have a work force of homeless individuals coming for a Garden-Raising Day (remember old-time barn raisings?) the first week in May to clean up the land and construct the beds.  This has been arranged by The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, and the group will work alongside Pastor Karen’s congregation (most of whom have also come from the streets of Dallas).  Our nonprofit friends are also providing work gloves and some tools!

~~  The Garden is being planned to be wheelchair accessible:  one of our Garden Committee members, also an experienced gardener, uses a wheelchair, and she will advise us.  Many individuals experiencing homelessness, whom we hope will come and work with us, use one as well.

~~  We have received invaluable input, research, information, donation of materials and enthusiastic support both from our Garden Committee members and from friends.  All of this is much appreciated.

 

What Do We Need?


 

~~  To increase our Seed Money Fund in order to buy hoses to reach The Garden and soaker hoses for the beds to save water, to put a second level of concrete blocks on a few of our beds to make them higher for those in wheelchairs, to afford to construct additional raised beds beyond the four that our budget allows for now

NO DONATION IS TOO SMALL (unless you want change for a penny!)

~~  Donation of new or used fencing to enclose The Garden in stages to ward off theft or vandalism

~~  Donations of healthy plants or seeds from other gardeners (we’d love to try some heirloom seeds)

~~  Gardening tools of all kinds, garden carts or wheelbarrows for transporting soil and plant materials, or anything else you can think of!

 

Who Is the ‘Community’ in ‘Community Garden’?


‘Who Is the Community’ in the ‘Community Garden’ called The Garden: South Dallas, Texas?  It is Pastor Karen’s church congregation and the friends and neighbors who live around the church (a neighborhood which would benefit greatly from fresh produce, as there are few supermarkets nearby), but also the true and full sense of community for The Garden: South Dallas, Texas, extends beyond geographical borders to include the entire homeless community of Dallas.  One may not typically think of people spread across the city in different geographical locations as such, but a community it is – 

it is a spiritual network of human beings spread across Dallas, the members of which sometimes stay in shelters, sometimes in alleys or behind dumpsters, sometimes under bridges in cardboard homes.


If you wonder whether this is a community, ask a person who is homeless on the streets of downtown whether they know a person who lives under a particular freeway overpass in a cardboard home several miles away. Percentage-wise, I’m guessing they are more likely to know that individual than many of us would be likely to know someone on our own block in the suburbs.

 

Our mission, our vision, our commitment, then, is a little different from that of the typical community garden, and also includes the desire to bring together people from disparate parts of the city with differing backgrounds to help us all come to know each other and to realize:  we are the same — not ‘us and them.’  So come and work with us!


Possibilities for the Future

 

~~  We would like for The Garden to include benches, picnic tables, and walking paths for the enjoyment of  gardeners, congregants, friends, and neighborhood families.  Our dream is that it can become a beautiful and peaceful refuge for the community, with flowers, berries, fruit trees and herbs as well as vegetables.

 

~~  In time, we would love to have a produce stand out front that the gardeners can operate as a small business.  

~~  We hope that a second phase of The Garden can contain raised beds for neighborhood families to rent for a nominal fee and manage on their own, such as is done in the East Dallas Community Garden and others.  Our first four beds will serve the Street Church, the neighborhood, and the homeless community at large across the city.

~~  Perhaps in the future our gardeners can attend Master Classes in gardening at a community college, or go to work for landscaping companies or garden centers.  Thus The Garden could come to help with job skills training.

 

For Now, a Hope for Healing

 

In a time of ’food insecurity’, growing what can sustain you has real power in and of itself.  Along with this, perhaps someone who is in transition in their lives will come to dig or weed or plant in The Garden and remember…  she or he had a garden as a child with their family, and it was a good thing.  A healing reconnection to the past could be made by someone who has been alienated from his or her loved ones.  Perhaps someone will realize, after feeling for a very long time that he or she can do nothing right in society’s eyes or their own… they have a skill, a gift and can make a contribution.  Few things are more powerful than feeling that we matter and that we have something to give.

 

E-Mail:  thegardensouthdallas@earthlink.net

Karen Shafer

 

P.S.  Within 48 hours of writing “The Magic of Gardens”, I received this e-mail from my grandson, Louis, who is six (Cora is his cousin, also six):

“i herd about the homeless garden wen you get started can we help? and is cora helpeng.  love, louis.”

Good news travels fast!!!

 

“…What I do you cannot do:  but what you do, I cannot do.  The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things.  But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.”   ~~Mother  Teresa

 

Link:  Dallas Homeless Network Blog [http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/2009/04/garden-for-homeless-community.html]

 

Hot Off the Presses! DMN’S Kim Horner & Courtney Perry March 28, 2009

 

Saturday, March 28, 2009

 

Hot Off the Presses!

Kim Horner and Courtney Perry of the Dallas Morning News 

on Homelessness in Dallas

 

A friend just brought me the early edition of the Dallas Morning News for Sunday, March 28, 2009, which he knew I’d want right away.  Front and center on page 1A is the first in a series of articles by Kim Horner, with photographs by Courtney Perry, on homelessness in Dallas, with an emphasis on the ‘chronically homeless.’

 

In reading the article, I was impressed by Kim’s sensitive and comprehensive grasp of this very complicated and heart-rending issue.  I learned a great deal that I didn’t know about aspects of the problem that I never see.  I think this first installment is excellent and goes beyond anything I’ve previously read on the subject here in Dallas.  As usual, Kim is balanced and non-polemical while, I believe, laying out the complex challenges involved in addressing the problems covered.

 

Courtney’s photographs are excellent and show us that she’s been places in the city that few of us will ever go, not surprising for this intrepid photographer.  

 

Kim and Courtney have really done their homework for this series of articles.   I look forward to future installments.  I’m thinking ‘Pulitzer.’  What do you think?

 

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/032909dnmethomeless.34d3691.html

 

By the way, SoupMobile gets a mention in the section, ‘Reaching out to the homeless:  Other social services’.  Well deserved!

 

KS

 

 

Solutions: Warming Stations & Hypothermia Vans February 16, 2009

 

Monday, February 16, 2009

 

While Dallas city officials have been busy this winter enforcing ‘quality of life’ ordinances by ticketing and arresting homeless citizens during the bitterest cold weather, other cities have found more humane solutions to the question of “Where will homeless people be during cold weather?” 

 

Here are some links from various cities around the United States which have employed the use of ‘warming stations’ and ‘hypothermia vans’ to help those without homes get out of the cold:

 

Charlotte, North Carolina

“Warming shelters open for the homeless”

http://www.wcnc.com/news/topstories/stories/wcnc-011709-sjf-warmingshelters.39facf1.html

“Charlotte leaders activating emergency homeless shelters due to the anticipated cold”

http://www.wbtv.com/global/story.asp?s=9688511


Las Vegas, Nevada

“Warming stations for homeless opened”

http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2008/dec/16/wintry-weather-prompts-warming-stations-homeless-o/

 

Middletown, Connecticut

“As cold hits, city makes sure homeless OK”

http://www.middletownpress.com/articles/2009/01/14/news/doc496eb19b3ceac545935506.txt

“City of Middletown says warming station in church breaks zoning laws” 

http://www.becketfund.org/index.php/article/901.html?PHPSESSID=fc0234a1f346cd20bbadf7c67a04def6

http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081220/NEWS/812200336

 

Omaha, Nebraska

“Warming Stations Open For Homeless”

http://www.wowt.com/home/headlines/36301774.html


Rochester, New York

“Poor People United, Emergency Warming Station kicks off!”

http://rochester.indymedia.org/newswire/display/3305/index.php

 

Portland, Oregon

“Volunteers needed tonight for warming centers”

http://blog.oregonlive.com/breakingnews/2007/12/the_oregon_trail_chapter_of.html

 

San Luis Obispo, California

“Prado Day Center offers SLO’s homeless a second shelter from cold”

http://www.sanluisobispo.com/183/story/564073.html

 

Washington, D.C.

“Riding cold: Hypothermia van rescues homeless from frigid nights”

http://media.www.gwhatchet.com/media/storage/paper332/news/2007/03/22/News/Riding.Cold.Hypothermia.Van.Rescues.Homeless.From.Frigid.Nights-2786606.shtml

“Cold has agencies helping the homeless”

http://www.examiner.com/a-1170675~Cold_has_agencies_helping_the_homeless.html

 

Louisville, Kentucky

“Winter blast leaves 17 dead”

http://www.disasternews.net/news/article.php?articleid=3821

 

 

I am beginning to wonder:  are we going to be able to get it right here in Dallas?

 

Remember, we have less than 2000 shelter beds for around 6000 homeless individuals.  Let’s spend some of the money we have spent on policing this winter on warming stations (other than the jail) and hypothermia vans.  

 

KS

 

New Clothes for Mary February 5, 2009

 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


New Clothes for Mary

 

I met a new friend tonight, I’ll call her Mary.  Samuel, her street husband, asked me into their lives about a month and a half ago.  ‘My wife, Mary’s, getting out of prison on February 5.  Will you help me get her some clothes together?  She’ll be coming out with nothing.’

 

Samuel, whom I met through my good friend, David Timothy (AKA SoupMan), is probably my closest friend on the street.  I’d trust him with my life.  And when I tell you I have good reason to trust him — that that trust has been put to the test —  you can believe it.  When I tell you, also, that he would be tough enough to defend it — you can believe that, too.  He’s one of the people who represents ‘street law’ among the homeless people who know him.

 

My friend, David, his wife, Shana, and I went to Samuel’s camp tonight in order for me to make the final arrangements to meet him at Dawson State Jail on Industrial Boulevard with Mary’s new clothes this Thursday, February 5, the day of her planned release.  I was then going to drive them back to their house, a series of cardboard boxes under a bridge.  Over the past month and a half since we began planning this, Samuel has asked me at least a dozen times, “Now, you haven’t forgotten about the clothes for Mary, have you?”

 

When we got to Samuel’s camp tonight, it was empty.  Someone walked by and told us he was staying at the nearby motel for the night.  We offered this person a coat and blanket, and he agreed to go into the motel to tell Samuel we were there.

 

Samuel came out of the motel courtyard waving his arms, doing a kind of ‘happy dance’, and came running to our van.  In his wake was a pretty woman with long, thick, beautiful brunette hair.  The next few minutes were a blur.  

 

David got out of the van to greet and embrace them, and, as I opened my door, Samuel flew around to my side of the van and flung his arms around me where I still sat.  “She’s here, she got out early, this is Mary, this is Mary!!!” and Mary began to hug me, too.  Then, a ‘Group Hug,’ and I realized we had Mary’s head in a grip so tight it was like a wrestling lock!  We were laughing and shouting, a pretty spirited reunion for people, two of whom had never met.  Everyone was talking at once.  “I told you, I told you,” he said to Mary.  “This is Karen!  I told you she’d come.”  We introduced Mary to Shana, David’s wife.

 

I explained to Mary that I had mentioned her situation to my good friend, Kathy Hodgin, at Salon on the Square in the Bishop Arts District, where I get my hair cut, and that she and her customers had collected a new wardrobe of clothing for her from all her sizes Samuel had given me at Christmas:  everything from top to bottom, even sunglasses and a suitcase, and that I was picking these up tomorrow.  Hearing this, she burst into tears.  “I just can’t believe it.  I can’t believe they’ve done that for me.  I have nothing, absolutely nothing.”

 

Samuel moved to the back of the van to talk to David, while Shana, an avid animal lover, went to check on Cinnamon, Samuel’s sweet and faithful dog.  Mary and I began to talk.  It did not feel like we were strangers.  “Are you glad to be out?”  I asked her.  “Oh, I can’t tell you, just can’t tell you.  180 days, no fresh air, never being outdoors.  Imagine.”  I said I’d always assumed prison inmates get to go out into some sort of yard every day.  “No, never, not for six months, no sunshine, no outdoor air.  I was supposed to get out Thursday, but today was my 180 days, and they couldn’t keep me any longer.  Huntsville called Dawson and said they had to let me go today.”  “Were you at Huntsville for a while?”  “In the beginning, then at Dawson.  While I was in there, I earned my G.E.D.!  And I can type forty-five words per minute!  I want to get a job.”  “Fantastic!”  I told her, “I’ve known some other smart people like yourself who use their time inside to get their skills together.” 

 

She confided to me, “I really want to make it this time.  I want to do right.  Please, please pray for me.  Do you know where I can get a job?  I have a felony, a non violent one.  Nobody wants to hire you with a felony.”  I told her about a job training/ placement program at a local nonprofit that might be able to help and offered to take her there, and she agreed.

 

She talked about what a good, long-time friend David had been to her.  “He even came to visit me in jail before!” she said, “and he put some money into my account so I could go to the commissary.”  “He’s truly a great friend,” I agreed, “I think we should call him Saint David, don’t you?”  “Yes!”

 

More words tumbled out in a rush as she looked down and struggled to control her emotions, “My dad died while I was in there,” she said, and her voice broke.  I asked,  “Did you…get to go out to…?”  “No, no… you don’t get out for things like that.”  Unsure if I should hug her at such a personal moment, I took a risk and did, and she cried against my shoulder.  I told her, “You surely need to let yourself cry plenty about that one.”

 

Then tears turned to laughter as she described her walk to the homeless camp from Dawson after her release.  “I didn’t have a way to let Samuel know I was out today, so I walked here.  I just showed up and said, ‘I’m here!’”  “Oh, my gosh, that must be seven miles!”  “You should have seen me!” she went on.  “At the jail, they gave me a dress that was much too big — it hung down almost to my ankles and had big yellow flowers on it!”  We were laughing.  “When I got here, Samuel was in shock that I showed up two days early.”

 

“The women at my friend’s Salon, who got you the new clothes.  They’ve not, you know, been involved with homelessness before.”  She nodded.  “They just really wanted to support you.  We all want you to feel that people have your back.”  She looked down and began to cry again, this time with joy.  “I can’t believe all of you have done this for me.  I just can’t believe it,” she said.  “I don’t know how to thank you.”

 

I’ve known Samuel for three or four years, and I’ve never seen him like he was tonight having Mary back with him.  He was giddy with laughter, alternately crying, talking up a storm, practically frolicking like a pup.  A man who is tough enough to keep order on the streets, brought to his knees by love.

 

There was a tremendous feeling of celebration, of new beginnings, around the van as we all stood in the dark and talked, our gathering lit only by the light from the motel courtyard near by.  We made plans for me to bring Mary’s new wardrobe, which was waiting packed and ready at Salon on the Square, to her at the camp the next evening.  David, Shana and I said our goodbyes and reboarded the van, pulling away as Samuel, still talking excitedly, followed us down the driveway, shouting his thanks, while Cinnamon trailed along behind him, and, farther back, Mary stood waving.  

 

Such incredible joy.  A family, reunited.

 

Karen Shafer

 

Changes at the Bridge June 30, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

Here is the link for a Dallas Morning News article of Saturday, 6/28/08.  The article states that Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, which runs the Bridge, has terminated its contract with PATH Partners, the contractor hired to offer social services at the facility.

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/DN-thebridge_28met.ART0.North.Edition1.4e0188c.html

Since it opened May 20, the Bridge has been sleeping 700 to 800 per night; it was designed to sleep 300. According to Mike Faenza, president and CEO of MDHA, “We have a tidal wave, and we want to succeed. The numbers of people, and their needs, and the risk, were so high. I felt like we could not have that second layer in between MDHA and these people, because we had to move very fast. Managing a contract was too cumbersome given what the situation was.”

Some people may see this as a setback for the Bridge, and I’m surely no expert on the inner workings thereof.  But I do want to offer some observations from my limited time spent there volunteering in the feeding program, run by the Stewpot, most Friday nights since the center opened.

~~As I entered the Bridge campus last Friday night, my friend, J., walked up to tell me happily that he i employed full-time within the Bridge now, and he was clear-headed as I’ve seen him in months.

~~My friend, Chris, was very sunburned Friday night from having worked all day.  When I asked if he’d wear sunscreen if I brought it, he said yes, but he seemed proud that he had gotten his bright red coloring from being employed.

~~Many residents were wearing blue badges saying “Resident.”  I learned from the Stewpot employees that the 100 beds for individuals enrolled in the Work-Live Housing (seeking employment) and/or Interim Housing (needing supportive services) have been/are being filled.  People have to meet qualifications and have goals for themselves to be in these programs.

~~As I handed a woman, D., her plate in the food line, her arm was weak;  she told me she’d had a stroke that week.  She’d just been released from Baylor, where she had been getting the medical care she needed.

~~A man in the food line a couple of weeks ago was so well-dressed he could have been an executive.  When I complimented him, he was pleased to tell me he was on his way to work.

~~After the Pavilion cots are filled (300), others wishing shelter from the streets are allowed to sleep in the courtyard of the Bridge campus.  This is currently, as stated above, an additional 400 to 500 people.  As I was leaving the campus around 7:45 PM Friday, these individuals were retrieving from storage nice, thick, single-size black mats, which prevent them from having to sleep directly on the concrete or grass.

~~Most importantly, when you talk to homeless individuals themselves, they are positive about what is going on there and feel good about the services and opportunities for growth that are being provided (and this is not always the case, believe me!)

The most important thing from my perspective is that things seem to be changing for the better among the homeless, both in individual lives and from an overall perspective.  I attribute this to many things, but mostly to the fact that the Bridge has lived up to its promise to have a welcoming, non-threatening approach to our homeless neighbors.  There was a fear (and I was one that expressed it) that many among the homeless population would not choose the shelter over homelessness.  If the Bridge’s and the city’s approach had been the traditional one of booting people back onto the street at dawn, then arresting them for being there, and/or of making them ‘clean up’ before they were given services, we would still be experiencing the stagnation and disastrous effects of those policies that we’ve seen in the past.

Here’s a quote from an article in the Dallas Observer of May 8, 2008:

“By federal definition, the chronically homeless are those unaccompanied adults who have a disabling condition (such as substance abuse disorder or a serious mental illness) and have been continuously homeless for a year or more, or have had at least four episodes of homelessness within the past three years… as [Mike] Faenza likes to tell his staff, the more times a person has been in jail, been arrested or beaten up, the more welcome he will be at the center. 

“We want this place to be very slow to reject anybody,” Faenza says. “You don’t have to be likable to deserve services. You can be aggravating and annoying and still deserve services….They are not going to act grateful. But you can’t lecture. You can’t coerce. You can’t shame people.””

[http://www.dallasobserver.com/2008-05-08/news/dallas-the-bridge-homeless-center-s-progressive-approach-may-actually-make-a-difference/]

From my perspective, this approach seems to be working.  One thing I can say for certain, MDHA made an excellent choice in contracting with the Stewpot, the experts in providing homeless services here in Dallas, for running the feeding program.  With an expectation of feeding around 700 people per meal, and with the reality often approaching 900, the dining hall is running swimmingly.

KS

 

Puppies From Heaven June 10, 2008

Filed under: healing,homeless people's pets,homelessness,hunger,inspiration — Karen Shafer @ 7:19 pm

Journal Archives

February, 2007

 

Poochie and Quiet Storm

I was sitting behind a table in the parking lot of the Day Resource Center.  The table was filled with giveaway clothing, and homeless people were filing by, picking out the two items they were allowed.  A woman, very quiet, stood in front of me, looking at items, tentatively holding them up to see if they’d fit.  She moved to another part of the table and then reappeared.  “Do you need some help?” I asked her.  She didn’t answer and kept her eyes down. 

I noticed how thin she was, how her skin was tan and weathered, signs she had been on the street for a while.  She had long brown hair tied back in a ponytail, but strands of it had escaped and blew outward in the cold wind, creating a kind of halo around her head in the floodlights of the parking lot.  It was hard to guess her age, but I’d say maybe mid-thirties.  

Thinking she didn’t hear me, I leaned forward and repeated, “Do you need help finding your size?”  Still, she didn’t look up, but kept her face a mask, then slipped away, silent as a wraith, to the other end of the table where the women’s clothing was concentrated.

A voice to my left told me, “She doesn’t talk.  Not ever.”  I looked up to see a young man with wonderful looking dreadlocks and an incandescent smile standing at my elbow.  He was waiting for the line to move forward so he could pick out his clothing items.  “Really?” I said, “Do you know why?”  “No.  I call her Quiet Storm.  There are three of them out here, three women, who never talk.”  I looked at the woman, and, as I often do, chilled to think of her vulnerability living on the street.

I remembered seeing this young man before, recalled his upbeat attitude and outgoing personality.  “I’m Karen, by the way,” I said, and stuck out my hand to shake his.  “I’m Poochie,” he said, “I’ve seen you here before.”

 

The Sky Is Falling, or Rather, Things are Falling Out of It

“Where’d you get the name ‘Poochie’?”  I asked him, as the clothing line was stalled while those ‘shopping’ searched through the piles.  He motioned across the parking lot toward the chain link fence that separates the Day Resource Center property from the sidewalk beyond.  I peered into the gloom.  Some of the children of the volunteers were stooped over a backpack which lay open on the ground, huddled over… I couldn’t see what.  “See in my backpack?  My dog!”

Then I made out a small shape among the children’s outstretched hands — they were gently petting… a small dog.  “Where did you get him?” I asked, “He’s cute, and it looks like he’s made friends here already.”  Poochie’s answer was a little, no, let’s say a lot surprising.  “He fell into the top of my tent,” he said.

“What?” I said, clearly not getting it.  He explained,  “Somebody threw him off the bridge, and he landed on my tent, which was just underneath.”  “You have got to be kidding,” I was staring at him, stupefied.  “Where were you staying, in the I-45 bridge camp?”  “That’s right.”  “And somebody actually threw that little dog off the bridge, and it landed on your tent?”  “Yep.”  “Wow,” was all I could think of, then “Wow” again.  

I had stood in the homeless encampment under that bridge a number of times.  It was a very high bridge, several stories.   “Was he injured?”  I asked, incredulous.  “Nope.  I was sleeping one night, and I heard him hit the tent. Another guy in the camp saw him fall.  He was fine, a little shaken up.”  I shook my head.  “Now why would anyone do a thing like that?  And what kind of person?”  But I knew this was a fairly futile question, and a rhetorical one, because sometimes we human beings treat not only dogs but each other with that kind of callousness and cruelty.  “I don’t know,” Poochie answered, “but that’s how I got my name.”  “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Poochie. That’s quite a story,” I said, as his turn came to move up in the line and choose his clothing items.  “I know you and your little dog will take good care of each other.”

KS

 

The Bridge Is Open! May 22, 2008

 

This past Tuesday, May 20 was a momentous day for Dallas and its homeless citizens.  A new, $23 million, state-of-the-art homeless assistance center, The Bridge, opened in downtown.  Here is a letter from David Timothy of SoupMobile describing the ribbon-cutting ceremony and the facility.

 

Subject: Report from the SoupMan to SoupMobile Advisory Board

Date: May 21, 2008 3:58 PM

 

Dear Advisory Board Members:

The following information is an update of recent changes in the homeless situation in the City of Dallas.

On Tuesday May 20th, the new homeless assistance center, The Bridge opened for business. The Ribbon Cutting Ceremony was held in the main courtyard of the new center. In attendance were the Mayor Tom Leppert; the Dallas City Council; Mike Rawlings (The Homeless Czar); various dignitaries; guests and about 150 homeless people and five members of the staff/board of the SoupMobile.

The Bridge is a multipurpose facility designed to provide services to the homeless ranging from basic medical care; job training; hair cutting services; restrooms; showers; food and shelter. However it is not a true shelter in the way we would normally think. Inside the main building are approximately 100 beds that are actually small cubicles that have a bed, locker, drawers and chair. These 100 beds are called transitional beds. They are NOT for long term use. They are to be used for patients coming out of Parkland Hospital; clients transitioning into drug or alcohol rehab programs; and other clients which are transitioning into permanent housing.

[Blogger’s Note:  There is even a kennel for pets of the homeless, and a playground and secured area for women and children.  KS]

In addition to the 100 transitional beds the facility has an open aired building that will house up to 300 homeless people per night who will sleep on cots. These cots are not permanent housing. Each night as the homeless enter the facility they can sign up for a cot. If more than 300 people want cots, then they will do a lottery to see who gets a cot for the evening.

The new facility is a big step up in services for the homeless. However it is not the ‘cure all’ for the homeless problem in Dallas. Its estimated that there are more than 10,000 homeless men and women in the Dallas area. Clearly The Bridge will only be able to serve a portion of these men and women. Even with The Bridge online, there will still be a massive need for additional homeless services.

… I will be personally volunteering from time to time at The Bridge. I am starting by volunteering this Friday evening to help them serve the evening meal in their cafeteria….they are in need of help and [we want] to keep our finger in the pie as we look to possibly partner up with The Bridge at some future date.

May the Lord bless you all. 

David Timothy, a.k.a. The SoupMan

SoupMobile

3017 Commerce St.

Dallas, Texas 75226

 

Blogger’s Note:

May I add that I am very optimistic about the impact this center will have on the lives of our homeless friends.  I am particularly encouraged by an article I read in the Dallas Observer, May 8, 2008.  It’s well worth reading.  Here’s the link:

http://www.dallasobserver.com/2008-05-08/news/dallas-the-bridge-homeless-center-s-progressive-approach-may-actually-make-a-difference/full

A non-punitive, non-criminalizing approach is the most workable and effective when approaching the problem of homelessness, in my opinion, and statistics bear this out.  I am heartened to see that this appears to be the philosophy which will implemented ‘top down’ at the Bridge.

True, there are concerns from the homeless advocacy community:  for example, as it appears the Pavilion will fill up quickly and people will be turned away at night as there are not enough temporary beds to provide shelter for everyone who wants it, there is concern that this will lead to ‘zero-tolerance’ from the city on the streets, arresting those who are still sleeping outdoors and once again filling the jail with homeless people.  However, it looks as though those who don’t have a bed will still be able to stay on the Bridge campus.

Nonetheless, as I sat and listened to the speeches at the ribbon-cutting, and, later, as I watched the new lounge fill up with hot, exhausted, drained, thirsty homeless individuals seeking refuge in the beauty, cleanliness, and icy cool air-conditioning of the center, I felt that the weight of the world was off my shoulders and that, for now, nothing could dim my optimism about this giant leap forward for Dallas.  The entire community has pulled together to offer the best to those who have nothing, and I call that a great day.

KS

 

Services Provided by The Bridge May 3, 2008

Dear Readers,

Here’s a link to the website of a group of people who have generously allowed me to work with them on Friday nights at the Day Resource Center for the last couple of years while they serve dinner and give away clothing.  They provided me with a way to give away the clothing I like collecting, which opportunity I lost when the homeless camps were razed by the city in 2005.

The post gives a list of the services to be provided by the new homeless assistance center, The Bridge, when it opens in May.

http://www.ourcalling.org/2008/04/25/the-new-center-will-provide-what/#comments

KS

 

 

The Stewpot Calls for Volunteers, Donations at The Bridge April 22, 2008

Here is an excerpt from the current newsletter of The Stewpot, “In As Much”:

“Dear Friends,

Many of you have stepped forward in the fight against hunger. We ask that you go another round….
No knockout punch will be thrown in this ring. This fight is about endurance. It’s about compassion.

The Stewpot will continue to offer a wide range of social services at its current location. But in the next month we will move our meal service to the city’s new homeless assistance center (The Bridge), allowing us to expand from five meals a week to 21.

We ask that you consider adopting a day or a meal to assist our downtown neighbors. The Stewpot will underwrite 20 percent of the cost not covered by city funding. That means a $1000 donation will adopt a day for your congregation or group. A gift of $400 will cover lunch or dinner, and a gift of $200 will cover breakfast for the estimated meals that will be served each day. [Any amount will be appreciated!]

There are volunteer opportunities as well. Your congregation or group can adopt breakfast or dinner any day of the week at no cost. Lunch is available for volunteer groups to serve on the weekend.

Sincerely,
Rev. Dr. Bruce Buchanan
Director”

To donate:
1. On-line credit card at: http://www.thestewpot.org/loavesandfishes.asp
2. Mail payment to: The Stewpot, 408 Park Avenue, Dallas, TX 75201
3. Call: (214) 746-2785, ext. 236, or E-mail Lee Hutchins at leeh@thestewpot.org
[A percentage of every dollar donated between 3/1/08 and 4/30/08 will be matched by the Feinstein Foundation.]

To volunteer:
Contact Bobbie Taylor at: bobbiet@thestewpot.org
Indicate day of the week, Monday through Sunday, and preferred meal times: Breakfasts from 6
— 7:30 a.m., Dinners from 6 — 7:30 p.m., Lunches from 11:30 a.m. — 1:00 p.m. (weekday lunches are already taken)
Please provide: contact person for church group; email and phone of contact person; organization name; address of church, city, state, zip; # volunteers available.

 

The Good; The Bad; The Very Sad March 9, 2008

Journal Archives
Tuesday, 5/10/05

The Good

Today I got this thrilling e-mail from my friend David, which speaks for itself:

“Today, I saw Patrick. He said he and Candance were still having problems and were not together. However I found another man who lived in the apartments just up the street from where Patrick and Candace were living. I didn’t get all the details, but it seems that Candance was staying in one of the apartments temporarily with a family. I gave the Bible to the man/family that Candace was staying with. He promised to give it to Candace.”

I am over the moon with joy at hearing some word about these two sweet people. And, although it is sad that they are not together, it is wonderful that Candace is off the street, where life is particularly hard for women. Knowing they are alive and well gives me tremendous peace.

The Bad

Received two very disturbing phone calls today from another friend who says that the I-45 homeless camp, where Dee and her dogs, Mack, and around a hundred people live, was once again razed this morning. Texas Department of Transportation bulldozers and dump trucks moved in and scooped up people’s homes and belongings — five dump-truck loads went into the city landfill. It’s especially frustrating because the camp was at its most well-stocked: church groups had just donated new tents, blankets, towels, clothing, food and personal care items. From a purely practical standpoint, what a waste of resources for both donors and recipients!

The Very Sad

A couple of weeks after this I learned that, in the chaos of the camp being destroyed by TXDOT, the beautiful Simba, the older of Dee’s two dogs, was hit by a car and badly injured. After languishing for many days, he died.

KS

 

Chocolate That Melts In Your Hand March 3, 2008

Filed under: homeless people's pets,homelessness,hunger — Karen Shafer @ 9:06 pm

       “Love until it hurts….What I do you cannot do: but what you do, I cannot do. The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.”
                                                                                                            ~~Mother Teresa

Journal Archives
Wednesday, 4/13/05

I had a great time going to Target and buying shoes and other essentials for Candace and Patrick. My daughter, Rose, chipped in some things, and we were able to put together several outfits for Candace from donated clothing, as well as a sizable bag of body care products given by my neighbors. I packed up t-shirts, jeans and socks for Patrick.

Rose went with me to take it all to their house, but they were not at home. We drove over to the large homeless camp to take Milk Bone treats for two dogs who lived there, Simba and Dude. The dogs won Rose’s heart as they gamboled around her feet in the dust of the camp while we talked to their owner, Dee, an intelligent and friendly woman who has a tidy tent near the camp gate. Dee works full-time as a temp but can’t get housing because she was once in prison.

Candace and Patrick were home when we got back to their house, and Candace ran to meet us as before, with Patrick walking behind. I introduced them to Rose, and we handed them their clothes and supplies. They were overjoyed.

“There’s a bag of Snickers candy bars in there for you guys,” I told them. “Well, you’d better give them to me if you want me to have any,” said Patrick, “’cause I didn’t get one bit of that Easter candy.” Candace giggled. “Yep,” she said proudly, “I went to sleep that night with my candy clutched so tight, held up here against my neck so nobody would take it from me, that I woke up with it melted in my hand!” We all thought it very funny, especially Candace, who was pleased with herself. But, though Patrick took it in good humor, you could see he was disappointed that she now had charge of the Snickers. “Candace, are you going to share with him?” I teased her. She held onto the sack with the Snickers inside. “Hmmm, maybe,” she said slyly.

After we’d talked for a while and were preparing to go, Candace threw her arms around Rose and said happily, “I’m going to be your ‘Auntie!’”

[to be continued]

KS