The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

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



Saving Other People July 30, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Saving Other People


Someone said to me a while back that they’d ‘saved’ a person who was homeless by giving them a job.  I was surprised by this assertion and said so.  Do we really save other people?  In a war zone at the point of a gun, perhaps yes.  But when a person is given an opportunity, it is the person herself or himself who shows up every day and turns the opportunity into success.  “It seems to me that, depending on one’s perspective, either God saves people, they save themselves, or both,” I said at the time.


The person with whom I was speaking dismissed my objection, telling me it was just a manner of speaking, and that I had missed the statement’s greater intent.  But I think the distinction is important, because if we claim to ‘save’ someone else, either we are fairly arrogant in believing our own line of chat, or we are disingenuous and condescending in thinking others will or should buy into this concept.


Those who have tried and succeeded or tried and failed to help people get off the street know only too well: there are many factors that play into the outcome of such attempts, one of the most significant being the person’s readiness to make the gargantuan shift away from street life and into housing and employment. Timing is a critical element.


Not long ago I had a conversation with a man who had been living on the street for many years and battling homelessness, mental illness, addiction, and cancer all at once.  He had been placed in housing by a nonprofit agency, but partly because there were not adequate support services attached to the housing, and partly because — by his own report — of his own state of mind, he ended up giving up the apartment and going back into a shelter.  It was too much responsibility and too little structure battling all his challenges at the same time, and, he said, he was lonely, missing the street community of which he had so long been a part.  He then succeeded, within the shelter he had chosen to reenter, in getting his mental illness and addiction under control, got treatment for his cancer and went into remission, and was then ready to once more move into a permanent supportive housing situation.


Recently I asked a good friend, Pastor Karen Dudley of the Dallas International Street Church, how her program had gone about facilitating the rehabilitation of those people within her discipleship, many of whom I know to have tried many other approaches before coming to the DISC.  I was expecting a lengthy exposition on philosophy and practice and was quite surprised by the simplicity of Pastor Karen’s response, which is probably why I remember it.  She spoke first of the primary importance of the constant and ongoing spiritual and religious aspects of life at the DISC, and then said:


“but the reconstruction of themselves is up to them.”

That simple phrase has continued to ring truer to me than almost anything I’ve heard about helping people get off the street.


I know that I am prickly on this subject of ‘saving’ people, especially friends who are homeless, because I find this sort of rhetoric to be exploitive and demeaning, as though the person being offered assistance were a project or a specimen rather than a capable human being, full of dignity.  Granted, those experiencing homelessness often have extraordinary challenges to overcome, as would anyone in their place.  But I think we have to be oh-so-very careful where we draw the line in our attempts to communicate with one another about their struggles and the ways that we hope to partcipate in the solutions to their dilemmas.  In reality, how we couch our efforts in our language, as well as in our own minds, says a great deal about us.  The metaphor of reaching out to someone is a lot different from the image of reaching down to them.




Dallas International Street Church:


Tommy [Not His Real Name] July 20, 2009


Monday, July 20, 2009



There are occasionally people who impact one’s life significantly, even if you rarely see them.  For me, Tommy is one of those.


Tommy lives on the street and is always alone.  It is said of him that he won’t talk, but sometimes there are exceptions.  One of the people he’s always trusted is our mutual friend, Trey.  Trey is one of those earth angels to our homeless friends who does a very great deal to help them — and has for years — but does it all quietly and behind the scenes, with no fanfare.  He’s an important part of Tommy’s safety net, often buying him clothes and checking on him, and Trey will be moving out of town soon with his wife and young children.  So Tommy is strongly on my mind these days, knowing that an important link in his support network will soon be missing.


I saw Tommy this week at a monthly meeting that we both attend.  I usually sit at the same table with him at the meeting, but this week our tables were adjacent.  During a speech by someone that got a little lengthy, I looked over at him and he was looking my way.  He made the motion of casting a fishing line off into the distance and reeling it in, then cut a look back at me and flashed a rare, enigmatic smile.  I laughed.  “Somebody needs to reel in this speaker,” he was telling me.


I’ve known Tommy for a number of years, back from the time of the Day Resource Center when I used to volunteer there on Friday evenings, tagging along with Our Calling Ministries because they’d let me give away clothing I’d collected for our homeless friends after the ministry had served a hot, home-cooked meal to several hundred street people on the DRC parking lot.  Although his is a sizable physical presence, Tommy is so quiet and still that it is somehow possible to be almost unaware that he’s around.  I remember going away from a freezing cold evening on that urine-soaked parking lot and thinking, “Wait a minute?  Who was that person in a large army-green trench coat standing stock still most of the night, all on his own in the shadows?”  I had the feeling it had been an apparition.  Then I had the strangest thought — that it was Christ Himself among us. I still think that thought was right.


Soon Trey introduced me to him, and from that time on I made a point of saying, “Hi, Tommy,” whether or not he responded, but often he did.  Then one night in prayer circle, he was suddenly standing next to me and even held my hand.  From then on, I would often look up to find him standing nearby when I was handing out clothing, and sometimes we would have a brief conversation.


I wonder if Tommy mostly refuses to speak with people because sometimes his words don’t come out as he wants them to.  After this week’s meeting, I asked him if he needed some new clothes, as he tends to wear what he has down to the bitter end of its usefulness (and way past its cleanliness), and he replied, in his soft drawl, “Wellll…  I could use some shoes, or whatever you can get.”  I looked at his shoes, which have become well-vented over the summer through coming apart at the seams.  He told me his shoe size, and then, as has often happened when I talk to him, he began to speak further, but his words came out in a jumble.  (The words themselves are sometimes of the so-big-that-average-people-have-to-consult-a-dictionary variety.)  I saw him wince almost imperceptibly, as though he himself was surprised by it, and I tried not to register discomfiture but rather to go on with the conversation as though I understood.  This somehow seems to reassure him.  Although we both knew I didn’t get it all, it was OK, because we had made a connection.


One night on the DRC parking lot a few years back, I asked him if he wanted me to help him look for housing through a new program that Central Dallas Ministries was starting called Destination Home.  “No,” he said, “you see, I’m mentally ill…” and then his words continued in a stream but went off in an obtuse direction and were spoken so softly that I couldn’t understand them.  “OK,” I said when he was finished.


Somehow all of the highly-publicized help we are giving people who are experiencing homelessness in Dallas through our city services — and our arresting, ticketing, jailing and trying to force them into mental health care for which there’s inadequate funding to keep them there — as well as our efforts to transition them into housing that’s woefully insufficient because nobody wants ‘the homeless’ in their ‘hood — somehow all of this costly and much-touted assistance is passing Tommy by.  The only place I’ve seen him safe and cared for is The Stewpot. But he still lives on the street and sleeps in the open.  I continually ask myself how he survives.


When we can find a place for Tommy (and the many others like him) in ‘our world’…  a place that is safe, that he can trust, where he can be cared for and be able to care for himself, a place that is clean and out of harm’s way…  on that day, I’ll be willing to concede:  we will have made a good start on solving the problem of homelessness in Dallas.  But not until then.




Reconnecting to ‘The Wild’ July 8, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2008


Reconnecting to ‘The Wild’


This past Fourth of July weekend, one of my daughters, Rose, and granddaughter, Cora, and I went to Glen Rose, Texas to stay a few days, do the ‘Dino’ thing (this granddaughter is six and admires T Rex as much as any six-year-old), and visit Fossil Rim Wildlife Ranch.  []


I’d been to Fossil Rim with my older daughter’s elementary-school class as a Room Mother mannnnnnny years ago for the Scenic Wildlife Drive, accompanied by twenty-five 6-to-9-year olds, and remembered feeding the ostriches through the car window and how it felt like the force of a thunderbolt hitting your hand when they took the food pellet from you.  It was great fun to drive through the 1700 acres, seeing the animals wild and free while we remained safely in our ‘car cage.’


This past weekend’s drive through the park was more enjoyable than any of us had imagined.  Cora is a ‘nature fanatic’ — for example, she’s caught and released around fifty snakes and lizards this spring and summer — and her excitement at hand-feeding the endangered Addax, European Red and Fallow Deer, Aoudads and other species through the car windows is easy to imagine.  


These days, visitors are warned against feeding the ostriches, but the shrieks and screams all around inside our ‘car cage’ as the aggressive big birds tried to insert their heads and necks through the windows was quite funny.  We got to touch the nose and flank of a Grant’s Zebra as he nuzzled our car door, but the big thrill of the trip was interacting with the giraffes, the only animal one is technically advised to hand feed these days at Fossil Rim because they have no teeth.


We’d been told by ranch staff that, if the giraffes were reticent about approaching us to be fed, we should pull our car over, turn off the engine and quietly wait.  “They like to figure out who’s serious about feeding them,” the ranger told us.  When we got to the giraffe area, they were indeed ‘doing their own thing,’ nibbling the tree tops, so we did as instructed, parking near them.


It took a few minutes, but soon we saw one of the magnificent giants approaching the rear of the car.  The three of us were giggling and whispering and trying to ‘be cool’ and not scare him away.  Elegantly, he glided slowly over to us and bent his towering head down to the back window, and Cora held out her hand with a feed pellet in it.  His long purple blue tongue gently swooped the pellet into his mouth.  To say that the child was ecstatic understates it.


One is strictly forbidden to leave one’s car at Fossil Rim, but we remembered that our car has a moon roof, so we opened it, and Cora stood up through it and continued feeding the enormous, exquisitely beautiful animal as he lowered his head to earth, petting his nose as she did so.  The giraffe was utterly gentle and peaceful, with the most polite entreaties for food we had encountered all day.


Cora sat on the top of the car with her legs still inside through the moon roof, and the giraffe nuzzled her ear and then nibbled at her ponytail!  She was overjoyed.  It was a moment none of us will ever forget.


We all three came away from Fossil Rim in a joyful state.  It is so important to connect with the natural world, and I often forget this living in the city.  What a gift these beautiful, inquisitive animals gave us.  We have an incalculable treasure just an hour and a half from Dallas.  After the weekend, I felt more restored and whole than I have in years.


This experience brought to mind what many of the Stewpot Community Court Volunteers and the Dallas International Street Church disciples said on the Garden-Raising Day at the Street Church on May 2, 2009.  There was something about being outdoors, close to Mother Earth, that helped us all relate and get along in a way that would not have been possible in a different setting.


We get disjointed, disconnected — or I do — and my life begins to feel compartmentalized.  But how healing it is to remember and to feel at a deep level that we are an integral part of a much greater picture than our daily concerns allow us to realize, even though those concerns may be of the utmost significance.  If we’re lucky and take the time, the ‘critters’ and the grandkids can help us find our way back to sanity.




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:


 For a video clip of The Garden Team Leaders speaking on television about their experiences, look here:



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


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 []





Some Things Don’t Change: Kim Horner & Thackeray May 11, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Some Things Don’t Change


If you haven’t yet read Part 2 in Kim Horner’s series in the Dallas Morning News and seen Courtney Perry’s moving photographs about chronic homelessness in Dallas, you’ve missed something vital to understanding the complicated picture of this challenging problem.  Kim’s latest piece blends heart and head in the way in which she excels.  When I finished reading it, I felt both sad and relieved, because it gives context to what I’ve experienced for years but have not fully understood: the human cost of gaps and inadequate services for our people without homes in Dallas.


As mental health support wanes, many doomed to homelessness


I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Kim a little bit in the past few months, and I’ve found her to be a kind and trustworthy individual who tells it like it is, ‘gets it’ at many levels, and is able to synthesize complicated information successfully:  facts, analysis, compassion without sensation.  She knows one doesn’t have to engage in hyperbole in reporting on her ‘beat’, because the situation on the streets of Dallas is heartbreaking enough without it.


Another person who ‘got it’ — and frequently expressed ‘it’ in scathing terms — was William Makepeace Thackeray, when he was writing the novel Vanity Fair (1847-48).  This literary masterpiece, which has been called by some ‘the greatest novel in English,’ is gaining ground in my affections, alongside Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, as one of my favorite stories of all time.  I first read it in high school and didn’t appreciate it — or understand it — at all. Reading it now, I can only absorb a page or two at a sitting because I find it so dense in meaning and altogether pertinent to modern-day society, and to homelessness in particular.


These passages from Vanity Fair speak for themselves:


“‘There must be classes — there must be rich and poor,’ Dives says, smacking his claret…  Very true;  but think how mysterious and often unaccountable it is — that lottery of life which gives to this man the purple and fine linen, and sends to the other rags for garments and dogs for comforters….  

The hidden and awful Wisdom which apportions the destinies of mankind is pleased so to humiliate and cast down the tender, good, and wise;  and to set up the selfish, the foolish, or the wicked.  Oh, be humble, my brother, in your prosperity!  Be gentle with those who are less lucky, if not more deserving.  Think, what right have you to be scornful, whose virtue is a deficiency of temptation, whose success may be a chance, whose rank may be an ancestor’s accident, whose prosperity is very likely a satire?”





The Garden-Raising Day, May 2, 2009 May 2, 2009


Saturday, May 2, 2009


The Garden-Raising Day, May 2, 2009

DISC & Stewpot Crews, Deborah in Center

DISC & Stewpot Crews, Edward in Center

DISC & Stewpot Crews, Larry in Front


As of today, The Garden: South Dallas, Texas exists on the ground and not just in our minds, hearts, spirits and to-do lists!  And it’s beautiful.

We had a wonderful day.   Thanks very much to every single person who was involved.

Particular appreciation to The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church, Dallas;  The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation;  and The Garden Committee, all of whom made this possible.

Many Blessings, Karen

For a look at pictures of The Garden-Raising Day in progress, see the inside front cover of the Dallas Morning News Metro Section for Sunday, May 3,  2009.


Dallas International Street Church Gospel Choir April 26, 2009


Sunday, April 26, 2009


Dallas International Street Church Gospel Choir


My friends Sandy and Oliver have given me, over the last 5-1/2 years, literally carloads of clothing, blankets, shoes, and toiletries that I’ve given away to our friends who live on the street and under the bridges in Dallas. They are the most ongoing and prolific donors imaginable for people experiencing homelessness in our city. Oliver, a chef, works many Saturday nights, so Sandy and I go out to dinner then from time to time, and last night was one of those times.


When Sandy and I met to go to dinner last evening, she’d brought with her a clothing donation (no surprise) for the Glory Thrift Store at 2704 Second Avenue (75210), the thrift shop of the Dallas International Street Church. “Let’s go down to the Thrift Store right now,” I told her, “and I’ll show you the site for The Garden: South Dallas, Texas, which is nearby!”  She was game.  



We arrived at the Street Church, and two men I know from Pastor Karen Dudley’s discipleship were standing out front. I’d forgotten about their live televised church service every Saturday at 7:30 P.M., which I’d attended several weeks ago and really enjoyed.  “We missed the bus to the TV show by two minutes,” the guys told me.  “We’ll drive you!” I told them, and we headed over to the Access 34 Television studio.



Inside the tv studio, we said hi to everyone, and, before the broadcast, Pastor Karen got all of us started singing — the choir, the audience — “When the Saints Go Marching In”.  Every time I’m in the presence of the DISC Gospel Choir, I can’t help singing, clapping, practically shouting along with their joy-filled sound, and last night was no exception.  By the time the broadcast started, everyone in the studio was swept up in the Love and the Spirit carried around the room by the choir’s beautiful voices and the sense of celebration in each face.  By the time they’d stopped singing, they had, as usual, brought me to tears.


Next time WFAA Channel 8 has its Gospel Choir Competition, we could all write in and support them in being part of it!




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.                                                                                           []

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.



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 []


The Magic of Gardens April 2, 2009


Thursday, April 2, 2009


The Magic of Gardens

(Someone, Please Steal This Idea!)


I love to garden in the winter, and in our North Texas climate, that is probably a good thing.  One has to get an early start on the Texas heat, and it’s always tricky striking a balance between getting a jump on the drought and blistering sun with plants that are liable to bolt, and trying to ‘cheat’ our freeze date of March 17 by planting tender things like potatoes early — then remembering to cover them if we get a late freeze.  There was one year when my kids were little — by the first of April, I had a burgeoning garden over which I was blissfully prideful, only to watch a late freeze take it down in mid-April!


This year, my son-law-law and grandson beat me to the punch.  They had their onions in by mid-February, and now theirs are way ahead of mine.  Still, by the second week in March, I could see the beginnings in my small vegetable patch of sugar-pod peas, carrots, Swiss chard, onions, tomatoes inter planted with nasturtiums, Italian parsley, radishes and bibb lettuce — all planted with the help of my three grandchildren.  And in the perennial bed, lavender, rosemary, lamb’s ear, echinacea, artemisia and perennial marigold had over-wintered successfully and were leafing out.


Then my granddaughter found some potato plants growing out of small pieces of potato skin in the compost pile, and she pulled them out.  One already had teensy baby potatoes growing on the roots, not an eighth of an inch long.  She and I were pretty thrilled with this discovery and stuck the plants into the dirt at the end of the veggie patch.  Four out of five are still going strong!  


Today, she and I found a cloves of garlic sprouting in a basket in the kitchen, took them outside and stuck them in the ground.  Later, we were thinning the lettuce plants, and she asked, “Do we take these and put them somewhere else?”  “We can eat them if we want to, since we didn’t have salad for dinner.”  Her eyes widened with tremendous excitement after a lifetime of being told she absolutely could not eat plants she picked up in her nature studies!  We were washing dirt off lettuce sprouts and popping them in our mouths for the next half hour.


And what of my rather fatal tendency to research seed catalogs in the dead of winter, make detailed lists, shop for seeds, plan, diagram, plant, and chart a garden fervently in late winter / early spring, set up elaborate systems of hose hookups for watering…  then get busy with other things and skip the rather vital part of actually doing the watering for several days at a time in a climate where three days without water is a death knell to many plants?  Hallelujah!  My grand kids as almost-first-graders are responsible enough now to head straight out to the garden, grab the hose, and give things a good soaking themselves.


When my girls were small, Steve, their dad (an expert gardener who puts me in the shade) kept a really marvelous and large organic garden.  We literally had three or four varieties of fresh vegetables for dinner most nights during peak season.  One mild winter day, my daughters and I went out to sit in the garden plot and ‘watch nature.’  All the vegetables from the previous fall had long been harvested and consumed.  Then one of us noticed some carroty-looking sprouts coming out of the ground and pulled them up.  There were several sweet, cold carrots that had managed to winter over!  We wiped the dirt off and ate them on the spot.  My girls are twenty-eight and thirty-one now, and we still talk about that day and how good those carrots tasted.


These days, as soon in the afternoon as I get a chance, I head out to the garden.  It is such a tonic.  There is something healing about being there that helps me leave everything behind — something that goes beyond words.  


Recently, while I was out there deadheading winter growth off of some perennials, I began to think of the healing effects of being in the garden, ‘watching the lettuce grow,’ and I thought how great it would be for people in homeless shelters to be able to plant and manage a community garden, while they are in the process of transitioning from the street into housing.  My fantasy spun off into all the elements required to grow strong plants:  getting the proper soil balance and consistency, providing the right combination of water and sun to help a particular plant thrive, finding a healthy harmony between management and ‘letting things be’ — just like the right balance of elements for a happy and successful human life.  Gardening seems to be art as well as science.


I thought of the sheer magic of sticking a seed into the ground and seeing it transform itself into a flower, herb or vegetable that can be enjoyed for its beauty or brought to the dinner table (or eaten on the spot, like my girls and their carrots, and mine and my granddaughter’s lettuce sprouts!)  I thought of how people in shelter settings could learn to work together — and of how the healing power of being in a garden would facilitate that. 


Then I pictured a stall at the Farmer’s Market in downtown, where the good people of Dallas were lined up to support formerly homeless individuals who had grown prize-winning organic produce and were offering it for sale.  All of the things that had gotten them to that point with a garden would be part and parcel of a skill set that could help them toward self-sufficiency in their lives:  cooperation, organization, planning and executing a project, seeing it through to completion, a bit of ‘prayer and magic’ for an auspicious result, and earning some cash off it all to boot.


The idea is something that’s beyond my purview to organize and pull off right now.  But I wish someone would steal it and run with it — maybe someone at the Bridge or other shelter facility or non-profit agency downtown.  If it happens, I’ll come and help with the weeding, and I’ll be the first in line at the Farmer’s Market stall, cash in hand!




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?


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





With No Conditions March 21, 2009


Saturday, March 21, 2009


I clipped this out of The Angelus, my church’s newsletter, several years ago.  Knowing it’s Lent now rather than Advent, still it can speak to us poignantly.  KS


With No Conditions


“The day after Thanksgiving the New York Times told [the story] of a 33-year-old local cab driver…  About five years ago, this cabby ‘prayed to God for guidance on how to help the forgotten people of the streets who exist in life’s shadows.’ As he recalls it, God replied:  ‘Make eight pounds of spaghetti, throw it in a pot, give it out on 103rd Street and Broadway with no conditions, and people will come.’  He did, they came, and now he goes from door to door giving people food to eat.  

I am not asking you to stuff the Big Apple with spaghetti, but a New York cabby can bring light into your Advent night.  He prayed to a God who was there;  he listened;  he gave the simple gift God asked of him;  he gave ‘with no conditions’;  and people responded.  Here is your Advent: 


Make the Christ who has become a reality, a living light, in your life and in some other life.  Give of yourself… to one dark soul… with no conditions.”

               ~~Written by Walter J. Burghardt (from The Angelus, Newsletter of Church of the Incarnation [Episcopal])


The Bible and the Birth Certificate March 13, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Bible and the Birth Certificate

c Karen Shafer

Friday, March 13, 2009


a night this week,

rain pours down from the freeway overpass above,

onto cardboard-box houses that are almost empty.

as the water splashes onto my head,

i think vaguely that it has been under car tires

and must be very dirty.

a man from India,

whose face shines near me in the dark

as he stands inside his empty box-house, says to me,

“what you all are doing makes all the difference.”

i battle back the tears

so as not to embarrass him

or myself.

i will choke on those tears for days,

as the sorrow i see and feel this night makes me ill,

sending me to bed with bronchitis.

it is the sorrow that does it,

not the cold.

i’ve seen this place for years,

this camp outside dallas

erected in desperation by people who have no place else to go –

seen it in various states and stages –

with occupants numbering a hundred,

and with a population of five.

maybe this time is harder

because it is so tragically

just exactly the same.


somewhere downtown in a brightly-lit building,

someone pulls a lever,

and the gears begin to turn.

wheels roll through the streets of dallas,

devouring all in their wake,

and move on down into the trenches,

where people wait, huddled under cardboard.

how many times have the dozers and dump trucks

come to this little community?

almost six years i’ve been seeing the aftermath,

yet i’m just a newcomer.


is this truly the best we can do?


this week, this night,

four friends of the camp’s people

stand helplessly on the sidewalk,

trying to know how to tell the story,

and trying to keep the people alive –

in body and in spirit –

in bitter rain,

and wind which cuts with a vicious bite

through the space

under the freeway overpass.


i walk back and forth

in front of the remaining cardboard houses,

up and down the sidewalk in the blackness,

one new pair of socks left in my pocket.

these few box-houses,

back from the dead of last friday’s raid,

won’t last long

against the dump trucks and dozers

which are sure to come again soon.


a woman comes towards me in the dark,her face hidden in a hood.  “he’d just gotten a copy of his birth certificate,” she tells me of her husband.  “it was in his Bible.  last friday, the city came while he was downtown, clearing out his warrants [from being arrested for being homeless].  i tried to get them to let me back into our [cardboard] house to get his papers before they tore it down and took it away, but they said no.”


her husband was taking the steps he had to take to get off the street.

back to zero.


“wait, wait,” i tell her, and i put my arm around her and walk her back down the sidewalk toward the friends who’ve come with me, wanting her to tell another witness, wanting the words to be hers, not mine.  words coming out of a sad face, a cold face, a numb face — a face that can barely hold any more sorrow, but that endures, and one that seems to be past anger, because it has no recourse.  as we walk, she asks me, ‘do you have any clothes?  they took everything.’  ‘i’ll bring you some,’ i promise.


a bureaucrat gives an order,

and the trucks roar to life.

workers wield their rakes,

clearing the residue of human lives.

‘you can take your id’s — nothing else,’

they tell these people regarding their own possessions

clothing, bedding, everything is gone.


so the man from India

stands inside his empty cardboard house

on this near-freezing night

with two thin blankets

and says to me, without anger or self-pity,

‘feel these blankets.  they are wet.’

he is well-spoken, clearly educated.

i touch the blankets.

‘they are wet,’ i agree. ‘i’m so sorry.’

we have no more blankets with us to give him —

we’ve made the rounds of other camps already —

but what matters to him is that someone sees,

that someone cares.


we all need a witness.


if there is love and caring,

the wet and wind can be more easily endured.

it feels so bitterly cold under that bridge,

though, near the people, it is warm.


trying to rise from the muck,

the woman frantically grasps at the costly sheet of paper,

tucked there within the Good Book,

but both are sucked up into Heaven,

just out of reach of her hands.

the machinery of bureaucracy

is grinding up and spitting out human beings,

along with their hopes, dreams and belongings.


no recourse.


a group of theorists finds the people, counts them, takes in money on their behalf, and spends it as they see fit.  a group of bureaucrats collects sizable pay checks in the name of aiding the people, returning to elegant houses at day’s end, yet the people themselves are forbidden their cardboard-box homes, though they have nowhere else to go.


then, somewhere in the past, present and future, a tall, robust man stands at a podium looking radiant and nods graciously to thunderous applause from like-minded supporters.  crystal sparkles.  luscious food has been presented, nibbled at, pushed away, and removed.  by candlelight, wine is sniffed, sipped, and perhaps sloshed onto starched white tablecloths.


the remnants of the food find their way to the landfill,

and mingle there with a Bible and a birth certificate.


“i’m happy to report that we’ve solved the problem of homelessness in dallas!” the man says, smiling an appealing and congenial smile.  and, once again, the audience roars to life.


as if the magic of machinery can make human beings disappear.


Larry James Urban Daily Blog:

Janet Morrison’s Community Dialogue:

Pegasus News:

Dallas Homeless Network Blog:

Conscience & Clarity Blog:

Being the Change Blog:


Trust March 9, 2009


Monday, March 9, 2009



When we have solved the problem of homelessness in Dallas, we will know it.  We will not need to ticket, arrest and harass homeless people for being on the streets of our town in order to get them out of sight.  They won’t need to be on the street, because they will have access to housing, social programs, and jobs which pay a living wage.  


Our programs serving the homeless will not be averse to criticism, because they will be good, fair, evenhanded and effective.  They will work, and, if they do not work, we will listen to those who ‘know how to,’ and we will change them. Therefore, they will be funded.  


Take the example of the Stewpot.  When the Stewpot puts out an appeal, people generously respond.  Why?  Because this is an organization which has credibility, viability, integrity and staying power.  Rules are rules, and the homeless clients they serve know this;  the rules are for everyone, and they don’t change every day.  A client may or may not believe that a rule is fair; nonetheless, trust is built with the organization because those living in the perilous and shifting sands that street life offers know what to expect at the Stewpot, day in and day out.  Donors have the confidence that their donations, in-kind and monetary, will be directed efficiently to the targeted population.  There is a strong, trusted, and experienced leader at the Stewpot [Rev. Bruce Buchanan], and there is accountability among the staff to him. 


Clarity.  Consistency.  Transparency.


Here is a conversation I had with an intelligent and well-educated ‘chronically homeless’ individual recently in response to my question, “Do you use the [homeless assistance center and shelter system]?”


“I tried it for a while, but I gave up.  If I want craziness, I can get it out here [on the street].  I don’t have to go there to get it.  They want me to give up whatever drugs I might want to use, but then they want to put me on their [prescription] drugs in order to sedate me into being a person who can fit into their way of doing things and be compliant.”


I am not an advocate of ‘recreational’ drugs — don’t use them or champion their legalization.  I think they are almost wholly destructive.  But this point of view makes sense from a certain perspective.


What is the element that is missing between this homeless individual and the organizations built to facilitate her or his getting off the street?  Trust.  I’m not sure I would trust the system much either if I were in his or her position, and I understand the viewpoint even from the privileged perspective of being a property owner and a taxpayer [although, as we are seeing, even these privileges are quite tenuous in uncertain times.] 


But when one is utterly powerless and living on the street, it is not likely that one will give up the little power and comfort one has in order to put oneself in the hands of authorities which are perceived to be unreliable, unpredictable and whimsical in their exercise of power, at best.  Not one of us would choose that, would we?  Is it a character flaw to choose independent living, rough as it is, over the perception of a dangerous surrender?  We have squandered an opportunity to win the trust of some chronically homeless individuals in recent months, and I hope it can be rebuilt.


“If I want craziness, I can get it out here.  I don’t have to go there to get it.”  A concise and eloquent statement.


When we have solved the problem of homelessness in Dallas, we will know it.  There won’t be hundreds to thousands of homeless individuals living in the woods, hiding from Dallas authorities.  We won’t have to dissemble, harass, prosecute, and hound people into shelters and treatment.  Our programs will be open to constructive criticism, and our responses to the same will be forthcoming, measured and rational.


As my friend, David Timothy, says of his organization, the SoupMobile:  “I don’t want us to just look good.  I want us to be good.”


That is a goal worth striving for, and it is the only one that will succeed.


Karen Shafer


Link on Pegasus News:

Link on Dallas Homeless Network:


Homeward Bound March 3, 2009


Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Homeward Bound


I just got back a couple of hours ago from going with my friend, Soupman (David Timothy), to visit our good friend, Samuel, who lives in a cardboard house.  Tonight, Samuel seemed discouraged.  The police come by every Thursday or Friday and ticket him for ‘sleeping in public’ or ‘littering’, even though there’s no trash around his house whatsoever —  he takes pride in keeping it tidy.  He can work the tickets off in community service, go to Community Court, but the bigger question here is “What is the point of the ticketing?”  Samuel and those in his situation have nowhere to go.


People are trying to survive, to work, to live, to get themselves out of the hole they’re in.  Is there any possible way in which constantly being ticketed and warranted and sometimes arrested furthers their efforts to lift themselves up?


We are a long, long way from having affordable housing for the 6000 + homeless people in Dallas (a conservative estimate — many think it’s almost double that number.)  We’re also a long way from having enough shelter beds for everyone, or from fulfilling the promise publically made when the Bridge was in the planning stages that it would accommodate the ‘shelter-resistant’ homeless by providing a safe place for them to camp within the homeless assistance center campus.


After visiting Samuel, we moved on to visit some other friends who live outdoors.  “How many people are hiding out around here?” I asked James.  “Around 2000,” he responded.  “What??”  I said, incredulous.  “That’s a conservative estimate,” he replied, and his neighbors around us agreed.  James is extremely intelligent:  college educated, ex-military, well-spoken.  I love talking to him.  He’s also reliable in the street sense, and I trust the information he gives me.


Earlier, I had sat on the bumper of the truck near Samuel’s house, and he’d knelt by my knee.  We talked for a long time while David did all the heavy lifting of giving out coats and blankets to people who showed up.  “I know I’ve been saying this for a long time,” he told me, “but I’m sick of this.  I want to get out of here.  One of these days you’re going to come down here to get me and say to me, ‘Samuel, let’s go,’ and I’ll just leave.’”  We looked at each other steadily through the darkness, as I scanned my mind for ‘housing first’ initiatives for which he would qualify and came up short.  “Where would we be going?”  I asked him.  I was really hoping he had an answer, because I don’t.  We just kept looking at each other for a long time, saying nothing.


Both Samuel and James would be good candidates for ‘housing first,’ as both are independent and have a strong work ethic but have lost faith with the current system in place to help them.


Samuel, David and I put our arms around each other before we left, and I felt honored to be chosen to say a prayer. As David and I climbed aboard the van, Samuel said something about heaven, and then he said something I’ll always remember:  “We’re not homeless;  we’re homeward bound.”




Just Like Us February 26, 2009

Thursday, 2/26/09


Just Like Us


One of the best and kindest people I know — and definitely the smartest — is my friend, John.  He’s one of those people you look at and think:  “How does he do it?”  He is a doctor of theology and teaches at a Dallas university.  He speaks six languages, including Latin.  And, oh yes, he is a classically-trained pianist and vocalist.  Gosh, John, is that all???  


You’d think he’d be ‘full of himself,’ but instead he’s full of humility, humor and love.  The first time my grand kids met him, they talked for an entire year about a story he told them that night — off the top of his head — about a fanciful character called ‘Princerella.’


John also puts himself on the line.  When I first mentioned mobile feeders of the homeless to him a few years back, he was volunteering with them within the week.


I sometimes find myself spouting a concept that sounds pretty clever and suddenly realize, “Hey, wait, I so didn’t come up with that.  I first heard that from John.”  I think of the hatred one often sees directed towards individuals who are homeless by people who don’t know them and have not had personal relationships with them, except perhaps to pass them on the street.  There are strong examples of this prejudice in comments on public blogs.  


When I get frustrated with this irrational hatred and become angered by it, I will sometimes stop and think, “But such hatred is in itself a particular kind of poverty.”  And then… “Wait, I first heard that idea from John.”  I shared this concept with a friend, LeAnne, by e-mail this week when we were both riled up about something unjustly written about our homeless friends, and she got it right away, writing back, “…you’re right.  How awful to have to live that way.” 


Here’s part of an e-mail I received from John this week.



I guess some people judge the community by different perspectives, and particularly when the economic environment is so troublesome, I think people fear for their own survival. When they do so, helping others becomes a luxury that can be left behind. Prioritizing during crisis makes sense. 

I think the city has to come up with a way to understand the humanity of the homeless in a way that will help the rest of us see how we are better together than apart. Unless you meet the homeless and talk to them, it’s hard to see what we have to gain from knowing them and living with them. Knowing them as the other, they can be caricatured and dispensed with. We do it with so many people…”


To me, this e-mail goes to the heart of the matter.  So often, our hearts and minds are changed dramatically when we meet homeless individuals, talk to them, and find out that they are…









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”

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

Las Vegas, Nevada

“Warming stations for homeless opened”


Middletown, Connecticut

“As cold hits, city makes sure homeless OK”

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


Omaha, Nebraska

“Warming Stations Open For Homeless”

Rochester, New York

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


Portland, Oregon

“Volunteers needed tonight for warming centers”


San Luis Obispo, California

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


Washington, D.C.

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

“Cold has agencies helping the homeless”


Louisville, Kentucky

“Winter blast leaves 17 dead”



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.  




Dallas International Street Church February 12, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Dallas International Street Church


Last Saturday, I had the privilege of eating lunch with Pastor Karen Dudley, founder and head pastor of the Dallas International Street Church on Second Avenue in Dallas and some other friends of people who are homeless in Dallas.  The church had just been shut down by the Dallas Fire Department for the second time in two months.


Previously, in early December, 2008, the Street Church had a number of fire code violations which were corrected.  The church got its ‘green tag’ and reopened at the end of December, which meant by the fire department’s standards, it was up to code at that time.  I visited the church for the first time during that closure, and wrote about the experience on this blog:


Rumors abound as to the reasons for this closing, so I’ll not add further fuel to that fire here, but rather will stick to what I know, which is this:  no one in town is doing what Pastor Karen is doing.  She is taking in and giving refuge and care to people who literally have no other options.  The population she serves and the neighborhood where she serves them are both extremely vulnerable.  And… she does what she does with unconditional love the equal of which it would be hard to find anywhere in this city.


Last Saturday night I also had the pleasure of attending the taping of Pastor Karen’s worship service at Access 34 Television.  It was the second time I’d heard the Dallas International Street Church gospel choir — they are terrific!  I hope they produce a CD soon — I’ll be the first in line to buy it.  I suggested this to the choir director, and he said, “First, we have to get the church reopened.  Then we need a keyboard that doesn’t short out when we’re playing it!”  


Anyone have an extra keyboard lying around in the garage you’d like to donate???  If so, I promise you’ll be proud of the choir it backs up!


Here’s a message from Pastor Karen’s website:


“The time is now. If you can help in any way, please contact me, Pastor Karen Dudley, Dallas International Street Church, 2706 2nd Ave., Dallas, Texas 75210  Phone: 214-928-9595”




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


Patience February 2, 2009

Filed under: Christianity,healing,homelessness,hunger,inspiration,Leadership — Karen Shafer @ 9:35 pm

Monday, February 2, 2009


Man!  Leave it to Henri Nouwen to try to make me better than I want to be or seemingly have the capacity to be.  Just when I’m feeling impatient in the extreme with the City of Dallas and their treatment of the homeless and the pace of progress regarding change, he hands me this:

“Entering Actively into the Thick of Life”

“What, then is the compassionate way?  The compassionate way is the patient way.  Patience is the discipline of compassion…  The words ‘passion’ and ‘patience’ both find their roots in the Latin word ‘pati’, which means “suffering.”  The compassionate life could be described as a life patiently lived with others…  If we ourselves are unable to suffer, we cannot suffer with others.  If we lack the strength to carry the burden of our own lives, we cannot accept the burden of our neighbors.  Patience is the hard but fruitful discipline of the disciple of the compassionate God.

At first this may sound disappointing.  It really sounds like a cop-out.  Each time we hear the word ‘patience’, we tend to cringe…

But true patience is the opposite of a passive waiting in which we let things happen and allow others to make the decisions.  Patience means to enter actively into the thick of life and to fully bear the suffering within and around us.  Patience is the capacity to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell as fully as possible the inner and outer events of our lives.  It is to enter our lives with open eyes, ears, and hands so that we really know what is happening.  Patience is an extremely difficult discipline precisely because it counteracts our unreflective impulse to flee or fight.  When we see an accident on the road, something in us pushes the accelerator.  When someone approaches a sensitive issue, something in us tries to change the subject.  When a shameful memory presents itself, something in us wants to forget it.  And if we cannot flee, we fight.  We fight the one who challenges our opinions, the people who question our power, and the circumstances that force us to change.

Patience requires us to go beyond the choice between fleeing or fighting…  It calls for discipline because it goes against the grain of our impulses.  Patience involves staying with it, living it through, listening carefully to what presents itself to us here and now…  [it] means stopping on the road when someone in pain needs immediate attention…  overcoming the fear of a controversial subject…  paying attention to shameful memories and searching for forgiveness without having to forget.  It means welcoming sincere criticism and evaluating changing conditions.  In short, patience is a willingness to be influenced even when this requires giving up control and entering into unknown territory.”

                              ~~Compassion, Henri J.M. Nouwen, Donald P. NcNeill, Douglas A. Morrison


Thank You, Carlos January 30, 2009

Friday, January 30, 2009


I have received an email from my friend, Carlos, who is shocked and outraged that the city seizes the private property of homeless citizens and destroys their dwellings during police sweeps and arrests.  Here is what he said in part:

“I read what you wrote about the police destroying the homeless people dwellings and taking away their things.  Why are the police being so cruel to the homeless?

The city is telling them to harm the homeless! oh no ! we’ve got to do some thing about this. I will be looking for the link on your blog for the city of dallas. 

You know I understand that it does not look good to have all these homeless people hanging around businesses, but it is part of the city’s fault for not making it a priority to give them a place to go to. I  think the city should do more in fixing this problem instead of spending money on new hotels and other things like that, they should do more for the homeless. what the city does not realize is that it is going to get worse.  if there are (and I am guessing) 10,000 homeless just in Dallas this year, in 5 years it will be 30,000 may be 50,000, and then it will be too late, so something needs to be done. get them jobs and traning in something.”

Carlos has requested information on how to contact the mayor and city council about this.  Here’s how to do it.  It probably makes the biggest impact of all for ordinary citizens to speak to their city government directly about something that seems to them to be an abuse.  They are used to hearing from advocates and service providers!  It can make a difference.

Thank you, Carlos, for suggesting this:


Go to this link:


In the blue menu at left, click on:


“Mayor and City Council E-Mail”.


Click on this option at the top of the page:


“Email the Mayor and ALL the Councilmembers at one time.”


The form pops up for sending a group email to Mayor Leppert and City Council.


Arrested & Jailed: Sherry Parker, Poet January 28, 2009

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Arrested & Jailed


Three days after the Bridge closed its courtyard for sleeping and the subsequent police sweeps began, Sherry Parker and her boyfriend, Sarge, were arrested for ‘criminal trespass’, which in this case meant sleeping in public on private property, and spent ten days in jail.  I had heard about this through the ‘grapevine’ when I went looking for them in early December and couldn’t find them.


The police report of their arrest says they were ‘warned.’  They say not.  Sherry had a clean record;  Sarge had just worked off some tickets through community service.  They were told by the arresting officer that this offense would put a Class B Misdemeanor on their records.


Both Sherry and Sarge work full time, but their hours prevent them getting into shelters to sleep, including the Bridge, as they often work evenings. 


Sherry, like many women on the street I’ve spoken with, used to sometimes seek shelter and safety on the Bridge campus.


I ran into them in late December and sat with them on some steps to get caught up, at which time Sherry handed me the following new poem from her journal.  It was cold on the concrete steps, and they had just been robbed.  As luck would have it, an Anonymous Angel had just filled my car with coats and blankets.


Does adding a Class B Misdemeanor to people’s records help them get out of homelessness?  What do you think?




Always Returning

Always returning

     to some lost place

Where the winds moan softly —

Surrounding me in the emptiness…

Always returning

     in the same swift race

Speeding up gradually;

Enjoying the chase —

Always returning

     to some promised light — 

That beacons out brightly —

Saving souls in the darkness —

Always returning —

     Eternal — to me —

A lost soul —  seeking solace —

Thoughts left bound in their brightness.

copyright Sherry Parker, 12/28/09


You may see some of Sherry’s other poetry by clicking on the category “Street Voices” at right.


Profiting From Suffering January 24, 2009

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Profiting From Suffering

“Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, we are committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals.  We will practice generosity by sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.  We are determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others.  We will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.”

~~Thirteenth precept of the Tiep Hien Order of Buddhism (the Order of Interbeing), founded in Vietnam during the war, from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Being Peace.

Question:  Is it profiting from the suffering of others when people are ticketed and arrested simply for being homeless, based on the theory that businesses downtown will only grow if homeless people are not around?  KS


Things That Make You Go ‘Hmmm’… January 17, 2009

Saturday, January 17, 2008

Things That Make You Go ‘Hmmm’…


How is it that…?


…the Dallas Police Department picked 8:00 A.M., Wednesday, January 14, 2009, the coldest day of this winter thus far, to raid the homeless camps outside the city center, destroy people’s cardboard houses, seize their personal belongings and ticket the homeless individuals living there?


How is it that…?


…when I was at the decimated camp site last night with a friend talking to camp leader, [let’s call him] Harry, who was a recipient of this raid, and who had been cuffed in addition to being ticketed and having his belongings and home taken away, I was the one who couldn’t stop crying, and he was the one who put his arms around me, held onto me for a long time and comforted me, saying into my ear:  “You can’t be sad, please don’t cry, it’s nothing bad, it’s only good.  It’s all in God’s hands, it was all been planned from the beginning.  There’s nothing bad in this, you have to believe me.  Do you believe me?  Have faith, know that only good will come of this.  It is all supposed to be happening.  You can’t cry.  I don’t want you to be sad.”  Then, because of his solace, my tears stopped.  My friend and I had gone to ‘Harry’ and his friends last night to help them out with coats and blankets, but, as has so often happened with homeless friends in the past, the comfort came back more than it went out, and he saved me from despair.


How is it that…?


…with 1300 shelter beds in the city (not including 300+ at the Bridge) and over 5869 homeless women, men and children in Dallas counted in the homeless census for 2008 [most people close to the homeless community consider the number 10,000 to be a more accurate estimate], the City of Dallas considers it appropriate behavior to ticket, arrest and generally hound the homeless until they are either in jail or in hiding, pretending that they have options as to where to go?  


Here’s a quote from NBCDFW for January 14, 2009:  “A small army of Dallas bike patrol officers took to the streets of downtown Wednesday to move the homeless population off the streets and into shelters…  Over the past week, Dallas Bike Patrol Officers have written 200 trespass citations in and around downtown.  “We will be going into Deep Ellum and the Cedars next,” Allen said.  “This will be an on-going operation.”

I’m no math major, but even I can see the discrepancy in numbers here.  Does the City believe that Dallas citizens are so clueless or so gullible as to be unable to subtract 1300 from 5869 and come up with 4569 homeless people who have no access to a shelter bed?  “Into shelters”?  Shouldn’t we just say “get them to disappear into thin air”?  (OK, well, I am so clueless that when I first calculated the numbers in my head I got 3569, but never mind.)


How is it that…?


…it takes twelve Dallas Police Officers to stop and search a homeless man and his bags when he is on his way to work, as happened this week [without probable cause, as far as I can tell]?  Twelve.  Is that an effective use of police resources?  Those must be some ‘powerful-bad’ blankets he has to carry with him everywhere he goes because people are routinely getting their belongings stolen in the Bridge storage facilities.


How is it that…?


…laws such as ‘sleeping in public’ and ‘obstructing the sidewalk’ can be considered constitutional, when, if you or I took these actions dressed in a business suit, there is very little chance that we would be ticketed for them?  In other words, so-called ‘quality of life’ ordinances are not applied to all citizens equally, but only to those who ‘look homeless’.


How is it that…?


…in the greatest city in the world (in my opinion), Paris, France, it is not at all unusual to be panhandled, even on the Metro (subway), and people still, miracle of miracles, live in, work in and flock to this vibrant, extremely diverse city from all over the world?  Could it be that we’re putting too much blame on the homeless for challenges in revitalizing downtown Dallas?


How is it that…?


…after all the progress we’ve made toward compassionate solutions to homelessness in Dallas, we are once again back to this state of affairs, when everyone, including City Hall and the Dallas Police Department, knows better?


These are a few of the Things That Make Me Go ‘Hmmmm.’  What about you?




… ‘And Now We’re In the Woods’ January 15, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I’ve known Scott for years, and, sometimes when I see him, he doesn’t feel like talking.  Sometimes when he talks, his words are so big and he is so erudite that I have to seek out a dictionary in order to understand him. Today, though, his words were simple and to the point.


“Where did they all go?” Scott asked me.  Although he himself is homeless, he was referring to the scores of people who used to sleep on the Bridge courtyard at night and have been unable to find shelter elsewhere.  


“I think they’re hiding in the woods,” I told him.


“This city has a horrible gut in it, and it digests people,” he said.  “And now we’re in the woods.”




Outlawing Homelessness January 9, 2009

Filed under: criminalization of the homeless,homelessness,hunger — Karen Shafer @ 9:32 pm

Friday, January 9, 2009

I walked into my workout place today, and the manager, a woman of heart and compassion, said to me, “Quality of Life???  Who are they kidding?  Whose quality of life?  These homeless people are human beings!  Is is too much trouble for people walking around downtown to have to look at others who are suffering?  It is absolutely outrageous.”  She was referring to an article in the Dallas Morning News entitled “Police target ‘quality of life’ offenders in downtown Dallas” dated January 8, 2009.



The following excerpts from an article by Kristen Brown entitled “Outlawing Homeless” are well worth reading because, after an all-too-brief lull, this is what we are doing in Dallas once again:  targeting and criminalizing  a particular group of people with laws that are specifically designed to get them out of sight:  Dallas Police officers are currently ticketing people for ‘criminal trespass,’ ‘sleeping in public,’ ‘blocking the sidewalk,’ etc.



“Outlawing Homelessness”

In the past decade, cities have increasingly moved toward enacting and enforcing laws that specifically criminalize homelessness in response to their concern about the use of public space. Cities enact and enforce these criminal laws as “quick-fix” solutions to remove homeless people from sight, rather than addressing the underlying causes of homelessness. This criminalization trend has been documented in reports by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty since 1991.

Over one-third of the cities surveyed have initiated crackdowns on homeless people, according to the survey respondents, and almost half of the cities have engaged in police “sweeps” in the past two years.

Driving Homeless People from Sight

Anti-homeless ordinances and policies come in several varieties. First are laws that prohibit certain behavior common among homeless people. In response to the rise of such ordinances, homeless people and advocates have brought lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the laws. While the results of the lawsuits are varied, in general, broad bans on panhandling and sleeping in public, when challenged by those who have no alternative place to sleep, are vulnerable to legal challenge. However, more narrowly drawn ordinances, such as those restricting begging in certain areas of the city, are not as vulnerable. 

Criminalization is Poor Public Policy

What all the above approaches share is the intent of removing homeless people from public spaces and from sight. Although some city officials’ concerns about public space are valid, the criminalization of homeless individuals is poor public policy for several reasons.

Adoption of laws and policies that punish homeless people rather than addressing the problems that cause homelessness is an ineffective approach. Penalizing people for engaging in innocent behavior – such as sleeping in public, sitting on the sidewalk, or begging – will not reduce the occurrence of these activities or keep homeless people out of public spaces when they have no alternative place to sleep or sit or no other means of subsistence. With insufficient resources for shelter and services for homeless people, imposing punishment for unavoidable activities is not only futile, it is inhumane.

Criminalization of homeless people imposes unnecessary burdens on the criminal justice system. Relying on law enforcement officials and jails to address homelessness and related issues, such as mental illness and substance abuse, that are more appropriately handled by service providers, causes problems and widespread frustrations within the criminal justice system. Police officers are not adequately trained to respond to the situations that arise, the criminal justice system does not provide the necessary treatment and rehabilitation opportunities, and members of jail staff cannot provide the extra supervision that people with mental illness or substance abuse may require. Further, jails are already overcrowded without detaining individuals who have not committed serious crimes.

Criminalization provides no long-term benefit for homeless individuals nor does it provide a lasting solution to the conflicts over public space. Moreover, it is likely to cost significantly more money. The costs of police time and resources and jailing individuals is substantially higher than the cost of providing them with shelter combined with necessary services. In 1993, the estimated cost, determined by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, to incarcerate a person for one day was approximately $40. Based on HUD data adjusted for inflation, the approximate cost to provide housing, food, transportation, and counseling services for one day was $30.90 in 1993. Thus, not only is it much less expensive to provide supportive housing to homeless people than to incarcerate them, but the services associated with supportive housing can potentially move people out of homelessness.

Alternatives To Criminalization

While the national trend toward criminalizing homelessness continues, several cities are pursuing constructive, alternative approaches to dealing with concerns about homeless people. Through these approaches – which often involve collaboration between city officials, police departments, and business people on one hand and homeless people and their advocates on the other – cities attempt to proactively address the problem of homelessness and provide services for homeless people.


New Blog In Town January 8, 2009

Thursday, January 8, 2008


New Blog In Town


There’s a new blog covering the latest news on homelessness in Dallas which I highly recommend.  Here’s the link:

The blogger seems to be making an effort to be non-polemical while still representing an advocacy point of view.  This is much needed in Dallas, as is a frequent update on the latest news on homelessness here.  I wish them a widespread readership and impact.




Powerlessness December 30, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,homelessness,inspiration — Karen Shafer @ 9:52 pm

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

God ‘Unmasks the Illusion of Power’

‘Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.’

~~Matthew 11:29

“God chose powerlessness.   God chose to enter into human history in complete weakness.  That divine choice forms the center of the Christian faith.  In Jesus of Nazareth, the powerless God appeared among us to unmask the illusion of power, to disarm the prince of darkness who rules the world, and to bring the divided human race to a new unity.

Through total and unmitigated powerlessness, God shows us divine mercy.  The radical, divine choice is the choice to reveal glory, beauty, truth, peace, joy, and, most of all, love in and through the complete divestment of power.  It is very hard — if not impossible — for us to grasp this divine mystery.”

                                        ~~Henri Nouwen,  ‘Advent Meditations from the Writings of Henri Nouwen’


We Built It, They Came, Now What? December 15, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008


We Built It, They Came, Now What?


Here I sit in the same cafe where I sat exactly 5 years ago, thinking the exact thoughts I had the first time I went out with HungerBusters Mobile Soup Kitchen to feed the homeless on the streets of Dallas in 2003.  How are the people around me going about their daily lives (and how am I?) while homeless individuals in the hundreds are starving and freezing on the streets of our city?


This time, though, the public will has been mobilized, the $21 million has been spent building the Bridge Homeless Assistance Center in downtown Dallas, the ‘promise’ has been fulfilled, hopes have been raised for homeless and housed alike, and much good has been accomplished, only to have it come crashing down now that bitterly cold weather is upon us. It Has Been Built, and They Have Come.  And now They are locked out by the hundreds.


What a grim, and, for me, unexpected lesson in failed bureaucracy.  People who know much more than I do may have seen it coming.  I didn’t.


There is much rumor and hyperbole around the disastrous new policy implemented at the Bridge since December 1, so I am going to focus first on what I know for sure.


What I Know For Sure


~~People who do not have a Bridge ID cannot get into the campus for meals.  The numbers of meals served at the Second Chance Cafe by the Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church has dropped to around 1300 per day from around 2150.  That means that, currently, 850 times a day someone is being denied a meal that has been provided since May, 2008, and that Second Chance Cafe is committed to serving.  This meal service was promised in national and local media by Bridge management when the center opened.


A friend who was licensed to feed on the streets, but is now prohibited from feeding the homeless downtown by a city ordinance which does not allow feeding outside the Bridge, told me a story of a man coming up to his car on the street outside the Bridge asking for food and crying because he was so hungry several days ago.  Such stories are just the tip of the iceberg.


~~The Bridge ID application procedures have been unwieldy and frustrating, if not non-navigable, for the homeless, to say the least.  As of  the end of last week, the process for getting an ID required standing in 3 different lines for up to 3-4 hours, and sometimes still coming away with no ID.  Add to that that to get a Bridge ID, preexisting identification is required, and many chronically homeless people don’t have that, or have had their ID’s stolen, and you see the potential frustration inherent in the process.  Throw in the percentage of this group that are mentally ill and have poor coping skills to begin with.  Add to that the number of homeless people who have to be at work 6 AM, when the Bridge ID lines opened at 9 AM, and you start to see the complications of a solution that on its face sounds simple and reasonable.  There have been promises of streamlined procedures from Bridge management, and hopefully they will/ have come through.


People who were issued temporary ID’s as early as Thanksgiving still don’t have their permanent ID’s.  Sometimes they are admitted to the Bridge with a letter from their Bridge caseworker, and sometimes not, depending upon who is on duty at the gate.


~~ As to the Bridge sending its overflow guests to other shelters, I was out among the homeless during the subfreezing weather a week ago and learned that the shelters were requiring payment and identification, two things they are often without.  But, more importantly, I learned that on those cold nights the shelters were full.  Even if you discount the ‘shelter-resistant’ population — and you cannot in good conscience do that — I personally saw and spoke with many people sleeping outside shelters on those nights who told me they had tried to get in and were turned away for lack of space.  And, if you can’t get into a shelter, you obviously can’t eat your meals there.


Additionally, the working homeless are still at work at the time most shelters require occupants to be inside, around 4 PM, so they are essentially penalized for having jobs.


Just this afternoon I spoke on the phone with a friend who is currently sleeping under a freeway overpass  and offered to let him sleep on my couch.  He said overflow procedures are in practice at the shelters due to subfreezing temperatures tonight, but, at Dallas Life Foundation, for example, you have five free nights until you have to pay, and he’s saving his money until he really needs it (! the current temperature is around 30 degrees!) because all the homeless are having to buy their food now since the Second Chance Cafe is unable to serve them meals due to lack of access to the Bridge campus.


When you add to that reports of theft and other problems within some of the shelters and you understand why there are, once again, hundreds of people hiding wherever they can and sleeping outdoors.


~~  The primary population this policy change has impacted negatively is the “chronically homeless,” the exact population the Bridge was to target when it opened.

~~  A homeless man was seriously burned last week trying to stay warm in a parking garage stairwell in downtown Dallas.


~~  When I was at the Bridge campus on November 30, the last night that sleeping was allowed on the courtyard, and I spoke with a number of women sleeping there about where they’d sleep the next night.  ”We have no idea,” they told me.  All of these women were on their own, without the protection of male partners.  I don’t know whether you know what women alone face living on the street, but it is not a pretty picture.    


~~  I personally know one pregnant woman who is on the street in this weather, and I would surmise from past experience that there are more.


What I Believe to be the Case

~~While the stated reason the Bridge has closed its gates to those without Bridge Identification because of issues with the Fire Marshall, it has been shown to be the case in the past that temporary compromises on these sorts of issues can be reached within the city for the greater good of the affected population, where there is a constructive plan and the public and political will to do so.  


~~ While rumors persist among and from my homeless friends that two people have died sleeping outdoors in this weather, there has been no confirmation of this.  However, what is being predicted by homeless people and service providers alike is that, before winter is out, there will be casualties of this current situation.  We have to do all in our power to prevent this happening.


What Can Be Done


I am certain this problem can be solved quickly, and it must be.   Here are some suggestions for what can be done.  I welcome others in the comments section.  It is not an exaggeration to say that people’s lives are at stake.


For this winter, I respectfully request that we:

~~Effective immediately, reopen the Bridge campus during meal hours to anyone who needs a meal.  This has been the practice since the opening in May.

~~ Reopen the Bridge campus for sleeping for anyone who is nonviolent, and especially for women, and use the police manpower that is currently being used for sweeps of the homeless to keep order there if necessary.  This way, people can at least be safe. Those who have previously been banned for violent or predatory behavior should remain so.

~~  For warmth, large outdoor heaters could be set up and a large tent with side flaps for temporary protection could be provided — infinitely better than sleeping in the open on the concrete.

~~  The Fire Marshall could be asked to make special provision for the winter for an expanded number of people to be allowed at the Bridge until Spring 2009.  The city or the Bridge should provide funding for a Fire Marshall to be on duty at all times to insure public safety for the numbers of individuals that need to be sheltered for the winter.

~~  These policies should be in place every day until a date to be determined in the Spring, 2009, not just for subfreezing weather.

~~  Even with the cost of extra policing and fire prevention, the costs to the city are likely to be considerably less that the current cost of police sweeps of the homeless downtown and of providing for them through emergency services, (ambulances, hospitals, jails, emergency mental health services, crisis intervention, policing), as we are now back to doing, statistically proven to be by far THE MOST EXPENSIVE way to deal with homelessness, humanitarian concerns aside.

~~  Alternatively, or in addition, we could consider using one of the abandoned buildings downtown as temporary shelter, complete with Porta-Potties, and use Downtown Safety Patrol or Dallas Police to keep order there.  Guests there could eat and use other services (bathrooms, laundry, storage) at the Bridge, as they were doing before December 1.

~~  Being a ‘Can-Do’ city, I know that we can come up with the Code and Zoning permits we need to make these solutions possible if we feel they would be successful and effective.


In Conclusion


With the publicity around the Dallas International Street Church regarding its becoming a refuge for the homeless when they were turned away from the Bridge and other shelters  (See “Miracle on Second Avenue”)  I don’t have to tell you that there is unhappy irony in a tiny, poor, South-Dallas church trumping a $21 million state-of the art homeless assistance center in its care of the homeless population.


The homeless population is the responsibility of the Bridge now, and the staff there are being paid well, in a state-of-the-art facility, to handle these issues.  It is failing to live up to that responsibility at this time.  With our tax dollars supporting the Bridge, we as taxpayers are entitled to transparency and accountability, not just an effective public relations campaign.


It would be tragic if the promising start made by the Bridge towards a compassionate and successful resolution to the homeless problem in Dallas up until now were at this point seriously derailed by a policy that is harming in a critical way the population it is supposed to be helping.





Miracle on Second Avenue December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Miracle on Second Avenue


Sometimes, through a benevolent combination of circumstances, you get the privilege of walking straight into the heart of Love, and tonight, at the invitation of my friend David Timothy, AKA SoupMan, I got to do that.


For months David had been inviting me to visit the Dallas International Street Church with him, but I hadn’t gotten around to it.  Then the story broke today about this tiny, poor, South-Dallas church sheltering homeless people in the hundreds who had been unable to get into the Bridge and other shelters in downtown Dallas.  When I had dropped by the SoupMobile this afternoon to pick up some brochures and chat with David and had learned he was going to the Street Church tonight to deliver some crates of canned food, I jumped at the chance to go with him.


All day rumors had been flying about the status of people being allowed to sleep inside the Street Church for tonight (Thursday).  The previous night the Fire Marshall had shut them down for code violations — the church is housed in a very old building south of Fair Park — and for having too many people inside sleeping on the pews, on the floor, anywhere there was a square inch, so that they would not have to sleep outdoors in the subfreezing weather.  The Dallas International Street Church had become the last refuge of many of the Dallas homeless population now that the Bridge had found it necessary to revise its open-door policy to coincide, unfortunately, with cold weather.  The timing of the implementation of this policy change with the advent of subfreezing weather was abysmal, and was resulting in extremely difficult circumstances whose lives are already quite challenging.

First we’d heard the Fire Department would have a representative stay in the church tonight to keep an eye on things and allow the homeless to shelter there.  Then we’d heard that was a no-go, and that a large open-sided tent the congregation owns — complete with a with an outdoor heater — was to be set up to shelter the homeless behind the church  — not exactly snugly warm, but better than sleeping in the open or on the concrete.


We pulled up into the church’s parking lot in the SoupMobile van to unload the food, and I noticed an official City of Dallas vehicle parked outside.  “I think the Fire Marshall is here,” I told David.  In the next moment, a woman came running up to us waving her arms and either laughing or crying — I couldn’t tell which.  It was ‘Queen,’ the de facto shelter director, and she was calling out, “Oh, thank God you’re here.  Did you bring any food?  You’re not going to believe what’s happened!”  The city had relented, it turned out, and was going to allow the homeless to sleep inside after all, with a Fire Marshall present all night to oversee things.  “Look, look, there they come!”  She pointed to a group of people walking along the sidewalk toward the door of the church.  “They’ve walked all the way from downtown!  We were not allowed to go downtown and pick them up in busses [which had been happening earlier in the week], but, if they can walk to here, they can come inside.  We made the rounds of the shelters earlier.  People have to have money and ID’s to get in, but, anyway, the shelters were all full.”


Several men came out of the church to unload the van, and we all went inside.  A church service was in progress, loud, spirited, with a gospel band.  Queen took me by the hand and led me through the pews of people, introducing me as we went along.  We sat down in the second row, and, suddenly, both of us began to cry.  She put her arm around me, this sister that I’d never met before tonight, and I leaned my head against her shoulder.  The frustration, the anger, the bewilderment, the stress that this week had brought to everyone who loves and works with Dallas’ homeless people — it poured out of us both to the sound of the searing gospel music as we searched our pockets for Kleenex and looked at each other without the necessity of explaining anything.


The sermon, given by a young, dynamic preacher, was pure, was strong, was speaking truth to power without condemning anyone.  “Seven months ago,” he said, “I was an addict, was homeless, hadn’t had a bath, was walking up and down Second Avenue, right out here.”  He pointed toward the front of the church.  Speaking eloquently about letting yourself be willing to shine, he said, “The changes that have happened to me in the past few months should by all rights have taken years.”


As the service continued, David took me for a tour of the building.  To say that Pastor Karen Dudley operates the International Street Church on a shoestring is a mild understatement [].  When dinner was served in the kitchen, the plates of the first shift of ten or so people had to be washed before the next round could be fed!   Looking on, David said to me, “Seems just a little bit like the stretching required in the feeding of the loaves and fishes, doesn’t it?”  We laughed.  “Hey,” he commented, “this is a pretty good-looking meal they’re serving tonight, mashed potatoes and meat.  Often they don’t have hot food here at night.  Louis,” he asked the cook, “where did this food come from?”  “From you, SoupMan!” Louis said, “You brought it yesterday, and it’s been in the freezer since then.”  David had forgotten he’d ‘paid it forward’ with some food sent to the SoupMobile by Bakers Ribs!  It was pretty funny.


Near us in the kitchen, I noticed a quiet, unobtrusive young man sitting by the wall, observing, and saw that he wore a badge.  I walked over and introduced myself, asking, “Are you with the City?”  “Yes,” he said cordially, “My name is Anthony _____.  I’m the Fire Marshall.”  We expressed our gratitude to him for being there and our happiness that a compromise had been worked out with the city.  He was polite and kind, with a low-key demeanor and good people skills in evidence.


Twenty-six code violations were found the previous night when the city had shut the shelter down, and we looked at some of them.  It’s a very old building, and some fix up is in order, to be sure.  The contractor who had graciously volunteered his services to make the repairs and get the building up to code after the story of the shutdown aired on WFAA, Channel 8, is due to arrive at 9 A.M. tomorrow morning (Friday) to get started.


We went outside to talk to some people, and Queen came out.  “Guess what?  You’ll never believe it.  That was the Dallas Morning News on the phone just now.  Two people have called in and are going to pay for hotel rooms for a few dozen people tonight!  We’re signing them up right now!”  There were ‘woohoos’ and high-fives all around.  When a [shelter] door closes, sometimes more than one window miraculously opens.


By this time, the church service had ended.  We went back in the building for one last look around and noticed a clean-cut, white-shirted man standing across the room with Anthony.  When we approached him, we could read “K. Sipes, Fire Chief” embroidered on his shirt.  It was now 9:40 P.M., and, long day notwithstanding, Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Sipes himself was on the premises to check out how things were going.  We met him, talked to him for a while.  “This compromise seems like a win-win for the homeless and the city,” David said.  “We don’t want people to be out in the cold in this weather,” the Chief told us.


After a dispiriting week, it was a very uplifting couple of hours, amid the people who are the poorest of the poor, the most outcast of the outcast.  The gratitude, the love, the truth, the peace that is in that place and among those people does indeed pass all understanding.




P.S.  Much appreciation to the good people at Channel 8 News, WFAA, for their coverage of this issue.


Bitter December 5, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008




Last night, armed with a carload of heavy coats and blankets given to us by an Anonymous Angel, I went out on a mission into the heart of downtown Dallas with a good friend.  We went  in search of the city’s homeless people who have been banned from sleeping in the Bridge courtyard as of December 1 and are now back to ‘sleeping rough.’


After an hour of driving around, we couldn’t find anyone out on the street, but we knew they were there — just in hiding.  It we could have found them, though, so could have the Dallas Police, who had been issuing written warnings and citations to them for the past two days.  We talked to the very few homeless individuals who were walking on the downtown streets.  “Where is everyone sleeping tonight?” we asked them.  “They’ve scattered,” a woman told us.  “The police have really been after us and came this morning at 6 A.M. to the freeway fence where people were sleeping and started ticketing them.  Media crews showed up about that, and it saved some.”


My friend and I knew the obvious places where homeless people used to sleep before the Bridge opened, and we drove there.  Not a soul could be seen at any of these locations.  After that, we checked out the places we knew of that are farther out from the central district downtown.  No one in sight, no heaps of blankets on the concrete containing sleeping human beings.


We guessed where to look even farther afield, and we guessed correctly.  When we found them, we stopped our car and got out.  They knew us, trusted us, and began to come out of hiding, one or two at a time, in the dark, in the cold, to talk to us.  Near where we parked, one person had found a single piece of wood about 2 inches wide and 3 feet long, had been able to light it and was huddled over it, trying to stay warm.  Some people were sleeping under cardboard, some just blankets, most well out of sight.  One man said, “I’d been sleeping at the Bridge until they shut us out on Monday.”


It had been a Godsend that our ‘angel’ had showed up that afternoon and given us enough coats and blankets to give away.  I stood at the rear of the vehicle and handed people blankets one by one.  “Can I have one for my wife?” someone asked.  “She’s sleeping right over there around the corner.”  At our vehicle’s side door, my friend fitted people with warm jackets.  We also had some socks, hats and gloves.  We stood around and talked.  Word spread that we were there, and more people showed up.  Everyone hugged us, thanked us, hugged us again.  At the end, they wanted to pray with us, so we put our arms around each other’s shoulders in a circle, and one of the men spoke a prayer of thanks and offered requests for our well-being.  The Miracle of the Coats and Blankets was that, when we were finished at the end of the night, we had exactly one blanket left.


Of course, even though people are now hungry — because some are no longer allowed on the Bridge campus at all due to the new identification procedure and some only have day passes which keep them off the Bridge campus after 5 P.M., so they either miss all meals or the evening meal — it is illegal for us to feed them.  All feeding of the homeless outside the Bridge (except on private property) is now officially banned by the city.  So there are currently many people who can at this point neither eat at the Bridge, nor can they be offered food outside it.  I had heard already since December 1 the dinner numbers at the Stewpot’s Second Chance Cafe (the Bridge dining hall) are down to the mid-200’s from the steady number of 750-900 per meal since the homeless assistance center opened in May of this year.


Last night, we left our homeless friends and drove around some more downtown.  A number of people were sleeping on the sidewalk next to one of the shelters, which was full.  These people were clearly not shelter-resistant:  we spoke with some of them, and they had tried to get in.


Once again, the poorest of the poor are being criminalized and driven underground.  The ‘fringe’ people are being forced back to the fringes and beyond.  It is a tragic turn of events.


Designed to serve in particular the ‘chronically homeless,’ the Bridge is not effectively doing that for large numbers of them at this time.  For a few days this week, these people were back out on the street.  For a couple of days after that, they were persistently ticketed by police at the orders of undetermined entities at City Hall.  Now, they are in hiding:  in the open, on the ground, cold, hungry.  Tonight, I heard a weather report that a ‘bitter’ freeze is on its way to the Dallas area.  Imagine how that will feel sleeping outdoors without even the shelter of a building to lie close to.


We can do better.  We have done better for the past few short months.  And we must do so again immediately, before people begin to die from the cold.


We must deliver on the emergency shelter that has been promised.  At the very least, we must allow the shelter-resistant homeless or those the shelters can’t accommodate — especially women — to sleep back on the Bridge campus away from predators and violent offenders.  As the Bridge management sorts through who is ‘qualified and unqualified’ to receive shelter there, we must follow through on the the commitment that the Bridge has clearly and emphatically put forward to the public through the media since it opened in May and even before:  to provide safe refuge and access to the meals that the Stewpot is offering to all those who need it.  


For heaven’s sake and for our own as well, it is time to stop playing politics with people’s lives.




Conversation With the DPD: A Good Man Just Doing His Job December 3, 2008


Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Conversation With a Dallas Police Officer:  A Good Man ‘Just Doing His Job’


Last night at 10:35 P.M. I drove downtown to see for myself what was going on with the homeless people who’d been banned from sleeping in the courtyard of the Bridge and were once again sleeping on the street.  I had heard a rumor that authorities were going to start ticketing homeless people tonight.  I drove down Corsicana Street and turned right onto Park Lane.  Just ahead of me were a small group of homeless individuals sitting or lying on the steps of a ramshackle building across the street from the Bridge and few Dallas Police officers standing in front of them on the sidewalk and street.  There were a couple of police bicycles pulled up there, a scooter of some sort, and, as I sat there, a police cruiser arrived.


I stopped my car beside one of the officers and rolled down my window, asking him respectfully, “What’s going on?  Are you ticketing people tonight?”  His face was familiar, and he was polite and forthcoming.  “Right now we’re issuing warnings.  Tomorrow, a list will be drawn up and we’ll go from there.”  I asked for more details:  were there to be warrants and arrests?  “I don’t know.  I just get my orders piece by piece.”  I questioned him further about where the orders were coming from.  City Hall was all he knew, but no specifics.  “I know this must be hard on you guys, too,” I told him.  “No, I’m just doing my job,” he said emphatically.  “Thank you for the information,” I told him.  I made eye contact with a homeless man who was sitting on the sidewalk waiting for his citation from another policeman.  “I wish it could be different,” I said to all concerned.  


I used to see the police department differently in these situations.  Around this same time last year, I would have thought of the ticketing officers as enemies of my homeless friends.  Then I sat in a church service at First Presbyterian Church downtown and listened to a sermon by Dr. Joe Clifford around the time 150 to 200 homeless people were taking refuge at night from police arrest by sleeping on that church’s parking lot.  At the end of his moving sermon, Dr. Clifford said a prayer that surprised me:  he prayed with sympathy and with unity for the homeless, for the church, for the city, for the Dallas Police — ALL of whom, he said, were doing the best they could in a difficult situation.  In that moment, my thinking changed from ‘us’ — the homeless and those who advocate for them — and ‘them’ — city officials and police who make and enforce laws that I believe unfairly target the homeless — to ‘all of us, doing the best we know how at this point in time.’


Nonetheless, as I drove away and pulled up to a stop light near the Farmer’s Market last evening, I felt devastated by this turn of events.  For the second night in a row, I sat by the Farmer’s Market in my car and wept.  This is what we were putting behind us when the Bridge opened, wasn’t it?  Weren’t the days of huddled and miserable human beings sleeping on the cold concrete of our city streets being roused from their brief rest by uniformed men, ‘just doing their jobs’, issuing them citations for ‘sleeping in public,’ ‘obstructing the sidewalk,’ and any number of other ordinances designed to specifically get the homeless out of public view… weren’t those days now going to be behind us for good?


I pulled over into a driveway and ‘phoned a friend’ who knows the situation.  He, too, was stunned by this turn of events.  Neither of us could believe that, a year later, after all that has come to pass, we are back to this.  God help us all, then and now.




The Bridge Closing Its Courtyard for Sleeping December 1, 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Bridge Closes Its Courtyard For Sleeping:  The Rest of the Story


I have been a consistent and vocal supporter of the Bridge homeless assistance center since its opening in May, 2008, and have believed that, even with the glitches and challenges in getting it up and running that have been widely reported, it has had an extremely positive impact on the Dallas community, both homeless and housed.  However, I have serious questions about the current decision to ‘clear the Bridge courtyard’ for cold weather and deny overnight access for safe sleeping there to homeless individuals who are not able to go into shelters for a variety of reasons.



Where is the impetus coming from to relocate homeless people who have, until December 1, been sleeping in the Bridge courtyard, now that the coldest part of the year is upon us?  On the face of it, relocation to shelters seems a compassionate response to colder weather.  However, what will be the result?  History and experience tell us that there will be some people who will not, for one reason or another, be able to go into shelters, even with the adaptations made to their usual guidelines by the shelter directors in order to accommodate them at the request of Bridge management.  People who know this vulnerable population realize this.


A friend of mine who is homeless says this forced relocation off the courtyard will simply lead to many more people being back on the street, and people I’ve talked with who are directly involved in homeless services tend to agree with him.  Already, one finds an increasing number of people sleeping in doorways and on sidewalks in the area surrounding the Bridge.  It seems we may be inviting some of our old dilemmas back into the picture.  Certain people will have nowhere to go;  yet everyone has to be somewhere.


I can only imagine, and have tried to comprehend, the myriad pressures on Bridge management.  From what I understand, in this case, pressure is coming from the City of Dallas via the Fire Marshall around the issue of code compliance.  The permit for a larger than expected population at the Bridge was temporary.  The decision ‘up there somewhere’ has been made that the numbers need to be reduced.  Why now?  We have had overcrowding at the Bridge since its opening in May.


Just as it makes sense to ban people from the Bridge who are consistently violent, there are also good arguments for tracking more closely than was originally thought necessary those who use the services at the Bridge.  Hence, there is now a requirement for Bridge guests to have ID cards.  But Friday evening I talked to a homeless friend at dinner at the Second Chance Cafe (the Bridge dining hall run by the Stewpot) who said he had stood in line that day for 4 hours and then been unable to get one.  Then he found out he’d also been directed to the wrong line!


Friday night, when I left the Second Chance Cafe at the Bridge after helping serve dinner, I walked around the darkened courtyard where most people were already bedded down against the cold.  I did a very approximate count, and there seemed to be at least 150 people sleeping outdoors there.  Many of them were women.  Once courtyard sleeping closes, where will they go?  It seems counterproductive, to say the very least, for them to go back out on the street and seems reminiscent of the not-so-good old days.


I went back to the Bridge Sunday night, November 30, and spoke with several people who were sleeping on the sidewalk inside the gates, three out of four of whom were women, about where they’d sleep after that night.  ”We have no idea,” they told me.  


When I left to drive home, I saw that, in the blocks surrounding the Bridge campus, people were sleeping in doorways, on the sidewalk, up against the freeway fence, huddled under a floodlight for safety:  the EXACT conditions that the Bridge was built to eliminate.  A very vulnerable community, once again in extreme disarray.


Although people sleeping in the cold may truly be the concern of staff and the city, it’s still preferable to sleep ‘cold and safe’ rather than ‘cold and in danger’ — that is, to at least be able to sleep within the confines of the Bridge fences.  So, while there may be a legitimate and compassionate impetus for people to be moved into shelters, booting them off the courtyard doesn’t meet the criterion of making things better for them.  


As things always are for the homeless community, I’m guessing the ‘full story’ is very complicated.  Someone in authority has made a decision profoundly affecting people’s lives, and probably for reasons other than the ones which have been stated.  But then that decision has to be explained in ways that will try to please everyone and that will seem as if it has at its basis the highest well-being of those it impacts.  To what extent well-being as a motive is the reality is impossible to tell.  But, if the good of the homeless is the intent, it is surely not panning out that way in practice.  It would be nice every now and then just to be told the truth about it from the very start.


It is clear to me how rapidly and successfully the Dallas community is able and willing to take effective action by the way we solved our temporary housing problems for the homeless last winter, once the political will and a plan to do so were in place.  We are a ‘Can-Do’ city.  The new policy of banning Bridge courtyard sleeping may be well-intentioned but is, in my view, misdirected.


My hope is that we will change course right away and make a commitment to do what is necessary to allow nonviolent homeless individuals, and, in particular women, to sleep within the confines of the Bridge campus through the winter as we continue to sort through maze of who is ‘qualified and unqualified’ to receive shelter.  This is not the time to jump ship on the commitment that has been clearly and emphatically put out there since before the Bridge opened.




Displacement and Community November 28, 2008


Friday, November 28, 2008

Reflecting upon the sense of community I often feel at the Bridge homeless assistance center in the Second Chance Cafe, I came across the following.  There can scarcely be a more displaced group than the homeless community, and yet so often it feels like family to me, even when, like this evening, there are so many new, unfamiliar faces which come through the food line.  KS



“The word community generally expresses a certain supportive and nurturing way of living and working together….  If we want to reflect on community in the context of compassion, we must go far beyond these spontaneous associations [of sentimentalism, romanticism, and even melancholy].  Community can never be the place where God’s obedient servanthood reveals itself if community is understood principally as something warm, soft, homey, comfortable, or protective.  When we form community primarily to heal personal wounds, it cannot become the place where we effectively realize solidarity with other people’s pains….

The call to community as we hear it from our Lord is the call to move away from the ordinary and proper places….  The Gospels confront us with this persistent voice inviting us to move away from where it is comfortable, from where we want to stay, from where we feel at home….

Why is this so central?  It is central because in voluntary displacement, we cast off the illusion of ‘having it together’ and thus begin to experience our true condition, which is that we, like everyone else, are pilgrims on the way, sinners in need of grace.  [Thus] we counteract the tendency to become settled in false comfort and to forget the fundamentally unsettled position that we share with all people….  [which] leads us to the existential recognition of our inner brokenness and thus brings us to a deeper solidarity with the brokenness of our fellow human beings….  The Greek word for church, ekklesia — from ek = out, and kaleo = call — indicates that as a Christian community we are people who together are called out of our familiar places to unknown territories, out of our ordinary and proper places to the places where people hurt and where we can experience with them our common human brokenness and our common need for healing.”

            ~~Compassion, A Reflection on the Christian Life, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, Donald P. McNeill, and Douglas A. Morrison


Economic Reality at Wilkinson Center Food Pantry’s Doorstep November 20, 2008


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Brian Burton, Executive Director of the Wilkinson Center in East Dallas, writes a mean fund-raising letter. Even after totaling up my credit card debt this week and nearly falling off the chair, I read this and found myself writing out a [pitifully small] check.  Brian’s also one of the nicest people around, which makes one glad to help, and the Wilkinson Center does a super job at all that it does.  I reprint his letter with permission.  KS

The Wilkinson Center

               “Do all you can for everyone who needs your help.  Don’t tell your neighbor to come back tomorrow, if you can help today.”  ~~ Proverbs 3: 27-28

November 14, 2008

Dear Friend of the Wilkinson Center:


Yesterday, I got a heavy dose of the new economic reality.  As I made my way through the Center, I observed in the Food Pantry service area every seat taken — and, there were families standing along the walls waiting.  The reality of our economy is at the Wilkinson Center’s doorstep.

As you plan for your charitable giving this Thanksgiving season, I respectfully ask that you, once again, consider the Wilkinson Center deserving of your support.  Because of a generous matching gift from local foundations, every dollar you give will be matched up to $250,000! [by the Harold Simmons Foundation and the Ginger Murchison Foundation]  …We will always strive to be good stewards of your investment in our shared mission to help those less fortunate.


If you’d like to see your gift at work please contact me for a tour.  Thank you for being a member of our Wilkinson Center family.


Faithfully yours, in service,

Brian Burton, Executive Director, P.O. Box 720248, Dallas, TX 75372, 5200 Bryan St., Dallas, TX 75206, 214-821-6380


Another ‘S.T.E.P.’ in the Right Direction November 14, 2008


Friday, November 14, 2008

Here is a recent good-news email from Jean Jones, Director of Volunteers at the Stewpot:


Nov. 11, 2008, 4:31 PM

Dear Stew Pot Volunteers:

A story of success and hope we want to share…


Last Friday, during the lunch meal service, a big six foot, 40-something guest named Mike literally skipped into the dining hall, his feet barely touching the ground and a huge smile on his face. “I have to tell you – I got it!  I got a JOB!!”, he cried joyfully.  We all cheered and congratulated him and asked “how?” and “where?”. “Right here”, he replied, pointing proudly to his ball cap, emblazoned with the logo of a new Cajun restaurant chain. “I got it off the Stewpot Jobs Hotline.  I’m a cook, fulltime, forty hours a week. I got me a room. I’m going to save my money and move on up!”


Do you remember the first time you said those words?…”I got a job”… the feeling of pride, the sense of accomplishment. Most everyone wants a job, including our homeless friends – to work, make money, care for themselves and build a future. In these economic times the job market is tough, even more so for them.


The Stewpot Transitional Employment Program (STEP)  focuses on preparing persons who are experiencing homelessness with job-readiness skills leading to employment. We need partners in the business world that will consider giving these folks a chance once they complete the three month STEP program.


Attached is a flyer outlining the STEP program. Please consider it, pass it along to your employer and to anyone that might be able to assist with this program. You are all on the “front line” serving the homeless with the basic need of a hot meal. Let’s work together to take them a step further…to a job and independence… out of homelessness.


As always, Thank you to everyone for all you do to serve “the least of these”, our friends in need.


Jean Jones,  Director of Volunteers,  The Stewpot      

 214-746-2785, ext. 320                                                                          


About the S.T.E.P. Program:


The  S.T.E.P. Program

Stewpot Transitional Employment Program

Your company’s regular volunteer work at The Bridge on behalf of the Stewpot is just part of the work The Stewpot and other volunteers do to help those experiencing homelessness make it through the day and try to get a better life. 

Our S.T.E.P. (Stewpot Transitional Employment Program) program focuses on preparing persons who are experiencing homelessness with job-readiness skills, leading to employment. We need partners in the business world that will consider giving these clients a chance once they graduate from our 3 month program. We have clients wanting work in customer service, warehouse, data entry, security, janitorial/maintenance, restaurant and IT work and most are looking at entry level positions.  

Please talk to your company’s decision maker and try to get me an appointment. I would love to discuss this program and what we are doing to help our clients become tax paying citizens who are happy about what they are doing and once employed can lock a door behind them at night for the very first time in a long time. 

With the assistance of a vocational rehabilitative consultant we designed a 90-day program to address the issues that were causing Stewpot clients to lose their jobs. The curriculum is designed for behavioral modification through inter/intra personal growth. We have learned that the # 1 reason persons have lost jobs was related to confrontations with superiors and co-workers. Our classes focus on how to turn that around – how to resolve conflicts. Persons who have fallen between the cracks, to the extent that they have become chronically homeless, are all the more benefited by this approach to emotional stability and pursuit of employment. This makes S.T.E.P. very unique in the employment assistance field. The subjects covered are:

Rational Beliefs: 10 Common Irrational Beliefs

Thinking Errors: 10 Ways to Untwist Your Thinking

Common Self-Defeating Behaviors:   Self-Talk Correction

Using “I” Statements Correctly:  Dealing With Difficult People

5 Secrets of Effective Communication:  Developing Your Skills Language

Using Your Transferable Skills:  Job Interview Tips

Communication is Key to Working With Supervisors

Surviving On Your New Job

You’ve heard it said, 

“The homeless wouldn’t be homeless if they just got a job”

Here is your chance to help them get a job so they can help themselves!

Please contact Larry Sykes

Director Community Voice Mail & STEP Jobs Coordinator

214-746-2785, ext. 248,


The Urgent Importance of Parent Education November 1, 2008

Saturday, November 1, 2008


The Urgent Importance of Parent Education


When I say I think there’s no social issue that’s more important than parent education, I mean it literally.


Have you ever been in a grocery store and seen a parent jerking or smacking around a child?  Have you struggled with how to intervene without making the situation worse?  Have you been the parent who reacts to your child in a way that you’re less than proud of?  WHO HASN’T???


Almost always, a few simple skills or ‘tricks of the parenting trade’ can make a dramatic difference in the way we react, or don’t react, to our children and, in turn, in the way they respond to us.  Diffusing a stressful situation rather than reacting with resistance and anger can make all the difference in the outcome.  But it’s difficult or impossible to do this if you don’t know how, and even harder if you ‘don’t know that you don’t know’.  


Also, stress and fatigue can play a big role in parenting, so self-care is essential, something it’s taken me way too long to learn.  My friend, David, has told me often, ‘put the oxygen mask on yourself first and on your child second, just like in an airplane emergency.’  I thought this was an oversimplification until I really thought it through and lived it through.  It’s actually quite profound.


This relates to homelessness in a very direct way.  So often when I talk with people who are homeless, particularly those who’ve been on the street for a long time, I’ll hear some reference to being ‘knocked around’ as a child.  They are not complaining.  They think that’s the way the world is.  And on some level, they seem to feel they ‘had it coming.’


I was impacted by a comment on this blog made by David Scott in response to the post, “Looking For And Finding Good Things”:

“Contrary to popular belief, most homeless did not become so out of choice. Most did not become homeless because they are lazy, stupid, or immoral. Many homeless people are victims of abuse in the form of neglect and abandonment by their parents or other caregivers.  Like many victims of abuse, a lot of them have chemical dependency problems. Their existence is so miserable that they use alcohol or other drugs as an escape.”  [blog:]


I remember a billboard I saw in my hometown almost a decade ago which read something like:  “Spend money on parenting and education in early childhood, or spend it on prisons later.”  Dramatic and simple but profoundly true.  I look around me and see so many costly social problems that began in early childhood.


Recently my older daughter sought and found a book that addressed a particular issue she was having with one of her children.  When she changed her behavior with him, his behavior changed noticeably for the better.  What impressed me most was that she moved, actively, to find a solution, and was willing to examine her own part in the puzzle and make changes in the way she approached her child, which led to changes in him.


To be human is to have problems.  To be wise is to move to solve them.  I wish parenting classes were a mandatory part of parenthood, but, alas, there comes the issue of yet another government program.  I heard a report on National Public Radio tonight on an organization called “Roots of Empathy” and the positive impact it is having on reducing bullying among the population it serves.  The report emphasized that the most important aspect of any relationship is empathy.  If we don’t feel the ‘other’ has pain and that their pain matters, we have no problem inflicting suffering on them. []


This also made me think of our homeless friends.  So often, we think it’s ‘them’ and ‘us’… until we meet them face to face, and see that they are us.  Empathy.




Looking for, and Finding, Good Things October 20, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008


Looking For, and Finding, Good Things


As he came through the food line at the Bridge last week, Max (not his real name) leaned in to whisper in my ear when I handed him his plate, “I need to talk to you outside after dinner.”  “Sure,” I said, “Meet you out there.”


The service in the Second Chance Cafe was flawless as always.  We had three acapella singers with excellent voices serenade us in succession as over 700 people filed through to eat, then Pops arrived to play piano.  A few times during the meal, Edward St. John, Operations Director for the Stewpot meal services at the Bridge, came on the sound system and gave a weather forecast for the upcoming days.  “So prepare yourselves to stay warm if you’re sleeping outside,” he said with concern, “It’s going to be 52 degrees tomorrow night.”


After the meal, I stayed around to talk to Edward for a few minutes — we hadn’t worked the same meal shift for a couple of months.  When we’d gotten caught up on the news, he said, “We are really enjoying this [referring to fulfilling the meal service contract for the Bridge.]  It’s a big challenge, but we love it.”  I was glad to hear it, because the numbers of guests have been much higher at the Bridge than anyone predicted since it opened in May of this year, and the Stewpot has stepped up magnificently to the challenge of feeding them.  “It’s all about the [homeless] people,” he continued.  “Some good things are happening here at the Bridge.”  “The love shows in the way all of you are doing things,” I told him.  I had watched him greet people warmly all night when they came through the door.  I could tell our homeless friends were ‘under his skin,’ that his heart was genuinely open to them.


As I started to leave the cafe, I saw Max motioning to me through the glass door.  He pointed to a small courtyard off the dining room, mouthing “Meet me there.”  “I’m on my way,” I said.


I exited into the courtyard and walked slowly along the curving sidewalk, waiting for Max.  I was also looking for another friend who has been in the Residents’ Program inside the Bridge.  He was happy that he was about to ‘graduate’ and move into permanent supportive housing, having been steadily employed through the Bridge’s job placement program for many weeks.  I wanted to hear his story, but couldn’t find him in the clusters of homeless guests talking outside.  I noticed how quiet, clean and organized things were in the small courtyard where I was walking.  The activity there seemed purposeful.  It was just after sunset, and some of the women I know were already bedded down under the dining hall eaves, protecting themselves from the chill of the night air.  


I had noticed during the food service that many people had come through the line with blankets wrapped around them, and the rest were wearing coats.  The thing that was different from autumns past with the homeless in Dallas was that everyone was protected from the elements by some kind of covering, and the blankets and coats they had on were clean.  With the Bridge providing washers and dryers that the guests can sign up for, and twelve showers each for men and women, it’s now possible for people to clean up.  It’s quite a noticeable change. 


Every winter (since 2003) that I’ve seen our friends on the street, there have always been a number of people who had no protection from the weather whatsoever, neither blanket nor coat:  perhaps they had just become homeless in the past few days and had been unable to bring possessions with them, or perhaps their belongings had been stolen.  There may have been people without coats or blankets among the 700+ people we saw that night, but, if so, I didn’t see them.  This amounts to a revolution in my experience.  Yes, Edward is right, some good things are happening at the Bridge.


I looked up to see Max working his way towards me through a crowd of people in the courtyard who were waiting to enter a meeting room.  He gave me a bear hug and kiss on the cheek, as he always does.  “Hi, Mama,” he said, using the nickname he’s given me.


“Hey, what’s going on?” I asked him.  He leaned in close and whispered in my ear, “I’ve been off ______ [a street drug] for ______ weeks!”  Truth be told, I hadn’t known he was addicted, but I hugged him back and offered him congratulations.  “Are you going to meetings [twelve step]?  This is fantastic.  You look great, so clear and calm.”  “I feel great.  It’s because of this man,” and he introduced me to his mentor at the Bridge.  We three talked for a few more minutes, and I exited the courtyard and went to my car, feeling as if I were walking on air.  


I looked back at the beautiful facility that the voters of Dallas, with their compassionate hearts, provided for the homeless through a $23 million bond a few years back.  Warm light bathed the courtyard of the complex and poured from the windows.  It had been an unexpected joy to see Max doing well, on his path, waiting for a place in a rehabilitation center, but already into his sobriety.


Maybe you have to know first hand exactly how rocky things were in winters past to fully understand the radical change that has taken place in our city for our homeless friends, but, yes indeed, some very good things are happening at the Bridge.  We have to keep supporting the cooperative vision of Mike Faenza, Mike Rawlings, Bruce Buchanan, Joe Clifford, Mayor Tom Leppert and many others who, through thick and sometimes very thin, are making this happen.  Thank you, Dallas.




Reggie’s Story October 6, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

       Reggie Crawford, with whom I’m privileged to work when I volunteer at The Bridge homeless assistance center,  is one of the most inspiring and compassionate individuals I’ve met in a while.  I appreciate that Reggie and Street Zine have given me permission to reprint his story here.  KS


STEP Transformed Plan A & B Into G For Me

By Reggie Crawford


Like most people, I just wanted to live a normal life expecting nothing flashy, extravagant or extraordinary. 


My life started out very simple; I guess you could call me a military brat. My father was in the military for over thirty years, and my mother taught high school and did most of the kid raising of myself and six siblings. My mom was a very determined and strong woman who I think was my greatest influence because she always believed in me.


I went to college majoring in music education and business marketing. Upon graduation I quickly found a job as a music teacher which I hated. I was not mentally prepared for this work and I had no patience which is something you really need when you teach middle school kids. The bad notes were killing me! 


I quickly found that I needed another plan so I resorted to plan B, which was to join the military. There have been times in my life when I made some brilliant decisions and this was one of them.  While in college, I was in ROTC and already had a four year commitment. At that time, the Army had a one year delay entry program and I looked forward to and could not wait to enter the military.


I loved the Army, as a brand new second lieutenant; I was on my way up. Both of my parents were very proud; I had a new car, new house, lots of new friends, and a new attitude that spelled super arrogant. Some called it cocky, conceited, or even egotistic; but I will call it for what it really was, bone head.  In my mind, I really thought I was an icon, my family thought I was crazy, which was not far from the truth. 


My drive helped me get promotions and medals but after several years in the service I decided to give civilian life another try.  You have to remember that up to this point all I had known was military life. I was scared to death, but I still had plan B so if things did not work out in civilian life I could always return back to military life.


I went to work as a sales representative with a major company and continued to move up to a management position. After several years in sales I changed careers again and went to work as a loan manager at a major bank. I loved my civilian jobs and I loved my life. I guess you could say that I had the American dream; married with two great kids, a nice house and a dog named Human who I suspected hated me. 


I remember an unknown author who said “the only sure thing we know about life is that change will happen, be it good or bad.” Needless to say my change was really, really bad. My eighteen year marriage fell apart, I had several bad investments, and finally a job lay off.


The good life as I had known it was gone and I had helped the process by abusing drugs and alcohol which pretty much guarantees a meltdown in life. Here I was, without a wife, kids and job which presented me with the abnormal life of homelessness.  The self-centered, smug, and stuck up self was replaced by shame, embarrassment and guilt. Here I was sleeping on the streets, standing in line for meals, and hoping I could get myself out of this situation before I got myself killed.  Oh yeah, remember plan B? Now, I am too old to return to the military.


After one year and five months of living a homeless life, I realized that I really needed help. I’ll call it a ‘lifeline’ because I was drowning mentally and spiritually.  I decided to enter a program at The Stewpot called STEP (Stewpot Transitional Employment Program). This program was God sent for me; the people actually cared about my well being. Some of the people I met while in the STEP program have become true friends.  It is also while participating in this program that I learned about another plan.  I will call it plan G, God’s plan. 


Plan G is the reason I decided to write my story. I truly believe that God orchestrated this path for me, not because I am a bad person, but because I needed to be humbled.  I now understand that life is full of ups and downs, twist and turns and things that don’t always go as planned, but through God’s grace and faith nothing is too big to overcome. This journey has been the best thing that has ever happened to me.


Today, I am working as the dining room coordinator at the Second Chance Café, located at The Bridge. This gives me the opportunity to work with some of the best volunteers in the City of Dallas. My job is to make sure that the dining room runs smoothly while the meals are being served to the homeless population accessing services at The Bridge.


I thank everyone who has helped me along the way, but first and foremost, I thank God for his/her grace and understanding.


Reprinted from the October 2008 issue of Street Zine [].


The Poorest of the Poor and Forgiveness September 24, 2008

Journal Archives

Friday, 2/24/06                                                                                                                                        

Blogger’s Note:  This incident took place in 2006.  The situation for homeless people in Dallas has improved considerably since then, particularly with the advent of our new homeless assistance center, the Bridge, in May, 2008. Also, I believe that the current city administration is sensitive to and proactive in finding solutions to the issues surrounding homelessness.  KS


The Poorest of the Poor and Forgiveness

“…to love Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.” 

                                                                                                             ~~Mother Teresa


On Wednesday, I went out with David Timothy of SoupMobile and another volunteer to feed several hundred people at the Day Resource Center, currently the City of Dallas’s only designated site for groups feeding the homeless.  (The other volunteer was a columnist from the Dallas Observer researching an article on the homeless encampments.)


The feeding went smoothly, and people were able to come through the line several times times before we ran out of hot dogs — a hugely popular item:  they’re meat, and they’re hot food.  Most of the people appeared to be ‘chronically homeless’, in pretty rough condition, and are no doubt the ones who were spending the night inside the Day Resource Center prior to the new ruling forbidding sleeping there.


Next we went to the I-45 bridge homeless encampment, where about one hundred people have formed a stable community under the freeway bridge, so the reporter could interview an individual who lives in the camp and is its de facto leader, helping to maintain order there.  We pulled up to the chainlink fence surrounding the camp on a dirt road next to a motel.  The interviewee works at the motel, and the three of us waited in the van for him to get off work.


People kept stopping by the van to say hi to David and to see if we had food to give out.  The street people seem to love and even revere him.  He told them we weren’t allowed to feed there anymore — if we did we could incur a $2000-per-incident fine.  Soon a nice-looking man named Slim stopped to talk to us;  he doesn’t live at the camp but comes around daily and is friends with many of the residents.


While the reporter went into the heart of the camp to conduct his interview, David and I talked to Slim.  The subjects came up of the new strict enforcement of regulations on groups feeding the homeless and the closing of the Day Resource Center as a night shelter.  A prominent public official was mentioned, and I said I was having a hard time not being quite angry with her for her part in the way homeless citizens in Dallas are being treated.  I said that a couple who live in a homeless camp in the woods near my home said that before this woman was elected, she used to routinely give money to panhandlers, courting the homeless vote, then turned the tables on them once she was in office.


Right away, Slim began to talk in Biblical terms about love, forgiveness, and turning the other cheek.  What he said was profound and learned, but even more important, he hit upon truths that I had been missing.  I have a tendency to ‘hate the haters,’ often expressing my outrage at injustice in terms of anger, and he said in a loving and understanding way:  “Satan has thrown a veil over [this politician’s] eyes, so that she doesn’t see the harm she’s doing, but is deluded by her power and that of those she’s trying to please.”  This good man, who stays among the homeless and is their friend, was preaching love and forgiveness towards those who persecute them!


I hear this sort of faithfulness all the time when I’m with the homeless population.  The men and women I’ve met on the street are the most spiritual people I’ve ever known, and here was another example of that faithfulness, embodied in Slim, now teaching me, the middle-class advocate, the true meaning of Christian love, which should be so evident to me, but which I find so easy to forget:  LOVE YOUR ENEMIES.  How hard is this to do????  But here was a man who, along with his friends, is constantly persecuted by city and state officials, and he is reminding me about the heart of Christian love.


“Slim, this is unbelievable,” I said to him.  “This is just what I needed to hear!  I am so focused on the problems in Dallas right now  [ie, what you resist persists!], and your message of love and compassion for those in power, even in their misguided actions, is something I’d totally missed.  Thank you.”


It was a powerful message.  I feel Slim was ‘sent’ to gently remind me that, even if I can’t love a particular politician at the moment, to focus all my attention on my frustration with what’s going on with the city and the homeless may be missing the point.  While I don’t have to ignore injustice, perhaps this represents a call for me to go deeper within myself with this work, and to be as good as the street people I want to stand alongside.  I can focus more on the solutions and less on the problems, if for no other reason than that focusing on the problems dissipates my energy, taking it away from loving, helping and serving and into the ‘combat zone.’  I have to continue to fight injustice, yes, but maybe in a different way than letting it anger and frustrate me so much.  The battle is within myself, and it is there that I need to look:  for guidance, for love towards all sides.  Perhaps that’s how healing will come.  I don’t have to agree, and I can still speak out about the actions of people who I feel are persecuting the homeless, but I am called at the same time to embrace them with love.  Not an easy thing.  The more deeply I go into this work, the more it challenges me to grow — in unexpected ways.




Sleeping On the Hard Streets of Dallas September 9, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Sleeping Among the Homeless on the Hard Streets of Dallas

by David Timothy (AKA SoupMan)


In 2003, on a wing and a prayer (s) I started a nonprofit charity called the SoupMobile. We are a ‘mobile’ soup kitchen that feeds the homeless in the Dallas area. In those five years we have progressed from serving 5,000 meals per year to serving over 125,000 meals per year. The SoupMobile has changed from a virtual one-man operation to an organization that has an army of volunteers, donors, supporters and prayer warriors.


During this past five years I have worked the homeless streets of Dallas on almost a daily basis. And while my given name is David Timothy, on the streets of Dallas the homeless call me the SoupMan. During that time I have been privileged to meet and come to know thousands upon thousands of homeless men and women. I have fed them, bandaged their cuts and wounds, become friends with them, laughed with them, cried with them, visited them in jail, sat with them in the large cardboard boxes they call home, watched them fail miserably, and at times watched them succeed beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.  Yet there was one thing I hadn’t done. I had never slept overnight on the streets among the homeless.


In the winter of 2007 I decided I would forgo my cushy bed and peaceful nights behind locked doors and venture out onto the hard streets of Dallas. I decided to do this for two reasons. One was to show solidarity and support for my homeless friends, and the second was to find out ‘up close and personal’ what it was like to sleep on the streets just like the homeless do every night.  I did not tell anyone of my plans.  I knew if I did they would try to talk me out of it.  I was committed and determined to follow through. So during the winter of 2007, I slept out on the streets overnight with the homeless on two separate occasions. 


I carried a backpack loaded with a thin blanket, a bottled water, a sandwich and a granola bar. I carried $2.00 in my pocket. I had made it a point not to eat any food that day. I wanted to hit the streets feeling the same hunger the homeless did.  I did not take my car, but put on my backpack and hiked to the location where I would be sleeping outside with the homeless. That first night out on the streets was not a fun night. It wasn’t like sleeping in the backyard of my house in a tent when I was a kid. In fact it was cold, dark and windy. I’m not embarrassed to admit that it was a little scary. There were no locked doors, no police protection, and I had to fall asleep trusting that none of the hundreds of people sleeping around me would do me wrong.   


Here are some of my impressions of that first night. As I lay upon a slab of blacktop and was huddled under my thin blanket, I noticed how incredibly cold it was. It seemed the blacktop just radiated the cold right up into my bones. Of course there was no thermostat to turn up the heat, and I couldn’t go into my closet to get an extra blanket. And just like the hundreds of other homeless people out there, I was on my own.  I carefully hoarded the small amount of food that I brought with me. I knew once it was gone, that was it. No midnight visits to the fridge and no late night trips to the 7/11 store.


One of the moments I will never forget was about midnight when I was finally able to start to drift off to sleep.  In those final minutes as my breathing slowed and my eyelids started to droop, I realized I was going to be sleeping and had absolutely no protection against anyone doing me harm. No locked doors, no police protection, and no recourse if trouble started. For me those last few minutes before I fell to sleep were the diciest moments of the entire affair.


Finally sleep came, and then all too suddenly I heard voices shouting. Okay, ‘time to get up, get a move on’.  It was 5:30 AM, pitch black, and some security guy was moving us off the blacktop parking lot where we had bedded down for the night.  We all scurried about gathering up our things and getting ready to hit the road. No morning cup of coffee, no hot breakfast, no reading the morning paper, and no early morning conversations with your fellow nighttime blacktop bunk mates. 


The first thing I noticed as I was gathering up my belongings was that it was even more incredibly cold, and I had absolutely no way to get warm. After a night of sleeping on the blacktop my bones were stiff and my hands seemed frozen. And I was hungry. The night before I had decided to save my granola bar. Oh, was I glad I did!  I greedily opened up the wrapping and carefully ate every bit of the bar, even the crumbs. I even licked the wrapper when I was finished. So with breakfast over I finished packing up.  Security kept pushing us to get going. In those next few moments hundreds of homeless people started moving out in different directions and vanishing into the pitch black morning that seemed as if it was still night. 


As I moved out with stiff limbs and cramped cold feet, I knew where I was heading. I was hiking it back to my place. But that hike back wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Here I was hiking through deserted dark streets with a backpack on my back and $2.00 in my pocket. I felt like a marked man. I was alone and had absolutely no one else to rely on if trouble materialized. What if some unscrupulous guys decided I was an easy mark? What could I give them if I was stopped? My two dollars? Somehow I didn’t think they would be satisfied with that. 


I also felt like a marked man in another way. What if the police saw me hiking through the darkened streets at 6:00 AM in the morning with a backpack on? Would they think I was up to no good? Would they ask what the heck I was doing out there? What would I tell them?  Hey officers, its okay, I’m the SoupMan, and I just wanted to spend a night out with my homeless friends to show them support. Oh yeah, I’m sure that would have been totally convincing.


Fortunately I made it home safely that first night without any trouble from the bad guys or the police. So having survived that first night sleeping with the homeless, I decided I needed to do it one more time just to be sure that the first time out had been the real thing.  A few weeks later I ventured out again and slept on that same blacktop parking lot with hundreds of homeless people. Guess what. It was almost an identical repeat of the first time. Still no fun, still dark, still cold, still hungry and I still felt like a marked man as I hiked back home in the dark the next morning.


So what did this whole experience do for me? Well, it gave me an empathy for the homeless that went beyond anything I had ever known. I had already built up an incredible compassion for the homeless as I had fed them the last five years, but now it went even deeper. In those two nights I got to experience what they have to go through every night. All the uncertainty, all the fear, all the hunger and the feeling of being a marked man.


It also gave me a renewed thankfulness to the Lord for what I do have. Whenever I get the urge to complain or grumble about my circumstances, I just think back to those two nights on the streets, and I quickly look upward and thank the Lord for what I do have.  I am truly a blessed man!


David Timothy is the founder and Executive Director of the SoupMobile.  The preceding story will be included in his upcoming book on his experiences.  Stay tuned!


In the Midst of Them August 27, 2008

Regarding people who are homeless in Dallas…


“We are called to serve them. They are the least of these in our community, and Jesus has taken up residence with them, according to the gospel, and he is to be found in their midst. We exist to serve Christ, and according to Matthew 25, that’s where Christ is, so we serve them.”


                                                    ~~Dr. Joe Clifford, Senior Pastor                                                                                                                             First Presbyterian Church, Dallas, Texas                                                                                                             Dallas Observer, December 13, 2007




Pregnant and On the Street August 19, 2008

Current Journal

Tuesday, 8/19/08


I had this experience two years ago.  I befriended a young street couple;  the woman was pregnant.  I tried in vain to help them find temporary housing.  The short version of the story was that I spent many hours calling every nonprofit I’d ever heard of on their behalf (they didn’t have access to a telephone), and the couple didn’t fit the criteria for any of the programs I contacted because they weren’t married and wouldn’t separate.  They wanted to marry but couldn’t because the man’s identification documents had been stolen, and there were complications from his background in getting them reissued.   


I didn’t know a lot about the different organizations who were helping the homeless at that time, and I could write a book on what I learned from that experience.  Things are much better in Dallas since then, especially with the Bridge providing a central location for services.  One thing that was evident then and still is: there were many groups helping the homeless in their own small and valuable way, few of them knew what the other was doing, and none of them could help my friends.


The couple ended up moving from the street into an abandoned building in Deep Ellum, then to underneath a bridge, where she miscarried.  It was maddening, trying to put together a puzzle that actually did involve life and death — with many of the pertinent pieces missing.  I simply couldn’t believe that in a city this size, with wealth this predominant, there wasn’t a housing program that would accommodate them together temporarily until the baby was born.  Guess what?  To my knowledge, there still isn’t.


Christian organizations do most of the ‘heavy lifting’ with the homeless and depend on church congregations for financial support.  Since the church does not condone living together without marriage, service providers that are connected to the Christian faith community do not generally allow unmarried couples to be housed together in their programs.


I might as well go ahead and appall my fellow feminists here and say that I hold a pro-life stance, so I am going to proceed to call the living being within a woman’s belly a child.  If we are going to address this problem of homeless women staying on the street while they’re pregnant and put the unborn child first — first above our ideas of the morality or immorality of conceiving a child out of wedlock — then we have to revisit housing pregnant street mothers who are unwilling to give up living with their street husbands and consider housing them together.  These couples are often married in their own eyes but not married legally or in the eyes of society.


Here’s why:  most of those women that I’ve known won’t separate from the man they are with while they are homeless.  They will stay on the street rather than go into housing alone because, along with the emotional and physical attachment they have to ‘their man’, he has been and is their protection — in fact, often their very survival.  The woman I spoke about in the first paragraph told me that, even when she was with her ‘man’ — and he was big, tough, and strong — other men on the street reached out and grabbed at her body frequently, pregnancy notwithstanding.


Another thing:  I’m not a person who generally feels I need to be taken care of, but when I was pregnant, this changed.  I felt particularly vulnerable during this phase of married life.  Many other comfortable, middle-class women I know have said the same thing, and one can imagine the magnification of this if one were homeless.


People will say these women should think twice before they get pregnant while homeless.  How about this statistic?  I have been told that at least 25% of socially and legally recognized marriages are ‘shotgun’ weddings, and that’s a conservative number of those that are willing to admit to their situation.  But in ‘polite society’, we can rush up the wedding or hedge the conception date.  Unplanned pregnancies happen in all segments of society, but homeless women can’t hide theirs behind closed doors.  Do I think it’s the world’s greatest plan to conceive a child while one’s living on the street?  Of course not, but it’s happening, and that’s the reality.


It is all well and good to carefully screen the individuals we let into our nonprofit programs and then report marvelous numbers and statistics of success about how well we’ve served them.  What about the people who don’t meet our narrow criteria?  What if those people are carrying around a new life within them?  What’s our priority?


Many years ago, my cousin, Lyn, whom I deeply admire, founded a pilot program for pregnant teens at an inner-city high school in a poverty-and-crime-ridden area in my hometown.  She and her organization, the Junior League, built a day-care center on the school grounds for the children to be cared for while the parents finished high school, and required both the mothers and fathers to take parenting classes, which the center provided.  The program was tremendously successful.  Many young women graduated from high school who would have dropped out, attended college, raised their children and had successful lives because of Lyn’s program.  It became a national model.  The most important part to me was that much better mothers and fathers were created because of the parenting training, and all kinds of problems were circumvented because of those new skills.  I was utterly amazed to learn later that some people in town complained that Lyn and her program were causing teen pregnancies!


I call myself a Christian, and I am a churchgoer at that.  Still, call my viewpoint pragmatism or moral relativism if you will.  But we cannot claim to honor unborn life and then fail to do every single thing in our power to facilitate its well-being because we do not approve of the lifestyle choices of the parents involved.  Housing those parents together, regardless of paperwork, in order to give them some stability, guidance, protection and structure would be a start.




This article is linked to the following:


Guest Commentary by Pat Spradley August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008


America, The Land of Unequal Opportunity

by Pat Spradley


Homeless people are not all the same.

Homeless people are not all the same. There are some who for some reason, no matter what you do, will never break out of the homeless trap they are in. That might be due to mental illness, drug use, alcohol addiction, disability or a multitude of reasons, many of them cumulative. These are the individuals who require assisted housing with social service support, or they will just return to the streets. In some cases, they will return to the streets even with supportive services, and there is nothing we can do about it. Fortunately, this is a minority among homeless individuals, and most often these are the ones you will encounter during your day-to-day activities on the street. Unfortunately, too many of us keep that perception of homeless people in our minds, unwittingly thinking it is representative of all of the homeless population.


What about the majority?

The majority of homeless individuals and families are down on their luck. They may be suffering from the consequences of poor decisions, abuse, and loss of work, injury or other unfortunate circumstances.  In these cases, a little help and encouragement can go a long way. These are individuals who are seeking a chance to start over or just need a little help to get them back on their feet.  Many are individuals who just need someone to have faith in them, offer encouragement and give them a hand when assistance is needed. In many cases, with proper help and guidance early on, these individuals will escape homelessness never to return. Unfortunately, it is this population that often has the most difficulty getting the help they need and may find themselves caught in a downward spiral with no hope.


Why is this happening?

The squeaky wheel approach is being taken, and those who are seen and wanted out of sight are getting the focus. In the process, there is no safety net, or giant holes are created in the small net that is there, for those who could be saved from chronic homelessness early on. They are left with very little help, especially single men who are childless. It does not take long for the social stigma and predicament to take a toll on these individuals, and our opportunity to help with minimal assistance is lost. They are trapped in no man’s land and left to flounder on their own. They are in survival mode, and a whole new psyche evolves. Depression overwhelms them; many develop drug or alcohol habits just to cope. They aren’t bad people, they just give up hope or learn to survive in a different world than the housed.


Prevent homelessness with opportunity.

Everyone in this great country deserves an opportunity for meaningful work and a roof over their head to compensate for that work.  Job skills differ, and we are not all learning abled in the same way.  We know that jobs at all levels need to be performed to keep a healthy economy.  We must recognize that the need for affordable housing in ALL areas is needed to support ALL workers, including those who may be differently abled or performing in the lower-paying jobs.  That should include being able to live in the neighborhood where you work.  More affordable housing is needed in all areas and needed now.

Our one-size-fits-all method of education must change.  It is time, once again, to start teaching trades and skills in schools that prepare youths who are not college material how to make a meaningful living and life for themselves. Not everyone is college material, and we must stop selling the fallacy that no degree equals failure.  We need people with trade skills and always will.  Create and encourage job training programs in our schools which will create opportunity. This will prevent homelessness for many and offer an escape from homelessness for others.

Every homeless person has a story, and we must remember that their story is as unique and different as each individual we encounter.  In a democracy, you will never find a level playing field for all, but there is more we can do to help those who desire to succeed. It may be a different degree or level of success than our own but no less important.


Pat Spradley is the Editor of Street Zine, a newspaper which provides self-help for people living in poverty.


Progress, Not Perfection: Working Together August 6, 2008

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Advocating for Mutual Respect and Communication in Solving Homelessness in Dallas


At a recent nonprofit event, during a conversation with someone affiliated with the sponsoring organization, that individual began to speak negatively — and not quietly — about the performance of an agency partnering with her own on a large project.  Attacking the same problem, the two agencies are using somewhat differing philosophies.  One seems to be effective with a certain segment of the targeted population, but not all.  The other, using a variant approach, seems to be having some success with a slightly different group.  I listened to her perspective, and, when I nodded reflectively but didn’t immediately and fully agree, she seemed a little offended.  I found the whole conversation very dispiriting.  Can social service really be an unhappy competition among approaches and still succeed?


When we implement within our own organization an approach to ending homelessness and poverty that seems to work, it’s easy to think:  this is the answer.  The concomitant of that is:  we found it, through our own experience, and it represents the only valid point of view.  But, in truth, there is not ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that’s a panacea to these overarching issues.  Different approaches are necessary, combined into a mosaic of complementarity.   As those who know homeless people are aware:  the solutions to homelessness are as as complex as the number of individuals who are homeless.  All solutions, even brilliant ones, are “One size fits some.”


Last week I was having coffee with a group of friends.  One is a longtime South Dallas civil rights activist, and another a politician.  The politician, someone who has not been closely involved with the homeless community, said to me:  “Listen to this idea for ending homelessness.  A co-op where homeless people live for a year.  No money is exchanged.  They work for credits and learn life skills and how to run a business, and in exchange are provided for during that time.  At the end, they know how to live in society and have earned enough credits to get a job and an apartment.  Don’t you think that would work to end homelessness?”  “It’s a good idea,” I said, “I think it would work for a certain number of people.’  Still, he was convinced this was The Solution — in theory, it sounded so logical.  The problem though, as I see it, is that it does not take into account the ‘psychology of the individual,’ to steal a phrase from my favorite writer, humorist P.G. Wodehouse.  


My friend the civil rights’ leader, on the other hand, has taken it upon himself to go out many times in the past with mobile feeders of the homeless, meeting and interacting with people who live on the street.  He immediately ‘got’ that a good theory and a workable solution are two entirely different creatures.


Suppose we develop an approach that works for our own organization in attacking a social problem, and we find that we have an impact on the problem at hand.  Does that mean the philosophy we develop along the way is the only viable one?  


One agency learns that having volunteers from prosperous parts of town come to the low-income community where they operate in order to ‘get a hit of poverty’ is demeaning to the community and does not work with their vision of what they want to achieve and are accomplishing.  Does that mean that all occasional volunteering is bad?  No.  


Right down the street will be an agency which could not survive without groups of volunteers who come, work and sometimes never return.  The mission of each group is different.  Each attacks a portion of a big problem, say inner city poverty and/ or homelessness, with an approach that works for them.  Each is good.  Each has grown from the ground up an organization with an effective approach IN THEIR ARENA.


The food service program at the Bridge, for example, could not run without a strong, vibrant and often-changing volunteer base, because serving over 2600 meals a day is a tremendous task, and the same volunteer force could not show up three times a day to do it.  So the Stewpot, which runs it, has recruited and funneled over 3000 people into the Meal Services program at the Bridge since it opened at the end of May.  And if that volunteer base did not consist of church groups, some from out of town, which might or might not ever come again, the work would not get done.  


Who knows the impact that one visit, one encounter with poverty or homelessness may have on an individual volunteer?  Because we never see them again in that setting does not mean their experience ended there.  Perhaps they reflected on their experience and are blazing trails elsewhere in the city, or in the world.


Contrast that to an inner city after-school program which clearly benefits more from a limited number of committed workers, who might preferably come from the community in which the program is based, in order to form lasting and mentoring relationships with the children participating in the program.  Random volunteers coming and going there is not a desirable remedy to the man and woman-power need.


Both approaches are good, both approaches fill the need-sized gap.  The problem comes when we think that our way is the only way and don’t respect the differing approach of the other.  


There is an ‘establishment’ of homeless services in Dallas — the agencies that have been around for many years and have served beautifully and successfully a number of homeless individuals.  And there is an approach somewhat new to Dallas, based upon ‘best practices’ research from other cities, that is being tried at the Bridge.  The new is far from perfect, as has been widely reported.  But if we already had all the answers to getting people off the streets and housed, we wouldn’t be having the discussion we’re having in Dallas right now about the approaches being tried at the Bridge, and we wouldn’t, in fact, need the Bridge itself.


Certain issues and problems that are occurring there now were predicted ahead of time by people advocating for the homeless.  For example, planning for the facility was flawed in the number of beds allotted.  Is this a surprise to anyone?  It was widely talked about by homeless advocates before the Bridge opened.  Why didn’t the ‘heads’ at the bridge realize that with between 6000 and 10,000 homeless people in  Dallas county, 400 beds wouldn’t be enough?  Or if they did, plan differently?  I don’t know.


What about rules and regulations at the Bridge?  Because a complete open-door policy has required some serious adjustment due to the predators who surround the homeless (again, a given with this population), does that mean we need to go back to the stringent requirements and limits of the previously-existing shelters, to paying for a bed, to turning people away when the quota for the night is filled, to booting them and their belongings out before dawn to spend the day on the street or at work?  If we do that, we’re right back where we started.


I also agree with others who say that it is problematic that those running the Bridge have not, for the most part, served on the front lines in other homeless services, although they have certainly been involved long-term in homeless advocacy.  There’s no question that management there is in a learning curve, and this too was expected by most people close to the homeless community.


To me, the most serious error being made by management at the Bridge doesn’t lie in their non-threatening, non-punitive approach to homeless individuals (those preying on the homeless are another matter entirely), but rather the difficulty for most people outside the Bridge to contact them.  I know several people who have tried often and to no avail to get in touch with them in order to offer help.  When the mayor was coming to visit recently, those of us making the arrangements, including the mayor’s own staff, had to go through the subcontractor for meal services, the Stewpot, in order to ever reach landfall with Bridge management!  I think that’s a big problem, because as a wise person close to the situation said, when there’s a void of information and accessibility, it’s entirely likely that it will be filled with negatives.


[Inviting Mayor Leppert to the Bridge, by the way, initiated by homeless advocates outside Bridge management, was not done in order to do a snow job on politicians, but rather the opposite — to give the mayor direct access to the homeless themselves —  and that is exactly what happened.  He spent the evening talking to them on his own, without management around him.  He is smart enough to come to his own conclusions about how things are going, and I’m sure he will.]


I see no way to go back to limiting the number of people inside the Bridge gates without going back to arresting those who are outside, which is like going back to the dark ages.  Sleeping on the lawn inside the campus on a mat is better than sleeping on the sidewalk, and it is safer, no matter what critics say.  That is why people are doing it in such numbers.  However, careful screening of those coming into the campus in order to make sure they are not predatory to the homeless population is essential and is apparently being done.  Ditto whatever makes the campus safer.


But we should never forget what things were like in the past.  The agencies that have existed in Dallas for years to help the homeless were doing fantastic work.  And 6000 people still didn’t have a bed at night.  Sorry, folks, but I in no way look back nostalgically at that situation.  As is said in twelve-step programs, “Progress, Not Perfection.”  I stick by my appraisal that we are making progress in Dallas:  not perfect, fraught with setbacks, but progress nonetheless.


I have not been homeless, and that limits my perspective.  What I have done, consistently for five years, is talk to homeless people themselves, ask them about their lives and their opinions about things.  I have also sought the advice of people who work directly with them and have studied to some extent the ‘best practices’ in other cities. I have purposely not been a ‘joiner’ of organizations, with the exception of sitting on one advisory board.  I want to keep the perspective of an outsider.


I propose something radical.  Why don’t we talk to each other, listen to each other, be available to each other, as individuals and as organizations?  Communicate.  Listen to people who know, who have done the work before.  Ask everyone involved, then make our best decision.


That’s what I was trying to do with the individual at the nonprofit meeting.  I wanted to hear her perspective, and it was an important one which contained information that I did not have.  But it was also biased… in favor of her own group, with no quarter given to any other.  If we can take off our earmuffs and listen what others have to say, maybe we will get finally somewhere.


We are where we are with the Bridge, and the problems are significant.  But to equate it and its challenges in any way to the Day Resource Center is simply ludicrous.  It’s a mixed bag, but it’s still light years ahead of where we’ve been.  And, for the most part, homeless people themselves will tell you that, if you ask them in a spirit of genuine inquiry.


We need to support the Bridge, while continuing to help it improve.  And the Bridge management needs to let us.



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Post Removed: Please Read Note August 4, 2008

Monday, August 4, 2008


From Thich Nhat Hanh:

       ~~Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step


[I am very sorry to report that I have had to remove this post about extreme poverty in other parts of the world because of continued and extremely objectionable spam it has generated coming into the spam blocker of this blog.  Although I never opened it, the tag words themselves were very offensive. You can read the quote that was here in Thich’s book above, under the essay entitled “Flowers and Garbage.”]   KS,  10/11/08

[Also see May 1, March 31, March 11, 2008, or click on ‘Buddhism’ under ‘Categories.’]


Desiree July 27, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008


I have long since learned that I can’t save people, or so I tell myself.  So I go to the Bridge to help serve dinner on Friday nights to listen to the people there who are homeless and catch up on their news, to express my love for them and, most of all, to strive to understand them, the situations around them, and the solutions to their dilemmas.  Inherent in the process is a perplexing conundrum:  the more I learn, the less I seem to know.


I also go to be part of a community made up of  homeless friends and strangers, and of like-minded friends of the homeless who are doing what I do… a community that is more changeable than most, more transient than most, but one that now has a central and generally safe place, the Bridge, to manifest itself.


Tonight, good news continued to pour in through the door of the dining hall there, the Second Chance Cafe, run by the Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church:  this couple and that individual were moving into apartments;  a significant number of new, blue-badged Residents came through, and, when asked how it was going, the news was all positive;  C., a friend who is pregnant and has been on the street for years, has moved in with her sister and is reuniting with her family at Christmas;  G. and his partner are moving in with his brother in Missouri;  Tony is starting work and school;  a young woman who had begun her G.E.D. a long time ago at Martin Luther King Center, then let it lag, completed it this week.  (It is not a stretch to guess that having an address at the Bridge, a place to shower and stow her belongings, to eat regular meals, to sleep in safety — that being able to devote her energy to studying rather than to raw survival — had reenergized an educational process that had previously stalled out.)  One sad observation:  an increasing number of people that I see there look as if they just walked straight out of the suburbs.


There were at least four birthdays tonight:  one girl turned nineteen, another, twenty-one.  A man named Pops played piano beautifully during dinner, while another man sang.  At one point, a diner walked up to the glass partition of the cafeteria line and, spreading his arms out to the sides in a gesture of magnanimity, said to the row of volunteers facing him who were filling plates with food, “When we see your faces there… it just truly, truly blesses us!”  The love flowed from this man, the love that I see in most people’s eyes but which is hard for some of them to express.  There was visible emotion in the faces of the volunteers after his declaration.


As people entered the dining hall, ate dinner and exited by the hundreds, there came through the line a friend of mine, a woman I haven’t seen since a rainy night in May, 2007.  I am fond of this woman — let’s call her Desiree — have asked about her often since that time, and know she’s had some good times and some really bad ones in the interim.  Tonight when I saw her she was much thinner, and she was a slim woman to begin with.


The last time I saw her happened to coincide with an evening when then-mayoral candidate (now mayor) Tom Leppert and his son, Ryan, visited the Day Resource Center and helped feed dinner to hundreds of people in the pouring rain.  Desiree had entered the Day Resource Center parking lot that evening bruised and battered.  When she came through the food line, I took her around behind the table where Mr. Leppert was dishing up and handing out plates of hot casserole, and I said to him, “This is Desiree.  She’s been beaten up twice today.”  “Desiree,” he said, “Stand right here beside me and talk to me.”  (That was the moment he got my vote.)  And she did, conversing with him for a long time.


Desiree’s the sort of person who is so intelligent, well-spoken and personable that you feel she should be running a company somewhere.  She’s someone you want to choose to be the representative of something — a person who knows how to sum things up and speak about them clearly.  And she’s someone from whom you can get the straight scoop.  I was so glad to see her tonight, hugged her tight, and asked if she could catch me up on herself after the meal.


After dinner, when I had left the dining room and was sitting talking with some friends and other volunteers at a table on the Bridge campus, she found me there.  She had changed clothes and put on makeup — looked beautiful — and was going out to meet a friend.


She questioned me about knee surgery I’d had, wanting to know how it was healing.  “And what about you?” I asked.  She said to me point blank, “I am exactly the same as when you saw me before, no different.”  This meant to me that she felt she’d made no progress, was battling her old demons, was still up and down and struggling.  “I lived with my family for a while.  Then it didn’t work out.  Now I’m… you know, back out here… just the same.”  She shrugged.  We continued talking.  “Have you thought about the possibility of becoming a resident here?” I asked  “I’m hoping to get in as a resident soon.  I’m on the list and am going to as many of the [educational] meetings they want me to attend as I can.  Might as well.  I’ve got nothing but time.”  “Please don’t give up on yourself, Desiree,” I told her,  “You have what it takes.  I hope you believe that.”  I certainly believe it.  She is one of the people I’ve always known would make it because of her capabilities.  


But after she left, after I stayed and talked to people for a while, then began the drive home, the thought came to me — accompanied by a fear that gripped my stomach — what if she didn’t make it?  It’s a crazy thing.  Sometimes the people you think wouldn’t have the slimmest chance of getting their lives together — just do it.  And sometimes those whose success you believe you could take to the bank — struggle much harder.  Before tonight, I had never thought of her as one of the latter, or thought that her success and recovery were not a given.  With some people you can let it go.  With others, it’s a bigger challenge, who knows why?  She’s one of those.  


I am hoping and praying that Desiree gets into the Bridge Residents’ program.  And I am hoping that she will soon be one of the miracles walking through the door of the dining hall there at the Bridge, the Second Chance Cafe, telling us her good news. 




Mayor Tom Leppert Volunteers at the Bridge July 22, 2008


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Last Friday evening, July 18, 2008, Mayor Tom Leppert joined a group of volunteers and Stewpot staff to serve dinner to over 700 homeless people at the Bridge, Dallas’ new homeless assistance center.  Typical of the mayor, he was ‘hands on’ with his service, working behind the line filling plates, then moving out into the dining room to work in other positions.

Standing in front of the cafeteria-style serving line, Mr. Leppert handed plates of food to homeless individuals coming through the line, greeting and shaking hands with each personally.  One of my daughters, who was working near him, was touched by his manner with these often-overlooked Dallas citizens, saying, “He looked each person in the eyes, giving them his full attention.  He is such an humble man, so kind and caring.”  Having spent two evenings with Mr. Leppert and the homeless in the past, beginning with a visit he made to the Day Resource Center during the mayoral election, I definitely agree.

After working at the front of the serving line for some time, the mayor moved out into the dining room.  There he went from table to table among homeless citizens, patting them on the back and talking to them for as long as they wished.  He asked them how they were doing and listened to their struggles, their concerns and their successes.  

Several times during the evening, I said to one or the other of my homeless friends, “Come on over here and meet the mayor.”  A number of them said, “I know him already!” and one, Chris, said, “Oh, I’ve met him before.  He’s with us!”  I wonder how many prominent public officials would have the homeless population of their city speak of them in this way.  I said to him during the evening:  “Pretty impressive.  A public official who shows up both before AND after the election!”

I have to praise the mayor for his kindness and caring of this often-maligned and very vulnerable population.  Although many homeless people vote, there is not tremendous political capital in meeting with them in this manner.  My experience of Tom Leppert is that he genuinely wants to be the mayor for every one in Dallas.  He could easily show up for a photo-op (no press were present at this event), he could stay behind the glass counter, he could come and go quickly and say he’d made ‘a stop.’  He doesn’t.  For the third time since I’ve known him, he’s come out among the homeless, touched them, talked to them at length one to one, spent time with them as though he did not have pressing time concerns.  (After he left us at 7:45 PM, he donned a business suit and went on to another event.)


Special thanks to Stewpot staff Edward St. John (Director of Operations), Reggie Crawford (Dining Room Coordinator), Brenda Roberts (Food Services Director), Jean Jones (Volunteer Coordinator) and Bruce Buchanan (Executive Director) for graciously hosting the mayor and his staff.  As it always is at the Bridge when I’ve been there, dinner service served by the Stewpot staff and volunteers was virtually flawless:  very efficient, immaculately clean, delicious and nutritious.

And very special thanks to Renee and Paula in the mayor’s office at city hall for making this visit happen.  It was a real treat for all concerned.


Wednesday, July 23, 3008                                                                                                                     ADDITIONAL NOTE:

I received this in an email today from Edward St. John, Director of Operations for Meal Services at the Bridge through the Stewpot, and I want to share it with readers:

“The Dallas Police provided a lot of support that Friday night without any fanfare or pressure on me or my staff…  They deserve a ‘stroke’ for being a positive influence without negating the good stuff that the Downtown Dallas Safety Patrol earns every minute of every day at the Bridge.  The Dallas Police Department presence ‘guaranteed’ a quiet evening, but for the most part, the Meal Service and DDSP have built that environment day by day, meal by meal, since May 20th.  We are proud of that….”

I couldn’t agree more.  Thank you, Edward, for calling attention to the DPD’s important role that evening.


This article linked to:


Successes at the Bridge July 15, 2008

Friday, 7/11/08


I was walking around the dining room tonight, serving water during the last part of dinner at the Bridge.  When I sat down by J., a woman I know who has been on the street for many years, to ask her how things were going, I guess I was unconsciously expecting her to say, ‘Oh, fine, fine,’ because that’s what she always says.  J. is a perennially upbeat individual who never asks for anything except vitamins.  She is someone who would be designated as ‘chronically homeless,’ although I hate that label.  And she did say, “Oh, fine, fine.”  I was also expecting the ‘rest of the story’ to be the same as usual — that she was still struggling, still on the street.  But I asked anyway:  “Are you getting to sleep inside here at the Bridge sometimes?”  Was she choosing to stay inside the gates of the Bridge campus at night, I wondered?


“I’m a resident!” she informed me proudly, which meant she had qualified for one of the 100 private sleeping cubicles inside the Bridge.  I was delighted to hear this.  “You are?  Congratulations!  What do you have to do to qualify to stay there?” I asked.  “Take my medication regularly, and participate in all their programs, everything they have through MHMR (Mental Health and Mental Retardation.)”  She was happy with how things are going, and we talked for a while longer.  Then she confided to me, “What I do is just avoid everybody I knew before [meaning people that could get her into trouble.]  I stay in my room and read my book.  The room is really nice.  I’m moving into an apartment this month!  Pray for me that I’ll keep doing well.”  “Believe me, I will,” I promised her.  I thought to myself that the Bridge is doing exactly what it was designed to do.  Getting people off the street, getting them stabilized, then moving them into permanent supportive housing.


J. and I exchanged hugs, and I moved on around the dining room with my water pitcher.  After a while I stopped to talk with a friendly man I’d never met.  “So how’s it going?”  “Fine.  I start a new job on Monday as a courier.”  “Terrific, did you get the job through the placement program here?”  “Yes,” he said, “I’m a resident, and I’ve gone through all the programs here.  I’ve qualified for an apartment, and I move in this week.”  Two for two!!!  I couldn’t believe it.  I hadn’t started the night looking for success stories, but they were finding me.  


I sat down with him, learned his name is Tony.  He had become homeless after a divorce.  His elderly parents are in assisted living and couldn’t take him in when things fell apart.  But now he was quite pleased that he would be in a position to help them since he was getting back on his feet.  I congratulated him and moved on, as dinner was coming to an end.


I left the dining hall with my friend, David Timothy of SoupMobile, who was also volunteering that night.  When we passed through the gates of the Bridge to the sidewalk beyond, a man approached us.  This individual, someone David knew from his years of being a licensed mobile feeder of the homeless in Dallas, had recently been badly beaten up.  David examined the man’s right eye and the side of his face, blue and very swollen, and took note of the drying blood, cuts and scratches all over his face and arms.  He then went off to his car to get the man a bottle of cold water, and, by the time he returned, a Dallas Police officer had pulled on blue medical gloves and was talking to the beating victim.  Within a matter of seconds, an ambulance pulled up, and the man was helped into the back of the ambulance where EMT’s began treating him on the spot.


I don’t know if I can express how rare it is in my experience to see street people get instantaneous medical care (unless they are working with a non-profit.)  Unfortunately, it’s tragically commonplace for them to be injured because of the rough life on the street.  I remember a night when a beating victim, someone I knew named G., sat on the sidewalk in front of the the Day Resource Center, and many of us felt extremely grateful that there happened to be a young doctor volunteering with the church group feeding people that night who had a first aid kit in his car, so that he could kneel in front of G. (who, in addition to having been beaten, had been burned with cigarettes) and patch him up before G. went on his way into the night.


While the beating victim was getting settled into the ambulance in front of the Bridge, I talked to another friend, D., who has also been on the street for many years.  Turns out, she appears to be Success Story #3 for the night, as she is now a Resident at the Bridge and is working on getting her state I.D. in order to complete her job search and get hired.  D. raised her t-shirt a few inches to show me her tummy that stuck out from her ribs about 1/4 inch.  “I’m even gaining weight!”  she said proudly.  “Yeah, well, wish I had your problem,” I said, and we had a good laugh.


I know there are setbacks at the Bridge, and maybe I’m just focusing on the upside.  But to see people getting off the street, into apartments, into jobs, into mental health treatment, into rehabilitation where needed makes me tremendously optimistic.


The Bridge staff clearly has its hand full dealing with homeless / business / downtown resident / police relations.  Also, the leadership is struggling to find a balance between the need for rules and an ‘open-door’ policy.  But frankly, these bumps in the road are to be expected with such a vulnerable population as people who are homeless.  Running the Bridge is not a task for the faint of heart, to be sure.  And this is not to say great things haven’t been done over the years at places like the Stewpot.  But the numbers simply overwhelm the private sector.  Having seen how things have been for so many years here in Dallas, and having felt so often discouraged by what the future might hold, I am truly very heartened by what I see happening now in the lives of individual homeless people and the homeless population as a whole.  Miracles abound.  


Tony (Success Story #2) said this to me at dinner:  “For those who want to get help, everything they need is here,” and he pointed to the main buildings of the Bridge.  That’s a recommendation from someone for whom it’s not just theoretical.  


The fact that the Bridge is actually delivering on its promise to get people off the street amidst a ‘tidal wave’ of need and numbers that are much greater than anticipated says to me, once again:  a majority of Dallas citizens voted for that blessed $23 million bond package a few years back, despite well-funded opposition to its passage.  Enlightened leadership has put together a state-of-the-art facility.  Week after week, in spite of setbacks, construction delays and critics, it actually seems to be working.  Go, Dallas!




Slavery Today: Buying and Selling Children July 9, 2008

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Did you know that, by one account, there are more slaves on the planet today than at any time in history?  27 million.  Many of them are children.  If there’s a topic nearer to my heart than homelessness, it’s the deplorable plight of so many children world wide.

Last night, ABC News’ Nightline did a report on child-trafficking in Haiti.  Here’s the link:

The report was hard to watch.  I cried during much of it, because of the subject matter and because one of the girls in the report resembles so closely one of my granddaughters.  Nonetheless, if we refuse to know, we are unable to make in impact, right?

So, please, click on the link and watch or read the report.  Then click on “Click HERE to learn more about what you can do to help end child slavery.”  These children are people who TRULY have no voice, and, in my view, their exploiters represent the greatest evil on the planet.