Wednesday, January 17, 2016
Poetry From Prison: From Jail to Yale
Wednesday, January 17, 2016
Poetry From Prison: From Jail to Yale
Saturday, September 5, 2015
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
I came across this interview with Bryan Stevenson by Charlie Rose by accident last evening, and this man is my new hero… what a beautiful, humble human being. It is riveting television, and I think he has it exactly right about race in America. I hope you’ll take the time to watch it.
If you have trouble with the link, go to http://www.hulu.com, search “Bryan Stevenson + Charlie Rose” and click on the first video.
Bryan Stevenson’s book is called Just Mercy.
Friday, August 7, 2015
Building an Oasis in a Philadelphia Food Desert
This story is so inspiring! We’ve become familiar with the extreme difficulty that people living in poverty face in accessing fresh produce and healthy food, and also with the barriers faced by those who have formerly been incarcerated in securing employment after release. Here is a wonderful man — a grocer — who is solving both these problems in an exceptional way.
Saturday, May 23, 2015
Servant? Leader? Both.
“Ministry is… a mutual experience… [Jesus] wants Peter to feed his sheep and care for them, not as ‘professionals’ who know their clients’ problems and take care of them, but as vulnerable brothers and sisters who know and are known, who care and are cared for, who forgive and are being forgiven, who love and are being loved.
Somehow we have come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead… Someone serves, someone else is being served, and be sure not to mix up the roles! But how can we lay down our life for those with whom we are not even allowed to enter into a deep personal relationship!
We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.
Therefore, true ministry must be mutual. When the members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others and begins to show authoritarian and dictatorial traits. The world in which we live — a world of efficiency and control — has no models to offer to those who want to be shepherds in the way Jesus was a shepherd. Even the so-called ‘helping professions’ have been so thoroughly secularized that mutuality can only be seen as a weakness and a dangerous form of role confusion. The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world. It is a servant leadership — to use Robert Greenleaf’s* term — in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader.”
~~ Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, Reflections on Christian Leadership
*Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Lent: I’m Not Much, But I’m All I Think About
This evening I sat in the beautiful Church of the Incarnation and listened to a wise, direct, and very profound sermon by our rector, Bishop Anthony Burton, on preparing for Lent.
In speaking of the temptations that Christ experienced during his forty days in the wilderness — which we symbolically replicate through our observance and celebration of the Lenten season — Bishop Burton clarified them in a way I hadn’t previously understood: Christ, he said, was tempted to become the star of his own show — the centerpiece of his own movie. He refused.
As I sat through the service, surrounded by the majesty of a church I’ve loved for decades, I observed how often my thoughts are centered upon myself. Briefly, I can be fully present within the momentous mystery and magic of what is going on around me, but quickly and automatically, I am back to… assessing myself, critiquing myself, speculating about myself… which then turns in an equally automatic way to quick and sometimes even scornful and petty judgments of people around me.
To quote a friend who has spent decades successfully working twelve-step programs, “I’m not much, but I’m all I think about.”
Referring to the unremitting humility of Jesus and of His unwillingness to become a person of consequence and importance — or, perhaps in today’s parlance, one could say His unwillingness to become “relevant”, the bishop said, “I want that.”
So do I.
Church of the Incarnation incarnation.org
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
“Bear witness to injustices that result in poor health, and work to remove those injustices and build health equity. This is what healers owe society. And this is what our society desperately needs at this moment in time.”
~~ Jessie M Gaeta, M.D., Medical Director of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program
Commencement Address, Boston University School of Medicine Convocation, 2013
Monday, August 26, 2013
Wise Words From Someone Who Knows…
“You can’t preach [the Gospel] to someone who is starving.
You can’t entertain people who are dying.”
~~ Pastor Karen Dudley, Founder and Senior Pastor, Dallas International Street Church
Sunday, March 17, 2013
by Karen Shafer
Although it’s cold here on the New England lake where I’m staying with my family — in the thirties — the weather has not stopped my ten-year-old grandson, Louis, from organizing family rowing parties on the lake the past two days. It goes without saying that he’s the ship’s captain, which is almost certainly a motivating factor for any ten-year-old. He’s enthusiastic about being in charge and even got his mother to go out rowing this morning when it was 29 degrees!
As a family, we’ve rowed across the lake twice this weekend and staked our claim, like settlers, on the shore of an island or promontory, which my grandson has dubbed ‘New Louis.’ (Please don’t tell the people in the waterside mansions up the hill from where we landed that new settlers have arrived: they no doubt think they own the land.) Today when he, his eight-year-old sister, Anna, his father and I made ‘the crossing’, it was 37 degrees and also quite windy — and we were rowing into the cold wind and against the waves. At times, it seemed seemed to me that we were either going backwards or sitting still in the middle of the lake, paddling our hardest, and I thought, “Hmm, making this crossing yesterday was really fun, but this is starting to feel a little like actual work.”
Eventually, though, we gained the coast of New Louis and clambered ashore — or rather, they leaped, and I crawled. While the other three first scrambled up a pine tree that had been blown over and uprooted to a 45-degree angle by a recent storm, then went off hiking, I sat on a wall, regretting the fact that I’d left my winter boots in Boston. My feet in tennis shoes and cotton socks had gotten damp from water in the bottom of the boat, and how cold they now felt became the full focus of my attention, delighted though I was with the outing and with our newly conquered territory.
I soon figured out that, though the temperature was in the mid-thirties, if I took off my damp socks and shoes and sat barefoot with my feet under a pile of dry leaves and grass, my feet were warmer and I was more comfortable than I was sitting in wet shoes. I hung my damp socks on a branch to ‘dry’ and piled more dry pine needles over the ‘nest’ into which I’d pushed my feet. Chastising myself for being a wimp and a whiner did nothing to erase the fact that nothing seemed more important to me than how cold my feet felt. And I had only been out in the wind and damp for about forty-five minutes… an hour max.
As I sat on the wall pondering what a softie I’ve become in middle age, I began to think of our homeless brothers and sisters, out on the street in similar weather and that which is much more severe. I remembered how, in times past when I’ve been around homeless people in the winter, there’s nothing they’ve seemed to need more — and nothing which is more often lacking — than clean dry socks and shoes, and I recalled how charities serving the homeless population often emphasize this. Being in New England, I thought of sock drives sponsored by the Boston Red Sox. I vowed that the next time I show up at a service provider which helps homeless people, I’ll do so with at least a pack if not an armload of white athletic socks… and I wistfully and pitifully imagined borrowing one of those pairs of socks for myself at that moment, just until we got back to the house.
My family came back from their hike, and we rowed back across the lake… with the wind this time, and in a quarter of the time, thank goodness. I did more reflecting as we paddled; the rhythm of the oars moving through the water was conducive to it. I thought about how comfort-dependent I am, especially as I get older — and, indeed, what comfortable lives most of us middle-class Americans live. How pampered we are, and how miserable it must be to be homeless, living on the street, and know that you are facing hours, days of cold, wet feet. How does one cope with that?
We reached the small sandy beach in front of the house where we are staying, pulled the rowboat onto shore, traversed the yard and entered the lovely, warm, dry house. I rushed straight to my slippers and greeted them with a sense of appreciation and affection I’d forgotten I could feel for shoes.
Wednesday, February 13, 2012
I’ve just been invited by my daughter, her family, and a wonderful friend who is a nurse serving the homeless community in Boston to attend services at Common Cathedral one Sunday in the next few weeks. Can’t wait!
Sunday, December 16, 2012
While cleaning off a bookshelf today, I found a bookmark with this printed on it in one of my mother’s old prayer books. Not so easy to do, but worth trying for… KS
Prayer for Peace
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
From Henri Nouwen:
“Let me tell you about a[n] experience connected with my move from Harvard to L’Arche. It was clearly a move from leading to being led. Somehow I had come to believe that growing older and more mature meant that I would be increasingly able to offer leadership. In fact, I had grown more self-confident over the years. I felt I knew something and had the ability to express it and be heard. In that sense I felt more and more in control.
But when I entered my community with mentally handicapped people and their assistants, all controls fell apart, and I came to realize that every hour, day, and month was full of surprises — often surprises I was least prepared for…. Often people responded from deep places in themselves, showing me that what I was saying or doing had little if anything to do with what they were living. Present feelings and emotions could no longer be held in check by beautiful words and convincing arguments…. Without realizing it, the people I came to live with made me aware of the extent to which my leadership was still a desire to control complex situations, confused emotions, and anxious minds.
It took me a long time to feel safe in this unpredictable climate, and I still have moments in which I clamp down and tell everyone to shut up, get in line, listen to me, and believe what I say. But I am also getting in touch with the mystery that leadership, for a large part, means to be led. I discover that I am learning many new things, not just about the pains and struggles of wounded people, but also about their unique gifts and graces. They teach me about joy and peace, love and care and prayer…. They also teach me what nobody else could have taught me, about grief and violence, fear and indifference. Most of all, they give me a glimpse of God’s first love, often at moments when I start feeling depressed and discouraged.
My movement from Harvard to L’Arche made me aware in a new way how much my own thinking about Christian leadership had been affected by the desire to be relevant, the desire for popularity, and the desire for power. Too often I looked at being relevant, popular and powerful as ingredients of an effective ministry.
The truth, however, is that these are not vocations but temptations. Jesus asks, ‘Do you love me?’ Jesus sends us out to be shepherds, and Jesus promises a life in which we increasingly have to stretch out our hands and be led to places where we would rather not go. He asks us to move from a concern for relevance to a life of prayer, from worries about popularity to communal and mutual ministry, and from a leadership built on power to a leadership in which we critically discern where God is leading us and our people… Old patterns that have proved quite effective are not easy to give up.
I leave you with the image of the leader with outstretched hands, who chooses a life of downward mobility.”
~~ From In the Name of Jesus, Reflections on Christian Leadership
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
“Where there is no vision the people perish”
In talking with more and more youth there seems to be a lack of vision for their generation. Many are meandering through life without purpose or goals. With this mindset it should come as no suprise that many find themselves in bondage to drugs, alcohol, cutting and abusive relationships. In other words they are perishing. And adults are no better in that they suffer from the same emptiness. No vision. Thats where the church stands in and and cast the vision of God before His people in order that they may get a vision for themselves, their marriage, their family, etc. If we want to stop the perishing in our communities then we the church must begin to cast the vision of God but before we can do that we must first have a vision of God ourselves.
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Freedom, Blessings, and the Fourth of July
My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy! ~~Thomas Jefferson
How often we fail to realize our good fortune in living in a country where happiness is more than a lack of tragedy. ~~Paul Sweeney
There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America. ~~William J. Clinton
Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. ~~Abraham Lincoln
For what avail the plough or sail, or land or life, if freedom fail? ~~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thanks for the quotes to Don Hood, attorney and friend.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Coercion or Cooperation?
Pine Street Inn in Boston, Massachusetts, New England’s largest resource for homeless men and women, sends Outreach vans onto the city’s streets 365 nights per year — in the cold, snow and rain — offering homeless men and women help in the form of warm blankets, hot meals, clean clothes and transportation to shelter. The journal below allows us to follow a van on one night’s journey and details some of the experiences of the shelter’s outreach volunteers.
Imagine just for a moment that you are one of the homeless women or men described in the article. As you read, ask yourself whether you would respond better to the approach used by Pine Street — one of respect and trust building — or to the methods used by many other cities, which often includes this choice: “Do you want to go to a shelter or go to jail?” KS
Every night, Pine Street Inn’s Outreach vans head out, loaded with warm blankets, hot meals and clean clothes, offering rides to shelter. Through the cold and snow, the Outreach teams crisscross the city from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., serving people in need.
Here are just a few of the situations that Outreach counselors Nelson, Vincent and Maggie encounter during one night on the vans.
10:05 p.m., Financial District
Outreach counselors find two homeless women in their 60s, Susan and Annie, huddled together in an alley. Susan was assaulted the previous night, and Annie is determined to stay by her side “to protect her.” Maggie offers the women hot soup and a sandwich. She listens as they tell their story, but senses that it will take time to build their trust before they will accept a ride to the shelter. Reluctantly, the Outreach team moves on, but they will check on Susan and Annie again tomorrow.
1:30 a.m., Washington Crossing
Outside a coffee shop, the Outreach team finds Donald, whom they have encouraged to go to shelter before. Tonight, he accepts a ride to Pine Street. On the way, Donald tells the counselors that he has been sick. By the time the van arrives at Pine Street, Vincent has arranged for Donald to see a doctor the next morning.
3:45 a.m., Boston Common
It’s cold and raining when Nelson spots a light coming from under a bridge. There, Nelson finds James, who is trying to stay dry. Nelson has known James for three months and is slowly trying to build his trust and convince him to spend the night at Pine Street. James has not been ready in the past, but tonight when Nelson asks if he’d like a ride to the shelter, James says “yes.”
A warm bed and a hot meal were his first steps on the road to a better life. Today – with the help of Pine Street – James has a full-time job and is living in his own apartment.
5:00 a.m., Pine Street Inn
The outreach vans return to Pine Street and the counselors meet to talk about the individuals they spoke with the night before and prepare for the next night’s journey.
Video link: “Human Dignity is Paramount:
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Should We House Homeless Alcoholics or Make Them Get Sober First?
People will doubtless have strong — and differing — opinions about this, but I’ll offer this observation: the traditional approach of making homeless alcoholics and drug addicts get clean and sober before they qualify for housing has left a large percentage of them still on the street. The Housing First approach described in this article has some very favorable statistics in its favor.
Is it better, if someone is going to die of their addiction, for them to die cold and alone outdoors? Maybe if they don’t have the ‘moral courage’ to get clean, this is what they deserve. This Associated Press article considers some differing perspectives. What do you think? KS
Monday, December 19, 2011
Small Things With Great Love
My son-in-law sent me this story today. What these two people are doing is not small, but the love they express — each in her or his own way — is great indeed. It reminds me, despite the difficulties in the world, that there are people out there quietly doing wonderful things every day. KS
Austrian chef, Catholic nun are spirit behind Trinity Cafe
Monday, December 19, 2011 01:16:00 AM
Dec. 19–TAMPA — Alfred Astl frets a lot.
And with good reason: He’s the chef at Trinity Cafe, a restaurant that serves the homeless and working poor in downtown Tampa. He operates on a razor-thin budget, stretching pennies instead of dollars, in order to feed the growing throng of hungry people who come for a free noontime meal Monday through Friday.
“He always thinks he’s going to run out, which he never does,” confides Sister Maureen Dorr, the 81-year-old Franciscan nun who stopped in to volunteer 10 years ago and never left.
“I tell him not to worry. I happen to know another man who multiplied. He really had a way with loaves and fishes, and so does Alfred.”
That’s how it is with the Austrian chef with the serious demeanor and the fun-spirited Catholic sister who’s a bit of a flirt. They are the yin and yang of Trinity Cafe. He does the nourishing — creating innovative and well-balanced meals from soup to dessert at about $2 a serving. She does the nurturing — walking among the homeless guests to dispense hugs, give counsel and offer prayers.
“Sister Maureen is an angel on earth. And Chef Alfred is a grizzly with the heart of a teddy bear,” says Cindy Davis, program director. “They are the heart and soul of the cafe. To have them working here together is a real blessing for us and every guest who works through the door.”
Neither seeks out attention. But they got it anyway last month.
Sister Maureen was named a local hero by Bank of America, which came with a $5,000 check. Astl, 61, was chosen as a community hero by the Tampa Bay Lightning — an honor that came with a $50,000 award. Both directed their winnings to the cafe’s food account.
Davis says the windfall came at a time when the nonprofit needs it the most.
The cafe’s $455,000 annual budget — which depends on donations and grants — is being challenged by an increase in the number of people it serves. The limit was supposed to be 200 meals a day; that’s jumped to about 230. And looming in the future is a $650,000 project that will allow the cafe to relocate from its current cramped quarters at the Salvation Army to its own permanent building in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood.
When the cafe eventually moves, it will be open seven days a week. And it will keep that same “dining with dignity” tradition, using volunteers from churches and community organizations to serve patrons at tables covered in white cloths and set with silverware.
That’s a touch Astl insists upon.
Before coming to Trinity Cafe, he spent 35 years in the hotel and food industry, honing his skills as a chef in exclusive settings from Aspen to New York. He worked at a Four Seasons, country clubs, high-end inns and corporations. He owned his own continental restaurant in Tampa with wife, Sandy. He worked for the late George Steinbrenner’s Yankee Trader at Bay Harbor Inn. For four years, he served as division chef for five Rusty Pelican restaurants.
But for all the prestige and money that came with his career, Astl got burned out. He missed out on seeing his two sons grow up. Working six or seven days a week, sometimes 18 hours a day, took a toll on his health.
Then he saw the help wanted ad for a chef to work “five days a week, lunch only.” He thought it would be a nice break for a little while. That was 10 years ago.
Obviously, there are differences. He doesn’t deal in ahi tuna or Kobe beef anymore. He haggles with food proprietors on the cost of odd-shaped chicken breasts. $1.34 a pound? I’ll give you 60 cents.
Good quality food is a must, he says, “but I have to get it cheap.” And nothing is wasted. Today’s leftover braised corn is tomorrow’s corn chowder. Every meal starts with salad or soup, a healthy portion of protein, a starch, a vegetable, a dessert and a piece of fruit. That same gourmet style he developed when working in exclusive restaurants is reflected here.
“I approach this the same way I did everything else — I come in and do the best with what I have,” Astl says. “Only I know this is the only meal of the day for these guests.”
While the chef is working his magic in the kitchen, Sister Maureen is making the rounds in the waiting lines and at the tables. Some of the faces are familiar; once a week, she’s at the jail, counseling and ministering to those who ran afoul of the law. She has a special fondness for the men, and often offers herself as a dance partner in the middle of the dining room.
“Stay with God,” she whispers to a bearded man, sitting forlornly against the fence while waiting for the cafe to open. “He won’t abandon you. Don’t give up. He’s here.”
For 40 years, Sister Maureen worked in education as a teacher and administrator. She says this is just another extension of what she has done since entering religious life at age 17.
“St. Francis taught us about living out the gospel and serving the poor,” she says. “But truth is, I don’t minister to them. I minister with them. I firmly believe there are such good people who have had bad opportunities. They show me the way to God as much as I try to show them.”
She acknowledges her advanced age, but quickly dismisses any notion of retirement. “Nuns don’t retire,” she says with a laugh. “We just get recycled. As long as God gives you the health, you keep on moving.”
Yes, Astl and Sister Maureen admit, their personalities are different. He’s all business, quite serious about the balance between pinching pennies and providing a substantive meal. She’s quick to crack jokes and wrap her arms around a lost soul who needs a human’s touch. Both agree that those differences don’t matter. The bond they share — their compassion for the poor — trumps everything.
“She is marvelous,” Astl says with admiration. “Just marvelous how she connects with everyone.”
“And he is a God-centered man,” Sister Maureen says. “Though he doesn’t think he is, I know it’s true.”
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Change — even change for the better — is often approached with apprehension. “In giving up something,” people think, “will I be left with nothing?” It takes courage to renounce the known for the unknown. It is not easy even to renounce a famliar pain for an unknown, and therefore uncertain, happiness. The mind is like a horse that for years has pulled its delivery wagon. The horse grows accustomed to its daily route, and cannot be convinced easily to walk a new one. The mind, too, will not lightly abandon its old habits, even when it knows they cause only misery.
Beneficial changes should be embraced with courage. As long as one’s hope for better things are opposed by fear of their attainment, the mind can never be at peace. Accept change, therefore, as life’s only constant. Our lives are an endless procession of gains and losses, of joys and sorrows, of hopes and disappointments. At one moment we find ourselves threatened by the storms of trials; moments later, a silver lining brightens the gray clouds; then, suddenly, the skies are blue again.
~~ Paramahansa Yogananda, The Wisdom of Yogananda, Volume 5
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Piggybacking, with permission from Larry James, on his blog, here is a fascinating look at what one doctor in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania — Dr. Jim Withers — and his team are doing to heal a city by ministering on the streets to the city’s homeless population. Dr. Withers has been practicing ‘street medicine’ since 1992. There are always people living on the street who are unable to access medical care because of their inability to move through even the most streamlined red tape. That is why, for me, this type of medicine is particularly compelling and seems so very important. The post on Larry’s blog is on Monday, October 31, 2011. KS
Here’s the link to Operations Safety Net, founded by Dr. Withers to house his homeless patients in Pittsburgh.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Medicine That Matters
by Karen Shafer
“The Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program’s mission is to provide or assure access to the highest quality health care for all homeless men, women and children in the greater Boston area.”
Jean Yawkey Place
In the summer of 2011, while touring the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, I stepped off the third-floor elevator into Barbara McInnis House, looked around, and began to cry, (and I’m pretty sure it was what Oprah refers to as “the ugly cry”.) Those accompanying me — my daughter, two of my grandchildren, and our tour guide, Manager of Volunteer Services Carrie Eldridge-Dickson — at first looked at me in surprise. After all, we were viewing a beautiful, pristine environment decorated in pastels — a state-of-the-art facility which provides “medical respite care”, short-term medical and recuperative services, for homeless men and women in Boston, Massachusetts. I felt as if I’d stepped into an ideal world.
My companions’ surprise turned quickly to understanding. They shared the comprehension that my tears were in part joyful at what has been accomplished there, but that they also conveyed frustration at how few of our homeless brothers and sisters will ever experience the level of loving and dignified care expressed in the atmosphere surrounding us at that moment.
The 104-bed Barbara McInnis House is a medical respite care facility spread throughout three floors of Jean Yawkey Place, Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program’s central facility which opened in May of 2008. The building also houses a primary care walk-in clinic with ten exam rooms and four meeting rooms for mental health care, a dental clinic with five operatories, a pharmacy, office space for “street” and “family” outreach teams, and the organization’s administrative offices.
Barbara McInnis House provides 24-hour care for homeless men and women who are too sick for life on the streets or in shelters but not sick enough to occupy acute care rooms in area hospitals. It has a dining room that serves patients three nutritious meals a day, and a large common area and outdoor patio — all under one roof.
The cellar-to-roof renovation of this former city morgue and forensic research facility now addresses the unique medical needs of the city’s homeless men and women. It was made possible through the combined generosity of private, foundation and corporate donors. BHCHP raised $42,000,000 in the organization’s only capital campaign in its 26-year history.
Model of Care
Jean Yawkey Place sets the stage for the model of ‘integrated care’ practiced at BHCHP. The organization’s web site, www.BHCHP.org, describes the complex challenge of tackling health care among the vulnerable homeless population.
“Many homeless patients struggle with at least one substance abuse problem, at least one chronic physical condition and a psychiatric illness. Each condition is often preventable and manageable… on its own. But, in combination and left untreated, such health problems become compounded and all too often fatal. Medicine, in general, and homeless medicine, in particular, have long grappled with addressing these interconnected aspects of a patient’s healthcare in a coordinated way. In the traditional care model, behavioral health care and medical care operate independently.
The integrated care model at BHCHP unites physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, case managers and behavioral health professionals in a close collaboration. They follow patients together and separately in a variety of settings: on the street, at Barbara McInnis House, in outpatient clinics and, as needed, in shelter or housing.
A patient can move from street to clinic to hospital to respite care to shelter to housing, having easy and regular contact with at least one member of the medical team so that serious medical and behavioral diagnoses receive integrated attention.”
No homeless person is refused treatment at BHCHP. The professional staff provides medical treatment to homeless men, women and children at eighty locations across the city — in adult and family shelters; in two hospital-based clinics; in emergency, transitional and permanent-supportive housing; and through home visits to formerly long-term homeless patients who are now housed through the Housing First initiatives in Boston. They also provide care on the street, in alleyways and under bridges to those “rough sleepers” who avoid shelters.
How does such an impressive result come to be? An article from the American Journal of Public Health entitled “The Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program: A Public Health Framework” talks about its beginnings. (O’Connell, Oppenheimer, Judge, Taube, Blanchfield, Swain, Koh: August, 2010)
In 1984, a community coalition consisting of eighty people representing shelters, homeless service providers, community health centers, nursing and medical schools, state and city governments, homeless persons, and advocacy groups was convened by Boston mayor Raymond Flynn and Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis. An extensive community needs assessment to identify gaps in existing health care services was then conducted.
Initial funding for the program came through a pilot grant of $300,000 annually for four years from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts, subsequently matched by an additional $250,000 annually from the state of Massachusetts.
City wide cooperation and ‘buy in’ strikes me right away as a predictor of the program’s probable success, and, in particular, the inclusion of homeless people and their advocates in the planning. All too often, critical issues of how service is to be conceived and delivered to the homeless community is decided by committees comprised of those who have never experienced homelessness, without ‘grass roots’ input. Such a comprehensive network early on hopefully precludes the ‘fiefdom’ approach of non profit organizations that can occur in cities, resulting in duplication of services and competition for funding.
The Mission of BHCHP
“To provide or assure access to the highest quality health care for all homeless men, women and children in the greater Boston area.”
When the program began offering clinical services in 1985 with a staff of seven, these things stand out in terms of its mission:
“The coalition insisted that health care be embraced as a matter of social justice rather than charity, and they defined the program’s mission to ensure that the highest-quality health care would be available to all homeless men, women, and children in Boston.” (O’Connell, et al)
It also viewed itself as a viable professional career for health professionals rather than as a volunteer opportunity and hoped to ensure thereby continuity of top-tier, accessible health care for homeless men, women and children. This seems a radically positive, innovative notion, and would seem to insure that, by having physicians and other health care providers as salaried employees of BHCHP, not only would availability of health care be assured, but vital relationships of trust could be built between provider and patient, leading to ‘continuity of care.’
What is meant by ‘continuity of care’?
1. Continuity of care from street and shelter to hospital requires an enduring and trusting relationship between the doctor or clinician and patient.
2. Multidisciplinary teams should deliver care.
3. BHCHP should act as a catalyst within the mainstream health care system to ensure that the special needs of homeless persons are addressed.
4. BHCHP should serve as the “glue” linking hospitals and health centers with the community of shelters and homeless service providers.
5. BHCHP should strive to bridge medicine and public health.
6. BHCHP should create and implement ‘respite care.’ [now existing as Barbara McInnis House] (O’Connell, et al)
It is also significant that BHCHP is located near two teaching hospitals, Massachusetts General and Boston Medical Center. BHCHP has walk-in clinics on the campuses of both facilities. Colleges and universities are now educating healthcare providers in increased sensitivity to the particular needs of various ethnic and social groups. This is especially important as the homeless population is one which requires special care in building trust and relationships, both because of possible health issues such as mental illness or addiction, and because attitudes toward homeless people in society as a whole tend at times to be negative, and opportunities for rejection abound.
Who Deserves Compassionate Care?
One only has to read the comments section of newspaper articles on homelessness — where homeless people are frequently referred to as ‘bums’ or in other derogatory language — to understand the negativity which can be directed at people living on the street. This attitude in the public at large may be a more powerful determinant of the quality and scope of the health care offered to the homeless population than one thinks. For example, some nonprofit organizations seeking to provide health care to those living in poverty may be hesitant to include homeless individuals within their scope — even when they believe they are deserving and needful of help — because they may feel that the ‘homeless’ label will impede funding efforts.
So, at the heart of the mission of any program offering health care to those living in poverty must be the consideration of this question: Are people experiencing homelessness deserving of compassionate care? Whether or not to include homeless healthcare in programs may in part be a matter of conscience, where non profit leaders either bend to public pressure and opinion, or stand firm in the moral commitment to treat all human beings as equally deserving of inclusion in a community of care.
The decision at the outset by the founders of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program to emphatically declare that individuals who are homeless are entitled to and would be provided with top tier, continuous and compassionate health care, provided in an integrated model by on-staff medical and clinical professionals, and with the assumption of the inherent worthiness of each patient to receive such care, regardless of circumstance, represents a rare commitment, but one that seems to have been met there in an extraordinarily successful manner.
Toward the end of our tour of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, my family and I were fortunate to have a chance meeting with Dr. James O’Connell, a founding physician of the program and currently its president. When we told him how moved we were by the beauty of the facility and the range and depth of its proffered services, he said, “Remember, it hasn’t always been like this! It took us a while to get here.”
The success of the program says a great deal about an inspired vision; about the wisdom of its founders and their careful planning; about a limitless amount of dedicated work and commitment; and also, not to be underestimated, about the political and moral will of a public which supports and undergirds the idea that those who at this moment live in society’s shadows are nonetheless deserving of its best.
~~ BHCHP has operated in the black for all of its 26 years and has brought medicine that matters to tens of thousands of homeless men, women and children.
~~ BHCHP employs close to 300 doctors, dentists, physician assistants, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health case workers, chefs, building and maintenance staff, substance abuse counselors, case managers and dental assistants.
~~ BHCHP delivers health care to over 11,000 patients each year.
~~ BHCHP manages the medical care throughout greater Boston’s adult and family shelter system, in two hospital based clinics and at over 80 sites throughout greater Boston.
~~ Over its 26 year history BHCHP has developed a care model that makes it a leader in urban medicine throughout the world…compassionate, professional care from a full-time staff…immeasurable savings in both dignity and dollars.
Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program: www.BHCHP.org
Special thanks to Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, in particular Tom McCormack andVicki Ritterband for editing, and Carrie Eldridge-Dickson; and to Nancy Johnson, Master’s of Science Candidate with a focus on Community Health, for access to journal articles and for thoughtful discussions of and insights into public health policy.
This article appears in the October, 2011 issue of Street Zine, which is available from licensed street vendors across Dallas.
Saturday, April 16, 2010
Mayoral Forum Held at The Stewpot This Week
The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church, Dallas, held a mayoral forum Thursday, April 14, 2011 to give Dallas Mayoral candidates an opportunity to address questions regarding the concerns and well-being of Dallas homeless citizens. Present at the event were vendors of the homeless newspaper Street Zine (published by The Stewpot), Stewpot and Crossroads Community Services staff, Bridge Homeless Assistance Center staff and homeless advocates. The forum was organized by Street Zine Editor, Pat Spradley and other Stewpot staffers, and the candidates were invited to the event by homeless advocate Clare Nilson.
Panelists were former Dallas Police Chief, David Kunkle, and former Homeless Czar, Mike Rawlings. Candidates Ron Natinsky and Edward Okpa were invited but unable to attend.
The questions ranged from their support of sales of the homeless newspaper published by The Stewpot, Street Zine and the needs of homeless citizens generally, to questions about the Bridge Homeless Assistance Center, and specifics regarding the candidates’ opinions of so-called Quality of Life ordinances, passed by Dallas and other cities to limit the presence and movements of homeless citizens in public places. Those attending learned about the opinions of the men regarding homelessness and a little of their personalities as well.
Everyone involved in the event is appreciative that the two candidates took time to attend and offer their perspectives on the important issues facing those experiencing homelessness in our city. Much gratitude as well goes to Ms. Spradley, Ms. Nilson and the Rev. Dr. Bruce Buchanan, Executive Director of The Stewpot, as well as Stewpot staff, for hosting this event.
Check the Street Zine Facebook page next week for an update on this important and informational event and see some pictures as well at :
‘Generic Ministry’ cares for Boston homeless in all weather
by Karen Shafer, February 10, 2011
“The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.” -Hubert Humphrey, 1977
The Boston area has been slammed by an unusually large amount of snow this winter, even by New England standards — six snowstorms in a month — but that does not stop John Mark, Judi, Mick, Robert, Scott and the dedicated volunteers of Generic Ministry in the small town Needham, Massachusetts from hitting the streets of downtown Boston every Tuesday and Wednesday night to care for those who are homeless. During a visit to my family in January, 2011, it was my privilege to ride along with this dedicated group for two nights in the midst of the some of Boston’s most extreme weather in years, and to learn a little bit about the situation for our homeless brothers and sisters in the Boston area. Although Boston provides an adequate number of shelter beds for its homeless population, there are always people in any city who are ‘shelter resistant’ — unable or unwilling to cope with going into shelters, often due to mental illness and its ramifications.
The Generic Ministry van is equipped with shelves of warm clothing organized by size and type, with hanging racks of winter-worthy coats, with bins of socks, underwear and hygiene products, and with military surplus blankets, all of which are stocked and sorted twice weekly by a ‘behind-the-scenes crew’ made up of Robert (who also coordinates all contacts), Rick, and Scott, and by Martha, who finds online deals for the toiletries. Sandwiches made by school children in Needham and adjacent towns are available, as are bottled water, juice, chips and desserts.
Street feeding is not prohibited in Boston as it currently is in Dallas, and requires no registration or permit, but I was still surprised the first night when we pulled up right on the busy street next to the sidewalk across from Boston Common and opened up the van for the distribution of food and clothing. The food giveaway is run by volunteers who themselves are formerly homeless, and they were waiting for us in front of a popular hamburger restaurant when we arrived. Immediately about thirty people came out of nowhere and formed a line behind the truck to request warm clothing, while traffic on the busy street patiently drove around us. Generic Ministry volunteer Mick filled orders for specific clothing items and sizes from inside the van. Short a worker for manning the food line, Anthony and James, who head up the formerly-homeless volunteers, put me to work distributing food from a table on the sidewalk, although we had to search for a path through the snow bank, which was about waist high. (By the time I left the area a week later, the snow banks were higher than your head!)
After everyone had been served, the remaining sandwiches, chips, desserts and bottled water were given to the formerly-homeless volunteers to distribute among people who sleep in train stations, doorways, alleyways, and on church steps throughout the city. At this point there was ample time for visiting and street counseling. The Generic Ministry volunteers have warm and mutually-respectful relationships with their street friends and seem to know them well. They hand out cards printed with information about shelters, emergency services, medical care and rehabilitation, but their service goes way beyond this. If someone is in need of transportation to a shelter or the emergency room (there are three major hospitals in the area), they will transport them in their van — or call 911 if appropriate, and they keep track of the situations and challenges of individuals from week to week.
One of the people I’ll always remember from that first night is Harry. He had brought with him a beautiful spiral bound notebook tied with ribbons, and I saw him ask John Mark for his signature. It turns out he was collecting autographs in celebration of the life of Sargent Shriver and his advocacy for those living in poverty and with disabilities. Then he pulled a twenty dollar bill from his pocket and gave it to John Mark as a donation for the ministry.
The next night, as we made the ministry’s usual stops around downtown Boston, Harry met us again at one of the locations to help out. I was sitting in the front seat of the van with the door open, and he came up to say ‘hi’. He was so cold that his teeth were chattering and he was shivering, as the temperature edged in the direction of zero for the second night in a row, but his dedication is such that he had gotten a ride from the halfway house where he lives in a small town outside of Boston to come and aid the ministry. I offered him a blanket to wrap around himself, but he laughed as he declined it — “Oh, I’m not homeless!” he said. John Mark later told me that Harry had collected clothing for his homeless brothers and sisters in the past and gotten a ride for the half-hour trip to the ministry headquarters to deliver it in person.
A highlight of the Wednesday night outing was a visit to the Pilgrim Church Homeless Shelter in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a neighborhood of Boston, where Generic Ministry delivers desserts weekly. The shelter operates without guards, metal detectors or policing of any kind, except for the self-policing done by those who stay there, despite the fact that Pilgrim Center takes in men who have been banned from other area shelters. Out of respect for those who were already bedded down for the night and those who were waiting in line to get in, I walked through quickly, but the order and calm of the shelter space — a church sanctuary with the pews removed — made a deep impression on me.
Later, outside on the snow-covered parking lot, I was introduced to the church’s pastor, The Rev. Mr. John Odams, and I asked him how the shelter works so well without guards. “We used to have a policeman on duty, but he didn’t have anything to do,” he told me. “I’m not sure why it works. Maybe it’s because it’s more an atmosphere of a home than a shelter.” A large number of those who stay at Pilgrim Shelter have aged out of foster care, not having been adopted by the age of eighteen, so the shelter is run under the direction of the United Homes Adult Services division of Children’s Services of Roxbury.
Keeping an eye on the weather, we left Dorchester and drove into downtown Boston. An emergency weather declaration had been issued for Boston that night — with the expectation of a winter gale predicted for 9 P.M. and slated to bring at least an additional eight inches of snow on top of the approximately four feet that had already fallen this winter — which means any car blocking roads or impeding snowplows can be towed by the city at the owner’s expense. As we drove around downtown, emergency vehicles were busy removing cars that had been left parked in order to make way for snow plows and sanding trucks. Despite the amount of snow that had fallen in the last several weeks, the streets of downtown were clear of snow, having been plowed and sanded aggressively in preparation for the next round that night.
The ministry know the whereabouts of a number of individuals and groups who ‘sleep rough’ in the downtown area and makes about a dozen stops on its Wednesday night rounds. In front of a downtown Seven-Eleven, we saw one of their ‘regulars’ — Sammy — sitting hunched over on a low windowsill. Judi got out to check on him, while we pulled over by a snow bank and parked the van next to the sidewalk in the valet area of an elegant-looking restaurant. I was surprised that no one asked us to move, though there were a number police cars cruising the area, as the streets were still actively being cleared of parked cars. Judi came back to the van with the message that Sammy had a leg injury and wanted to go inside somewhere for the night, so together she and John Mark helped him into the van. It had seemed at first that Sammy was willing to go into Pine Street Inn, a major Boston shelter, or to the hospital, but en route to the shelter he made the decision to go back to his camp in the back of a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority train station, so we took him there, and Judi and John Mark helped him limp inside.
Sammy had left Barbara McInnis House (which provides respite medical care for homeless men and women) against medical advice that same week, and, on our way to his camp, he and Judi discussed his plan for re-admittance. I was struck again by the nonjudgmental and respectful-yet-realistic approach that Judi took with him, acknowledging his rights as an individual to make choices — good or bad — yet encouraging in a calm and supportive way the healthy choice of rehabilitation and medical care. It is because of this non-patronizing approach that Generic Ministry — called ‘earth people’ by their homeless friends — has the trust and confidence of this extremely wary, at-risk population.
At one point we parked in a cab stand, and the cabbies waited patiently in line behind us as a small group of people lined up for clothing, blankets and sandwiches and we visited with them. A prosperous-looking man walked by and stopped to watch what we were doing. He looked at the ‘Generic Ministry’ name on the side of the van and nodded: “I like it,” he said.
As we continued our rounds, including a visit to another MBTA station encampment, I expressed my surprise that people are allowed to seek out and create their own shelter in the downtown Boston area, considering the restrictions on homeless people in Dallas and other cities and the amount of resources that many cities spend on policing to keep them off the street. Here is a conversation from a Boston Herald article which seems to sum up the city’s approach towards it homeless citizens. The article covers a high-profile homeless woman who refused to go indoors for this cold snap, saying she could handle this level of cold.
Homeless woman shuns shelter as temps turn deadly
By Christine McConville / The Pulse / Tuesday, January 25, 2011
“I’m not that cold,” she said, as she showcased her seven layers of clothing. “I can handle it.”Not possible, Boston police Superintendent in Chief Daniel Linskey told the Pulse. While police can’t force people off the streets, he said, he doubts the wisdom of testing the elements. “This cold is a different type of cold. It’s lethal. You can have negative effects just being exposed to the elements for a few minutes,” Linskey said.
This weekend, the city ordered evening shelters to remain open during the day and relaxed requirements for other, sober-only facilities. There’s the obvious threat of frostbite and hypothermia, said Dr. James O’Connell, who provides medical care for Boston’s many homeless. And in extreme weather conditions, chronic medical conditions can really tax the body, he said. “There’s nothing good about staying outside in this,” he said.
Each year in Boston, one or two people die from the extreme cold, he said, numbers kept down by active campaigns to get people into shelters….
No one can force [the woman] indoors. “It’s a tricky situation,” O’Connell said. “People have the right to live their life the way they want.”
Linskey agreed. “If someone can show us their sleeping bag and a heat source, and they are lucid and have the method and manner to survive the cold weather, we would allow them that option, if what they are doing is legal,” Linskey said. “If they’re drunk or in harm, we can put them in protective custody, but mainly, we’re just looking for them to go to the shelter.”
Yesterday, the city’s push appeared to be largely working. The Pine Street Inn was setting up extra cots to accommodate the overflow crowd, shelter spokesman Barbara Trevisan said.
O’Connell said he’s seeing some patients indoors for the first time. “There’s an elderly man in his mid 70s, and this weekend was the first time in 26 years I’ve seen him sleep in a bed, rather than a sidewalk,” he said. “With the bitter cold and all the snow, even though he struggles to be around other people, he realized it’s better to be inside.”
This article seems to represent a fundamentally different view of homeless issues and civil rights than what we are accustomed to seeing in many cities, and certainly in Dallas. Perhaps it can be classified as ‘non-criminalization’. One often hears about the ‘rights of individuals’, but this so often means that the rights of those who have financial means supersedes the rights of those who do not: property owners, business owners and organizations of those who are housed are more likely to be heard than those who are disenfranchised and have nothing.
At our last stop, a small tent camp on Boston Harbor that had been in the news because of the city’s efforts to persuade people living there to come inside during the extreme cold, Judi and John Mark delivered some supplies to the campers on foot. Then, as we began the drive home, we looked up at the Boston skyline, which was just beginning to be shrouded in a mist of snow. “It’s here,” said John Mark, of the impending snowstorm. It was making its appearance just over an hour past its predicted start time and had thankfully given us a grace period to complete our rounds. By the time we reached my family’s house about twenty minutes away, the footprints that we’d left on the driveway just a few hours earlier were completely obscured by the steadily falling snow.
Generic Ministry, Needham, Massachusetts
Pilgrim Church Homeless Shelter, Dorchester, Massachusetts
Pine Street Inn, Boston, Massachusetts
Barbara McInnis House, Boston, Massachusetts
This article appeared in the March, 2011 issue of Street Zine. http://www.thestewpot.org/sz.asp
Monday, January 17, 2011
“You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”
~~ Thomas Merton
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Deliver Me, O Lord, from Evil Men
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
1 Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men;
preserve me from violent men,
2 who plan evil things in their heart
and stir up wars continually.
3 They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s,
and under their lips is the venom of asps. Selah
4 Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked;
preserve me from violent men,
who have planned to trip up my feet.
5 The arrogant have hidden a trap for me,
and with cords they have spread a net;
beside the way they have set snares for me. Selah
6 I say to the Lord, You are my God;
give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O Lord!
7 O Lord, my Lord, the strength of my salvation,
you have covered my head in the day of battle.
8 Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked;
do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted! Selah
9 As for the heads of those who surround me,
let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them!
10 Let burning coals fall upon them!
Let them be cast into fire,
into miry pits, no more to rise!
11 Let not the slanderer be established in the land;
let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!
12 I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
and will execute justice for the needy.
13 Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name;
the upright shall dwell in your presence.
Friday, November 26, 2010
Here’s a beautiful letter and appeal from Brian Burton, Executive Director of The Wilkinson Center. It speaks for itself.
Brave people walk through our doors every day. Listen for five minutes to the wide ranging narrative of stories shared by the newly poor, working poor and homeless people, and you will agree.
One of my first awakenings here was walking through the hallways and asking people waiting for food, “How are you today?” Their consistent response surprised me. Despite a life lacking in possessions, safety, security, employment, health or even shelter, I heard them reply to my question over and over, “I’m blessed.”
Often the statement rolls off the tongues of bodies crippled by years of neglect and abuse. Some manage to smile or raise their hand above their head, as though they have discovered a place of solace and hope.
No matter how bad things get for the “I’m blessed” crowd, their attitude transcends circumstances and plucks hope out of thin air. “Tomorrow will be better, things will work out,” they explain to my disbelieving face.
The State of Texas is about to balance much of its galactic deficit on their backs, and yet these “I’m blessed” neighbors will, as they always do, forgive and love the rest of us. Mitigated by faith and our best attempts to “serve” them, they will make their own way with God, step by step, day by day, facing hardship and struggles inconceivable to me.
Indeed, they have discovered a place of solace and hope. It is a place accessible only when all else has been stripped away: a deep overflowing reservoir of faith in God and an implacable belief in a better tomorrow.
This Thanksgiving, given the anxiety that hangs thick in the air we breathe, it behooves us all to tap into that place of faith these neighbors have found so abundantly. In return for guiding us there, the least we could do is to thank them by sharing the resources we have that will make their hopes for a better tomorrow come true.
Thanks for giving,
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You are invited to attend …
Thanksgiving Dinner for the Homeless
We are serving a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, distributing coats & blankets, and joining in worship to celebrate the Savior on Thanksgiving day 11/25 from 1-4pm. The dinner will be at the Temple of Prayer Christian Fellowship which is located one block behind city hall at 1508 Cadiz. We will need help from volunteers to decorate the church banquet hall (on 11/24) and setup before the event opens (8am-12) on 11/25.
At this event, “Table Hosts” will bring their best place-settings and host a family meal with homeless friends. They are our honored guests and we will serve them in style.
We need your help!
We need your help. Please RSVP by clicking the “ATTEND” button below. If you have questions, please send us a message or call 214-444-8796 (extension 2) to tell us how you can help!
Thursday, November 25, 2010 from 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Will you be attending?Attend Event
Monday, September 20, 2010
The Stewpot ‘In House’ Art Sale Is This Saturday!
You are invited to attend The Stewpot “In House” September Art Sale on Saturday, September 25th, 3 pm – 8 pm in the 2nd Floor Gallery at The Stewpot.
This is a unique opportunity to view and purchase our homeless and at-risk friends artistic creations including acrylic paintings, water colors, oil pastels, mixed media works, jewelry, ceramics and more.
Most of the work will be on sale, with a portion of the work priced between 50% and 90% off!
90% of each sale goes to the artist with 10% going to buy more art supplies.
The “In House” September Art Sale will be at The Stewpot, 1822 Young Street, Dallas, TX 75201, across the street from 1st Presbyterian Church Dallas. Free parking provided.
Questions about the Sale or the Art Program? Please contact Stewpot Art Program Director Cynthia Brannum, firstname.lastname@example.org, 214-746-2785, ext. 235.
Director of Volunteer Services
The Stewpot & Second Chance Cafe
– a community ministries program of 1st Presbyterians Church Dallas
214-746-2785, ext. 320
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Recipe: Your Tax Dollars at Work
Take: one group of faithful Christians from the Korean Church on a recent Sunday
Add: homeless individuals on the streets of downtown Dallas who are hungry and thirsty
Toss in: food, conversation, loving concern
Let steep at approximately 105 degrees for 15 or 20 minutes.
Add some chilled bottled water.
Let spirits rise.
Bake at somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 degrees heat index. It is best to cook this in the late afternoon on hot asphalt or concrete.
Just as the recipe is put into the oven, add 9 police cruisers, a paddy wagon and an ambulance. (Ambulance may be required in case the police cruisers, paddy wagon, homeless citizens and church members don’t combine properly.)
Arrest first two ingredients — homeless people and church members — before they combine completely and something good happens.
Take all to jail and run their names to check for warrants. Be especially careful of the church members, as they can be an explosive, dangerous ingredient, doing good deeds where they may be unwarranted.
Release those ingredients which don’t have warrants. Put the remaining ingredients in containers. (Beware: containers may already be overfilled.)
Yield: your tax dollars at work during an historic budget crisis in Dallas in which about 440 city employees will be laid off. Though no one in the fire or police departments will be laid off, they will likely be required to take five furlough days by the fiscal year’s end.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
To Be A Great City, Must We All Look Alike?
Recently I received an e-mail from a Dallas church leader whom I greatly respect, and it contained this statement regarding people who are homeless in Dallas: “We don’t want them on our streets. We don’t want them in our neighborhoods. We can’t have it both ways.”
The debate on how and where homeless citizens will be housed has long been debated nationally, and the fight of neighborhoods to exclude homeless housing even has its own acronym: NIMBY — Not In My Backyard. This conversation in Dallas has recently become more open and heated because of a dispute between the agencies representing homeless citizens — in particular, the Dallas Housing Authority and The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center — and homeowner / business associations in North Oak Cliff, over the city’s plan to house up to one hundred homeless individuals in Cliff Manor. WhiIe painful, the discussion is also desirable, because it is leading to a higher-profile airing of the many sides of the Permanent Supportive Housing issue.
For me, it brings to mind a question that is not always asked: why do we object so vehemently to seeing poor people on our streets and in our neighborhoods, and is this objection reasonable? Is having our streets free of ‘the poor’ a desirable goal?
I am reminded of several visits I made to Paris, France, several years ago when one of my daughters studied and worked there. I found it to be the most exhilarating and beautiful place I’d ever been — architecturally stunning, and fascinating in its diversity. The thrilling, dizzying mix of all sorts of people — on the streets, in the crowded cafes, rushing into the Metro; reading, sitting, lying on the grass; running, walking, cycling; old men and kids bowling in the parks — these things make it a vigorous, animated city, and I fell for it the first time I was driven through its environs by my future son-in-law.
I especially liked walking in the evening to the Champ de Mars, the park in front of the Eiffel Tower. There I saw families picnicking, dogs chasing Frisbees, and people of every description playing games or music — even juggling fire! Those gathered at day’s end in the large open grassy space are poor and rich, dressed up and dressed simply.
When I compare life in Paris with my experiences working with homeless people in Dallas for the last six and a half years, one particular difference leaps to mind. Cities across America, including Dallas, continue to develop and implement strategies to get people who are homeless out of sight. These include passing special laws that target homeless individuals — ‘sleeping in public,’ ‘criminal trespass,’ ‘blocking the sidewalk,’ — so-called ‘Quality of Life’ ordinances for which a person in business clothing would not be ticketed but which allow police to pinpoint those who ‘look homeless’ and try to hustle them from view.
We all know how the Quality-of-Life-Ordinance story concludes: tickets that cannot be paid by homeless individuals, warrants for their arrest, jail terms which make their complicated life situation even more challenging, the filling of jails with people who are in fact generally not a social threat. This much-written-about practice of shifting the homeless from emergency services to prison to back on the street is not only the costliest way of doing business, it’s utterly inhumane, because so many of the homeless are mentally ill and do not belong in jail. So the people authorities want to get rid of haven’t gone anywhere, only now they have more obstacles to overcome in order to get their lives together. It makes no sense at all.
While we strive here to keep our homeless citizens out of public view by enforcing these laws, in Paris no one was being ticketed for lying on the grass of the park or sitting on its benches, because everybody does these things — talking, laughing, singing, sleeping. Yet, somehow that city has a spectacular ‘quality of life’ because its public life is vibrant and diverse.
I have come to realize that by trying to control the access of our least fortunate citizens to places and aspects of our common city life, we are attempting to create an environment that is homogeneous and sterile rather than one that is vital and alive. Could this be a reason why revitalization in downtown Dallas continues to lag? Is it really interesting to interact with and observe only people who are polished and look as though they just breezed in from ritzy a suburban mall?
The homeless are with us. When we don’t see them, it is only because they have been forced into hiding. We are creating a deceptive level of comfort for ourselves by forcing from view people who make us uncomfortable in their poverty.
The desire for homogeneity in communities used to manifest itself primarily in terms of skin color: Jim Crow laws, segregation. While racism is still a significant problem in our country, now it seems that we at least pay lip service to the desirability of racial diversity, and civil rights laws are in place to enforce equal rights and give access to the judicial system when they are violated. Whether you believe that racism has gone underground or has actually decreased, it’s still apparently acceptable to shun people because of their economic situation, especially when it comes to individuals who ‘look homeless.’ What is wrong with having people on the streets of our cities who may be dressed in clothing and groomed in a manner that is not ‘up to’ our middle class standards? It seems to me that successful cities are not merely hothouses designed only for the rich and well-heeled. A great city is a place where all kinds of people can live, as well as simply ‘be’ — not only people who look or dress a certain way.
Perhaps it would be a good thing if the current discussion, which began by a debate over the location of Permanent Supportive Housing for people experiencing homelessness, precipitated an identity crisis for us as a city and led us to look at ourselves both deeply and objectively. Is it possible for us to step back and re-invision the Dallas of tomorrow from a different perspective? Does our vision for ourselves really need to include having our streets free of everyone who doesn’t ‘look like us’?
Recently at Dallas City Council, two homeless women in attendance at the public meeting were asked by an advocate to stand. Outraged, a city leader said he felt ‘ambushed.’ One puzzles as to what could possibly motivate such a statement. Perhaps seeing people who are poor being called attention to in a meeting (a meeting that is in fact open to everyone) is offensive to some because it puts a human face on homelessness. When we see and come to know people who are ‘poor’ as fellow human beings, it’s no longer quite as easy to marginalize them. Once we see their humanity and recognize it as identical to our own, we may realize: it’s not ‘us and them’. These could be our neighbors and our friends.
What is the cost to us as a city when we pursue policies that exclude a certain group of people from public life? Besides the vibrancy which comes from diversity, at risk is also the greater good of the city — its moral fiber, its wholeness, its ability to address and solve hard problems such as homelessness.
I’ll bring up a point that I’ve not heard mentioned as we’re swept along in the tide of this essential and critically important battle to provide housing for 700 to 1000 long-term, street-dwelling homeless people in Dallas: there will be a few people — a few — who will not want to go into housing, even though the vast majority want very much to be housed. Therein lies a hidden danger in having as our goal city streets that are pristine in the sense of being homeless-and-beggar-free. It is important that our success in housing people does not become a further excuse to persecute those who are unable or unwilling to be housed. It is not a ‘blight’ to see people on the streets of our town who ‘look homeless’ — ie, poor — but it is truly tragic when people desperately want housing and are unable get it.
We have to be wary of having as our goal a city which is visibly free of ‘poor’ people if the impetus for that goal is the desire within ourselves to live insulated lives, free of the necessity to view the suffering of others.
As the Dallas public becomes increasingly educated through informed public dialogue about the benefits of Permanent Supportive Housing, perhaps holding in our hearts an honor for our differences can help us understand that those who have had a very different life path from our own can still be excellent neighbors.
It is not easy or simple to walk the path of reaching out to those who are down on their luck by including rather than excluding them from public life, because when we do this, we share in their pain, and we may become temporarily uncomfortable. But the upside is that our lives will be richer and more meaningful by far when we embrace our differences and realize that we are all — rich, poor, and in between — much greater and finer than we ever dreamed when we are able to work and live together.
This article appears in the July, 2010 edition of Street Zine. http://www.thestewpot.org/
Friday, June 25, 2010
The Medium Is the Message
“McLuhan understood “medium” in a broad sense. He identified the light bulb as a clear demonstration of the concept of “the medium is the message”. A light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. He describes the light bulb as a medium without any content. McLuhan states that “a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence.” ~~ Wikipedia
Marshall McLuhan is right. And that is primarily what I took away from the Town Hall Meeting at Methodist Hospital this past Monday night over the city’s plan to house up to 100 homeless individuals in Oak Cliff Manor. The [forgive the hyperbole] rabid [forgive the hyperbole again] mob mentality became the message — and the incivility [ understatement] of many in the group was, tragically, mostly what many of us gleaned from the interchange. Whatever valid points were made by ‘the O.C.’ and its more rational, civil residents were lost in the cat calls and shouting down of speakers by the more outspoken [understatement also] representatives of the neighborhood. I would have been deeply embarrassed to have them represent me, and I think many of the reasonable Oak Cliff residents may have felt the same.
You can keep up with the unfolding drama here:
Meanwhile, a message from the thesaurus:
Uncivil: ‘Lacking in social refinement’
Synonyms: rude, discourteous, disgracious, disrespectful, ill, ill-bred, ill-mannered, impertinent, impolite, incivil, incondite, inurbane, mannerless, uncalled-for, uncourteous, uncouth, ungracious, unhandsome, unmannered, unmannerly, unpolished, brusque, crusty, curt, gruff, harsh, intrusive, meddlesome, crabbed, surly, boorish, churlish, clownish, loutish
That doesn’t say it all, but it’s a start.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Wayne Walker and ‘Our Calling’
I first met Wayne Walker a number of years ago on the parking lot of the then-city-shelter, The Day Resource Center. It was a Friday night, and, as they did every Friday night, he and his group of fellow church members were serving a delicious hot dinner to around three hundred of Dallas homeless citizens. They’d allowed me to join them to give away some gently used clothing I’d collected.
After dinner and the clothing giveaway, we all joined hands for a prayer circle, as people took turns praying aloud — for help with housing, with mental illness or addiction challenges, with family problems, or intercessory prayer for loved ones not present. Everyone seemed to feel free to pour out their hearts with unfettered honesty, because it was clear that here — among this group that went by the name ‘Our Calling’ — people who were accustomed to being judged harshly in society were accepted and loved for exactly who they were.
It surprised me, because Wayne and his group were prosperous-looking, middle-class folks, many from North Dallas, and I wasn’t accustomed to seeing this kind of unconditional love for my street friends from folks who were ‘housed.’ In the coming months, I too would pour out my heart in prayer in front of this extremely diverse group, would (to my embarrassment) begin to cry in front of them over some private heartache, and would find myself lifted up in love by many hands on my shoulders — some weathered from living outdoors and some smooth.
It didn’t take long to realize: here was Christian Love-In-Action — the way it’s ‘spozed to be’ [to borrow from the title of a book I like a lot.] All my [unjust] stereotypes of North Dallas churches were swept away. These people weren’t doing what they did for ‘flash’: during and after dinner, I’d see them sitting quietly at picnic tables on the parking lot talking caringly to people who were struggling with homelessness, treating them with an equality, lack of condescension and sense of friendship that is rare.
During these years of Friday nights on the Day Resource Center parking lot, we invited then-mayoral-candidate Tom Leppert to come and serve dinner with us, which he graciously did. I watched as Wayne took Mr. Leppert aside and asked him the ‘hard questions’ about homelessness and how he intended to help. I was impressed by Wayne’s candor.
Wayne — a happily-married father of four and a trained theologian — was at that time employed to head up the media department of Dallas Theological Seminary. As I got to know him better over weeks and years, I continued to learn more of (and be moved by) his knowledge and understanding of ‘street culture,’ the very personal relationships he had developed with people living on the streets, and his unbending compassion and advocacy for the struggles and challenges in their lives.
For as long as I’ve known him, Wayne has expressed a deep longing to help and serve full-time among the ‘poorest of the poor’ living on the streets. It is such a joy to see him doing that now and getting the recognition he deserves.
Here’s a recent clip about him and his ministry from Channel 8:
Friday, May 28, 2010
What Makes a City Great?
~~ a description of street life in 1788 Paris, France ~~
“Summer arrived, and in Paris the life of the boulevards went on as pleasantly as ever. Pleasure seekers gathered in the warm evenings to stroll along the broad walks under the huge trees, the roads were filled with carriages, the tables crowded at the outdoor cafes and gardens, where musicians played and people paused to rest and refresh themselves. A visitor from England admired the ‘cheerfulness and whimsical variety of the spectacle, the confusion of riches and poverty, hotels and hovels, pure air and stinks, people of all sorts and conditions, from the Prince of the blood to the porter.’ Ordinary Parisians put on their best silk breeches and ruffled shirts and came in groups to stroll or dine, dandies paraded on horseback, fashionably dressed women sat at the little tables surrounded by their admirers. Footmen, enjoying an evening’s liberty, sat and drank beer, old soldiers lounged and smoked, and talked of long-ago campaigns, shopwomen in their chintz gowns flirted with hairdresser’s assistants who courted them, hat in hand.”
“The buildings are very good,” the English traveler went on, “the walks delightful…” There were amusements in abundance, from plays and acrobats… magicians and rope-dancers… There were puppet shows and concerts… and dancing dogs. And there were many things to buy, cakes and fruit and flowers, prints and fans and lapdogs. Peddlers ran along the roads… jumping up on the steps of the fine painted carriages to offer their wares to the elegant ladies and gentlemen inside…. There was much political talk, and the street orators held forth on the evils of the tax burden… but for the most part the worries of the day were forgotten.”
~~ To the Scaffold, The Life of Marie Antoinette, by Carolly Erickson, p. 198
The description of 1788 Paris above reminds me very much of Paris today in terms of its lively culture, and of why I love it. It’s exhilarating and beautiful — architecturally stunning, but fascinating in its diversity as well. The thrilling, dizzying mix of all sorts of people — on the streets, in the crowded cafes, rushing into the Metro, old men and kids bowling in the parks, people reading, walking, cycling — make it a vigorous, animated city, and I fell for it the first time I was driven through it’s environs by my future son-in-law about a decade ago.
When I’ve been fortunate enough to go there, I like most to walk in the evening to the Champ de Mars, the park in front of the Eiffel Tower, in order to watch the activities there: families picnicking, dogs chasing Frisbees, people of every description playing games or music, or even juggling fire! It is LIFE — vibrant, diverse, thrilling. The people gathered at day’s end out in the large open space are poor, rich, dressed down, dressed up. And — imagine this — no one is arresting homeless folks for lying on the grass of the park because everybody lies or sits on the grass — talking, laughing, singing, sleeping. No ‘Quality of Life’ ordinances being enforced, yet, somehow — voila! — a spectacular quality of life!
One night at 1 A.M., the police blocked off the city streets to make way for over a thousand roller bladers who whizzed past the Eiffel Tower as those of us on the sidewalk whooped and yelled and clapped, cheering them on. It was a night I’ll remember always.
Begging (panhandling in our terms) is a way of life for some in Paris, and even a profession for a few. I remember my first ride on the Metro (subway). To my surprise, a father and son came through the train car asking for money. They were polite, low-key, almost matter-of-fact about begging. Many people ignored them, some people contributed, they moved on, and that was it. Not everyone likes begging, not everyone gives, but one can ignore it if one chooses.
What makes a city great?
These are the sorts of things which make a city fantastic and which draw people to it from around the world. Successful downtowns are not hothouses designed only for the rich and well-heeled. A great city is a place where all kinds of people can live, as well as just ‘be’, in open, green spaces — not just people who look or dress a certain way — EVERYONE.
The question of what makes a great city is a topic of heated debate in Dallas right now, particularly in terms of the question of where within the city to place affordable and permanent supportive housing. Generally, in downtown and in outlying neighborhoods, the attitude towards permanent supportive housing and formerly homeless individuals who might be housed there can be tagged by the acronym NIMBY (not in my backyard.)
Cities across American continue to develop and implement strategies to ‘get the homeless out of sight’, both on a daily basis and in particular for special tourist events like The Olympic Games [see a recent article on Vancouver in The Street Zine, May, 2010.] These include passing ‘special’ laws that target them — ‘sleeping in public,’ ‘criminal trespass,’ ‘blocking the sidewalk,’ as mentioned above — so-called ‘Quality of Life’ ordinances for which a person in business clothing would not be ticketed but which allow police to pinpoint those who ‘look homeless’ and try to hustle them from view.
We all know how the story concludes: tickets that cannot be paid by the homeless individual, warrants for their arrest, jail terms which make their complicated life situation even more challenging, the filling of jails with people who are in fact generally not a social threat. This much-written-about practice of shifting the homeless from emergency services to prison to back on the street is not only the costliest way of doing business, it’s utterly inhumane, because so many of the homeless are mentally ill and do not belong in jail. So the people authorities want to get rid of haven’t gone anywhere, only now they have more obstacles to overcome in order to get their lives together. It makes no sense at all.
Rethinking: Let’s Have A Productive ‘Identity Crisis’ in Dallas!
It would be wonderful if this discussion precipitated an identity crisis for us as a city and led us to look at ourselves both deeply and objectively [but I’m trying not to get my hopes up.] What if we took several steps back and reinvisioned the Dallas of tomorrow with new eyes? Does our vision really need to include having our streets free of everyone who doesn’t ‘look like us?’
The desire for homogeneity in communities used to manifest itself primarily in terms of skin color: Jim Crow laws, segregation. While racism is still a significant problem in our country, now it seems that we at least pay lip service to the desirability of racial diversity, and civil rights laws are in place to enforce equal rights and give access to the judicial system when they are violated. Whether you believe that racism has gone underground or has actually decreased to some extent (I think it’s both), it’s still apparently acceptable to shun people in terms of their economic situation, especially when it comes to individuals who ‘look homeless.’ What is wrong with having people on the streets of our cities who may be dressed in clothing and groomed in a manner that is not ‘up to’ our middle class standards?
Take a look at the debate over where the EVERgreen Residences, a beautifully-designed permanent supportive housing project put forward by First Presbyterian Church Dallas and The Stewpot, will/ will not be built and the at-times rabid opposition by the Expo Park / Deep Ellum business owners and residents. When providing people access to safe, clean, well-designed permanent supportive housing is supposed give way to the ‘artistic ecosystem’ that is said by residents to be developing in an area where bars and entertainment are a large part of the social scene, maybe it’s time to seriously reconsider our priorities and the power that affluent neighborhood associations have to scuttle much-needed projects in Dallas.
Small groups with large opinions should be a part of policy making, but they should not be allowed to dominate it. When they do, nobody wins — except the influential neighborhood groups in the short run, and perhaps the particular council person in the area in the next election. What is lost is the greater good of the city, its moral fiber, its wholeness, its ability to address and solve hard problems such as homelessness. So far in Dallas, in terms of housing, we have valiant efforts being undercut for the most part by powerful, affluent localized forces — a stalemate.
Where is bold, morally courageous, visionary leadership at the city government level? If it’s going to show up, this would be a good time. We have a lot of homeless and working people to house. And housing is the only way we’re ever really going to get them off the street.
A recommended read by Jim Schutze in The Dallas Observer: “City Hall’s Desire For A Fancy Downtown (Without Too Many Poor People) Costs Developers $30 Million”
This from the comments: * JimS 05/08/2010 9:53:44 AM • There is an important element in this story which I neglected to get into my column or the subsequent blog item. The decision by Lockey and Mackenzie to obey the HUD rules and provide the amount of affordable housing called for in HUD’s national guideline was in good part a market decision. They told me they looked at what had been built already downtown and saw way more high-end capacity than the market wanted to absorb. They were well aware of the weaknesses in several of the completed projects and could see, for example, that Prudential would foreclose on the Mosaic, as in fact it did this week. They said to me, Why provide more chocolate cake when the market already has more chocolate cake than it can eat? So they saw a project that was more than half affordable as a good market play – something that would rent up quickly instead of going belly up. I get the impression both of them also are people who think working people and young people are good for downtowns. And think about it. If you went to the quarter in New Orleans and all of a sudden it looked like Snyder Plaza in Highland Park, would you go back? Downtown Dallas is frozen and sterile because the people running it are afraid of anybody who isn’t rich. It would help if they were white, too. But that’s a suburb. Actually even our suburbs are more diverse than what has been created downtown. What we really see is an attempt at a replication of the Park Cities, where most of the decision-makers probably live. It’s their idea of cool. But they’re not cool. And they’re also not moving into it. To work for them, downtown Dallas would have to be Carmel. Which would suck. Anyway, I see a lot of comment here about listening to market forces. I think MacKenzie and Lockey would agree. They listened. The market forces said, More affordable. And City hall said, You’re toast.
Friday, May 14, 2010
It’s a Good Question, Isn’t It?
I first heard this song on a CD given to me by my friend, Sandy, and it’s one of my CD’s now: Give Us Your Poor: 17 New Recordings To Help End Homelessness (Appleseed Recordings). Have you ever asked yourself this question? We need to keep asking it. KS
Here and Now
by Mark Erelli
Ten below zero
Sleeping on the street
Someday we all will have a home
A place to come in from the cold
Somewhere so high above the clouds
Why not here
Why not now
Pastures of plenty
For the tired and poor
Still too many hands empty
Behind the golden door
Someday we all will have a home
A place to come in from the cold
Somewhere so high above the clouds
Why not here
Why not now
Someday we all will live the dream
There’ll be no cracks to fall between
Somewhere where everyone will have enough
But here and now
It’s up to us
Someday we all will be at peace
And all of our suffering will cease
There’s more than enough to go around
Why not here
Why not now
Why not here?
Why not now?
Friday, February 19, 2010
‘Tough’ Versus ‘Love’
On the day before the Big Snow of February, 2010, two weeks ago, a Crisis Intervention team from the City of Dallas — (now part of the Dallas Police Department) — raided the homeless camps under a bridge. All of the personal possessions of the camp inhabitants — clothing, blankets, coats, years’-worth of belongings — were shoveled up by two bulldozers, and four to five loads comprising the contents of the ‘cardboard community’ were dumped into city trucks and taken to the landfill.
Raids by the city of homeless camps are commonplace and routine in Dallas. I would suggest, however, that our city has reached a new ‘low’ in terms of human decency and compassion when a raid is conducted under these circumstances and in this weather. Where does one start to address such an occurrence?
By early the following week, people in the camp were still without adequate [cardboard] shelter, blankets, coats and clothing. Their non-replaceable personal possessions were permanently lost. Think of the time that intervened between the raid and the week that followed.
At our house, where family members who were without power stayed together, we built a snow igloo, drank coffee, changed wet clothing about ten times a day, scrounged firewood that was dry enough to make a fire in the fireplace, and watched movies together at night under piles of blankets. Even with the added warmth of the fireplace, the central heating rarely stopped. It was a great snow — a fun adventure.
Not so much fun, however, if you’d just lost your cardboard home and everything you own in a raid by a city that is supposed to have your best interest at heart.
Witnesses to the ‘sweep’ say that, just prior to the raid, no warning was given. The trucks arrived at 10 minutes to 2 P.M., and at 2 P.M., the dozers started scooping up the small cardboard community. It is my understanding that the city has agreed, after outrage by ‘housed’ citizens and advocates about these sweeps in the past, to give at least an hour’s notice to camp dwellers. Instead, in this case, the camp members were allowed a ‘one-time carry’: in other words, all that they could gather in their arms one time, they were permitted to keep. Of course, those who were at work at the time of the raid were out of luck.
If you were allowed a ‘one-time’ carry of your personal belongings, what would you choose?
Officials are also supposed to offer shelter at the time of the raid as an option. Witnesses say this procedure was not followed in this case.
Here is the city’s perspective: they want to force these homeless individuals into shelters. But the individuals involved don’t want to go.
The shelters provide an invaluable, lifesaving service with remarkable dedication. Yet there are good reasons why some people don’t want to go into them, feeling that they’re safer in a community on the street.
If the goal of these raids is to encourage homeless individuals to get permanently off the street, it seems counterproductive to seize their belongings, when these belongings often include personal papers such as birth certificates and other identification which are critical to seeking housing.
Could it be that, if we’ve spent $23 million on a homeless assistance center and still have people living on the street, their presence is simply an affront to the city’s stated goal of Ending Homelessness by 2014?
These sweeps by the city are obviously ineffective, inhumane, and have been rejected by many cities nationwide as unacceptable practice in dealing with street-dwelling homelessness. It is a mark against our city that they continue here with impunity.
Link: Pegasus News: “Dallas homeless sweeps are counterproductive”
Link: Dallas Homeless Network Blog:
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
We Are the World
Check out this video:
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Cold Weather Policy and Our Homeless Neighbors
Driving around downtown in the cold weather in the days preceding the Big Snow in Dallas, I began pondering our city’s Cold Weather Policy for our neighbors who are living on the street. I had recently learned during the monthly Homeless Advocacy Meeting at The Stewpot that a January, 2010 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless points to 40 degrees F as the temperature recommended for activation of Cold Weather Policy nationwide.
The City of Dallas currently has a policy of 32 degrees — freezing — for such activation: putting shelters on overflow and opening enough emergency shelters to give everyone a bed.
I was happy to learn this week from Dennis Strickland, Lead Case Worker at The Bridge, that staff there has implemented a policy closer to the NCH recommendation: 37 degrees, or a wind chill of 37 degrees. They also now allow ‘self-referral’ of guests after 10 PM during cold weather. There was at least one night during the Big Snow that the gates of The Bridge were not closed for re-entry at 10 P.M., which means there was an open campus. Homeless guests are allowed to sit up in the Welcome Center all night, and, if necessary after referrals and pick up from other shelters, the dining room can be opened for sleeping after getting in extra staff.
These are important and significant improvements over last winter and show an ongoing commitment to accommodate our friends on the street and keep them safe from injury and hypothermia. The Bridge staff seem to be coping as best they can within the limits of their space availability.
I would love the see the city as a whole move toward adopting all of the recommendations in the NCH report. The entire report is worth a read. Here are some highlights that struck me as particularly pertinent. It is of particular concern that, although ours is far from the most harsh climate in the United States, it is in fact the most dangerous for people living outdoors.
the most dangerous cases of hypothermia do not occur when the ambient temperature is far below freezing. Instead, Dr. O’Connell says, the worst cases they see arise when the days are warm (between 40F and 50F) and the nighttime temperature drops to the mid-30’s.
Temperature cut-offs should be avoided, since the effectiveness of a shelter is decreased when the population it serves does not know, from night to night, whether the shelter will be open. If a temperature cut-off is necessary, due to financial or other reasons, the cut-off should be at least 40F in order to prevent the most dangerous cases of hypothermia, according to Dr. O’Connell.
An exemplary winter shelter would be open 24 hours each day between October 1 and April 30, regardless of temperature, as well as any other days during the year when the temperature falls below 40F. It would also admit all homeless people, regardless of sobriety status or past bans, unless they are violent or causing an extreme disturbance.
It is also important to note that a consistent, across-the-board policy throughout a set number of months and all shelters builds trust between the homeless population and the service providers attempting to help them and indeed to keep them alive.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Readers may already have a preferred way of supporting relief efforts, but if you are concerned about the aid getting in, or about the integrity of the pathway through which it goes, here’s an appeal that can be counted on to do what it says in the way it says. And it is already established in Haiti and has programs operating there.
Having had personal dealings with Dillon International, our family has found them to be very credible and accountable. In particular, it’s quite laudable that they operate not only adoption programs in many countries around the world but also humanitarian efforts in these countries — for example, a home for street children who will not be adopted or otherwise cared for in Vietnam.
Also, there is a local connection, as they have recently paired with Buckner Family Services to increase the scope of the operations of both. Below is an e-mail from Deniese Dillon, a founder.
We are so very saddened by the tragedy that has hit Haiti! We have learned from Gladys Thomas, the Director of Dillon’s Programs in Haiti, that the Children’s Village and Hope Hospital are okay. There has been some flooding, one of the walls on a building collapsed, and many people are gathering in this location but otherwise all is well. The Village (orphanage home) has food but the children are scared.
There will be many people throughout the Haitian community that will continue to come to Hope Hospital looking for care…it is already very full with earthquake victims.
The great need right now is gasoline to run the generators. If you are interested in helping provide aid to the children and people of Haiti please click the link below. We are able to get the funds directly to Gladys and the funds will be put immediately to use.
Please check the Dillon International website periodically for updates on this situation. http://www.dillonadopt.com/
Thank you for your help,
3227 East 31st Street, Suite 200 I Tulsa, OK 74105
Voice: 918.749.4600 I Fax: 918.749.7144
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Comfort and Community
There’s both a reality and a myth, it would seem, that some people experiencing homelessness would choose to stay on the street even if they were offered shelter. I’ve been one of those among many who has said in the past, ‘I don’t know anyone who would rather be on the street than indoors.’
Yet look at this video from Channel 11 during last week’s bitter cold snap:
When I saw in the Dallas Morning News on January 6 stating that city officials were launching Operation Code Blue to try to get people indoors for the bitterly cold weather that was upon us, I felt both hopeful and cynical: we’ve been through these ‘Operations’ more than once, and what that has sometimes meant for ‘homeless’ people walking around downtown has been offering them the limited options of shelter, mental health facilities or getting a citation. At the camps, it’s generally meant ticketing and as well as confiscating the temporary homes and belongings of those living there — even as recently as a few weeks ago.
I’ve often wondered, is the theory of the these city policies that if you take misery and add to it a greater portion of misery, the sum of the misery will encourage people to make a change? I’m not sure if that accurately elucidates the philosophy, but I know it doesn’t work, as has been proven time and again both in Dallas and across the world. People have to be ready to move out of their situation, and their options have to be manageable.
I won’t attempt to explain the complexities of why someone would turn down shelter on a night in Dallas when the temperatures sink into the teens, because I don’t fully understand them. For certain, in past winters, I’ve known many people experiencing homelessness who have sought refuge in Dallas shelters and the homeless assistance center and been turned away for lack of space — even when the shelters have expanded their hours (beyond a 4 P.M. cutoff to secure a space) and lifted their space limitations to accommodate more people for cold weather policies. Certainly a number of people living outdoors have increasingly lost faith in the system that provides shelter. Yet I got an additional insight into their perspective last Thursday afternoon when I drove to one of the camps with one of my adult daughters to see how people were faring in the bitter cold.
We pulled up in my car and spoke to one of the camp leaders, whom I know.*
I introduced him to my daughter and asked, ‘So the city’s been here trying to get you all to go into shelters? How did that go?’
‘Did you see us on television?’ he asked. ‘We didn’t want to go.’
I said I hadn’t seen the television coverage. ‘Is the city strong-arming you?’ I asked him, and, to my surprise and relief, he said, ‘No.’
Then he surveyed the immediate landscape of surprisingly tidy cardboard homes and belongings stored in plastic bags along the sidewalk under a freeway overpass, and he swept his hand in an arc over what was around us. And a look of tenderness that took me aback passed over the face of this tough man.
‘This is our safety,’ he told my daughter and me. ‘This is our shelter.’ There was pride in his voice.
And in that moment, I understood something that I haven’t quite fully gotten in my six years of visiting the camps from time to time. Whatever camp life looks like to the rest of us — and, in this weather, it looks pretty grim — it represents life, community, survival and independence to the people who live there. It may not seem like much compared to the comforts of a warm place to sleep, and yet…
After all, independence and self-sufficiency are two of the premier American — and democratic — values, are they not?
I believe that, until we understand this sense of and desire for community, operating alongside autonomy, which every human being needs and values above many other things (apparently including comfort and convenience), we will have great difficulty in resolving the issue of long-term street-dwelling homelessness.
*[Ironically, this is the same man whose Bible and birth certificate were confiscated by the city in a sweep which I wrote about in this blog post. This is a perfect example of the counterproductivity of the sweeps, as, at the time of this post, he was very motivated and going through the process of getting off the street, yet he’s still out there.]
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Written December 2, 2009
“Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.”
~~ Matthew 5:42
My friend, Gabriela, who owns a lovely cafe in my neighborhood, has a streamlined method of communicating with me about clothing she collects for our neighbors experiencing homelessness downtown, because she’s done this kind deed so often. Her e-mail says simply: “Hey there, I have some male and female clothing items – shall i take them to your house? pls advise.” They appear at my house shortly, and I put them in the trunk of my car.
Shopping at Target tonight, I walk out into a cold rain, and an impulse tells me that this is the night. Moving the clothes — two large bags — from my trunk into my front seat, I head to a place where I know people are sleeping outdoors under cardboard.
On my way, I drive through downtown, and the streets are whistle-clean of humans. That means every single person without a home has a bed tonight, doesn’t it? All six (or is it ten?) thousand of them? Or have they somehow magically been swept away?
I say the streets are clear of human beings, but on a St. Paul Street corner, I pass woman with a small child knocking on the door at Family Gateway. Since it is cold, dark and almost bedtime, I stop my car beside them. ‘Do you have a place inside the Center already reserved?’ I ask the young mother. ‘Yes, I have a room. I go to school at night. We just can’t get anybody to come to the door. We’ve been here quite a while.’ ‘Let me call someone,’ I tell her. ‘If you can’t get in, I’ll take you somewhere.’ I call my friend, Clare — who knows everything about helping people — to get a phone number for Crisis Intervention, realize I already have one, and just then, inside the glass door of the Center, a woman holding an infant opens the door for the mother and her little boy. Thank God for the place. Thank God when things work.
I drive to the encampment — a small gathering of cardboard-box houses — pull up and stop the car. I haven’t been here for a while — the camp looks very sparse: streamlined, as though it’s been cut down to its barest bare essentials. It’s quite dark — not a spark of a campfire on this cold wet night. I roll down my passenger window and ask the first woman who approaches if H. is there, a man whom I know I can trust. She says, ‘I’m Samarah. First I want to pray with you.’
I start to get out, but she says, ‘Just stay in the car,’ and takes my hand through the window, across the seat. She talks for a while, then asks for prayers about her alcoholism. I offer her some clothes. ‘Na, I’m all right,’ she says.
A second woman says, ‘I’m ___’s wife — I just got out of TDC.’ (Texas Department of Corrections) She shows me her nametag, as though I won’t believe her, and says ‘I don’t have anything. Do you have hygiene stuff or underwear?’ Yes, in one of the bags, I say, and wonder, not for the first time: what can be gained by releasing women from prison with absolutely nothing? Maybe we feel their lives need to be as streamlined as possible when they’re starting over.
H. walks up. He looks thinner, is in his sock feet. I greet him, embrace him, and hand him the bags of clothes. ‘You’ll share them out, right?’ I say to him, but he’s already ducking back inside their cardboard house with them in tow.
The wife looks into my car and asks, ‘What else do you have?’ I hand her some whole wheat bagels from my Target shopping. H. comes back out and I give him a bag of Christmas M&M Peanuts I got at Target. Now, THIS ONE THING feels sacrificial! Everything else is easy, but giving away my Christmas M&M Peanuts, a generous handful of which I was planning to eat in the car… that’s the TRUE measure of my love! Ah, well, maybe without them I’ll be more… streamlined.
Samarah introduces me to her boyfriend. In a streamlined repetition of a conversation we’ve had a number of times over years, I ask H.: ‘Has the City been here?’ ‘A few days ago,’ he replies briefly, ‘Wiped us out.’
I. Somehow. Don’t. Feel. That. Much. Because. Things. Don’t. Change. Do. They. Just. Numb. Can. I. Not. Work. Up. Any. Outrage?
My emotions seem to have become streamlined, too.
Then, later, reading at bedtime, I am visited by an at-first-unnamed sadness. Reflexively I think, ‘What’s wrong with me? Everything’s fine.’ But soon I realize the sorrow is a familiar one and has been there all night — it was just hiding, tucked down inside me, the same way I’m tucked into my cozy bed with my book, down comforter and quilt. I know then that I’m being visited there in my room by that ragged and rugged band of individuals who cling to a cold, hard, windswept stretch of sidewalk somewhere in Dallas, squeezed down to the barest minimum of space between a chain-link fence and a gutter — and who struggle to hold on to the LIFE and to the COMMUNITY they’ve created there.
We may not like their lives, the way they look, or how they conduct themselves. But.
IF we are going to raid and raid and raid and raid and attempt to shut down the camps, THEN we need to be able to offer Housing First in a form that their inhabitants can deal with.
I. Guess. I’ll. Just. Keep. Saying. It.
View Kim Horner’s latest Dallas Morning News article on housing for homeless individuals (one in an occasional series) here:
Friday, December 4, 2009
Dallas International Street Church Celebrates It’s Twelfth Anniversary
Last evening, the Dallas International Street Church and Ministries celebrated it’s Twelfth Anniversary, and the event at the church at 2706 Second Avenue was great fun, quite moving and extremely inspiring. Founder and Senior Pastor Karen Dudley got the ‘call’ twelve years ago to minister to her sisters and brothers who are living on the street — truly out of options — and she has, from then to now, answered that call with a love, persistence and dedication few could emulate.
The music, as always at the DISC, was of the ‘make-you-wanna-get-up,-dance-and-shout-hallelujah’ variety. You can’t not clap and sing along, and, if you’re not careful, you’ll soon find yourself on your feet, even if it is a formal do, like last night. My favorite entertainment was the Praise Dance, reminiscent of Martha Graham done with great reverence.
Needless to say, the most moving part of the night was the series of stories and testimonies from the church Discipleship relating how Pastor Karen’s love and faith have helped them to relinquish the darkness in which they were living and to begin walking a clean, clear path of faith and action in Christ. The stories are stunning. One of the women began her testimony with the words: “My background is in prostitution and crack addiction.” When she described how Pastor Karen once walked into a local drug house to get her and said, “You’re coming with me,” I doubt there was a dry eye in the room.
City Councilperson Carolyn Davis attended the party, and she seemed moved by what she learned of the Street Ministry. In her speech, she said, “When I’ve driven by this building in the past, I’ve had no idea of all that was going on here. I’m committed to helping you in any way I can. This is what church should be: helping the poor and needy among us.”
I don’t know how Pastor Karen does it, but she seems to go forward on the rocky and extremely challenging path she’s chosen with a humility and lack of ego that are rare in the nonprofit world. But, if you ask her, she’ll brush aside the question with the quick answer, “It’s not me doing it.”
The event was organized by Pastor Karen, the church Discipleship, and church Business Manager Judith Sturrock, and they all did a superb job. We had delicious barbecue dinner and a wonderful time, and, as always when I show up at the DISC, I took away with me a peace and a joy which pass all understanding.
To read about a recent experience Dr. Janet Morrison (Central Dallas Ministries Director of Education) had at the Dallas International Street Church, click here:
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
My friend Carlos sent me this poem, which he’s given me permission to share…
The Million Dollar Band-aid
Our world has lots of problems that come in different ways
The affliction of each one is harmful to the human race
Disease and hunger, religion and war; erasing people; removing them from the world.
We try to fix all that is wrong, and yet the problems go on
Love is still alive trying to survive, it brings a little hope
Yet all our money and all our effort’s are just a band-aid in this global problem.
We are living in the days were even pain feels pain
Were darkness is seen as light, do what you want if it feels right.
The blood of the innocent is crying out; why did I die before my time.
Our cities are overwhelmed with homeless people every where
A card board is now their home the sky above a concrete road
Awaken nation, awaken world lets change this nightmare, let’s fix our world.
A million dollars and a prayer are just a band aid, still the problem’s there
Have we become immune to the violence and to the homeless everywhere?
It is a corporate world, one that cares more for the buildings and structures then for its own people.
Danger, danger beware; if we don’t care, the problems that are there will only get worse.
A million dollars and a prayer but if God isn’t there our problems are not going any where.
By Carlos Gomez 11-2009
Saturday, November 21, 2009
As you may know, the stereotype of the adult Trust Baby who lives on the street by choice because he or she doesn’t want to obey society’s rules is, if not a downright myth, then at least a rare exception among those experiencing street-dwelling homelessness, particularly on a long-term basis. At a Homeless Advocacy Meeting I attended this week at The Stewpot, as I looked around the room, I asked myself, as I often do: “What is the profile of a person who is homeless?” My answer, after years of pondering the question, is that there is no profile. As with the ‘housed,’ each person’s story is unique. However, I have observed that a history of family poverty and an interruption in the process of formal education seem to be a common themes among many individuals experiencing so-called ‘chronic’ homelessness that I’ve come to know over the past six years.
So, when I hear someone offering solutions to problems of poverty, disease and a lack of education on a global scale, and offering them in a clear-headed and practical way, I tend to listen. That happened last week when I caught an interview with Melinda Gates on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS (KERA.)
It was later than I like to be awake, but I couldn’t quit watching and was riveted to the interchange within the first couple of minutes, because I saw in Melinda a passion and conviction which I’ve come to recognize in those who are committed to positive action on a deep level. A statement she made — “That mother in Africa whose child is dying of malaria cares just as much about her child as I care about mine” — shows me: she’s been ‘on the ground,’ engaged in frequent and genuine contact with people who are suffering. For her, it’s no longer ‘us and them.’
What struck me first of all was her manner. When asked a question, one could tell she had so much information to give in reply that she had to hold back some of it in order to respond to the question within the timeframe allotted. That kind of interest and accumulation — not to mention synthesis — of data, comes only from a deep and impassioned curiosity.
A few things stood out from the interview.
~~ She said that the money she and Bill have put into the The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (many billions) was a drop in the bucket towards solving the problems they address. In particular, she mentioned the goal of the complete eradication of certain diseases from the planet — malaria, polio, smallpox, HIV-AIDS — and the improvement of public education. It was Warren Buffet’s donation of tens of billions more that allowed the Foundation to ‘go much deeper’, in her words, in addressing these problems.
~~ She could answer the hard questions, but never in a contentious and divisive way. When asked about the diversion of aid funds by corrupt governments in the developing world, she answered, with practicality but without blame, that she and Bill had learned that the work was best and most successfully carried out in certain countries where they could work well with accountable governments — in other words, tried and true solutions based on experience.
~~ The solutions to large, global problems lie, not in one segment of society alone, but rather only in partnerships between private philanthropy, government funding and cooperation, and faith-based organizations. That’s why, when I hear opinions put forth with monolithic solutions — and most often government participation as an evil is mentioned — I realize that these comments are based in ideology rather than in reality. The massive problems of hunger, homelessness, poverty, and global disease are indeed only amenable to large-scale partnering.
~~ The Gates Foundation sticks with it. They’ve been working on public education for a decade and are just now coming up with really workable answers to the question of what can make it succeed. At first they tried organizing smaller communities within the larger ones so that troubled kids could feel a sense of connection, but what they’ve learned over time is that the really important variable is — guess what? the particular adult individual teacher within the classroom. (How does that make you feel about the Dallas Independent School District laying off experienced, gifted teacher during its budget problems?) So now, they are trying to quantify exactly what are the characteristics of successful teachers, so that those can be taught and mentored to others. They are doing this through transparency in teaching methods and outcomes in pilot programs a couple of states — so that success can be shared, passed along, and hopefully instituted across the country.
~~ Something I observed in her manner was a presence of deep caring coupled with a lack of sentimentality. It may sound strange, but, as I’ve learned myself — sometimes the hard way — sentimentality about an issue can sometimes cloud its reality, and I believe its takes away from the dignity of those experiencing the problem. There is a fine line between these two, shall we call them ‘values?’ — compassion and sentimentality. But it’s probably an important line to learn to identify, in order to keep ourselves from enabling on the one hand and becoming cynical on the other.
Regardless of our situations, we are all human beings made of the same flesh and blood as well as emotional and spiritual components, and we are in this together. Not only is ‘right action’ a moral imperative, it is the correct practical option to try and solve these problems that plague our world.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: All Lives Have Equal Value
The Living Proof Project
Saturday, November 14, 2009
With winter upon us, it’s a good time to reflect upon the extremes of need that will exist this year for those who are not yet housed and are living on the street. I found this entry in my journal from the end of last summer, when I still volunteered at the Second Chance Cafe, run by The Stewpot at the Bridge, and thought I would share it. KS
Journal Archives, Friday, August 16, 2008
Sometimes the amount of need among people who are experiencing homeless in Dallas — even with the welcome advent of the Bridge, our new homeless assistance center — seems overwhelming. This was one of those nights. The enormity of the problems of the people involved, the monumental scope of the pain in their lives, the scarcity of readily available solutions, such as adequate housing: these things were at the forefront of my mind tonight as I left the Second Chance Cafe at the Bridge after helping to serve dinner to somewhere between seven hundred and eight hundred people.
Of course, this evening’s bright spot was, as it always is, looking into the eyes of people as they came through the food line. Always, but even more so tonight, the eyes of the guests meeting mine as they came through the line — almost without exception — were full of light, respect and dignity, longing for acceptance, willingness to respond with love to the smallest kindness — so much more so than I would ever be able to be in their circumstances. They almost always say ‘Very Blessed,’ or at the least ‘Can’t complain,’ when asked how they are doing. The other great blessings are the other volunteers, who show up every week, and the Stewpot staff, which shows up every day.
I find that if I just hand somebody a plate in the food line at the Bridge, they may be looking down, preoccupied or frowning, and go on their way with a ‘thank you,’ but without ever looking up. If I greet them or ask how they are doing, their whole face, their whole being changes — they become radiant. If I say their name, they become a friend. And that is no different than you or me. It’s just that the desperate nature of their circumstances keeps it real: they know how much it means to have a friend, and what it means not to have any.
Why is it that sometimes, like tonight, I look at homeless individuals and the scope of homelessness in Dallas and feel weighed down by the challenges? Is it seeing people as their ‘diagnosis’ or label rather than seeing them just as the people they are, in the here and now? Maybe.
I usually see the beauty when I go to the Bridge. Tonight I could only see how far there is to go. It was one of those rare times when I say to myself, “How do those who deal with this face to face every single day — for example, the Stewpot staff or the caseworkers and management at the Bridge — how do they do it all the time without losing hope or becoming jaded?” Granted, I think, write or talk about homelessness in Dallas every day, but I go to the Bridge only a couple of times a month.
Perhaps it’s a ‘fix-it’ mentality that one can get into, although trying to ‘fix it’ is a necessary component of approaching the problem as a whole. Sometimes, though, until we can figure out what we need to ‘do,’ maybe it has to be enough just to go to where the pain is and ‘be with’ it. It seems that there is tremendous grace in that. In face, maybe, while action is necessary, being present for someone is the most important part of taking action anyway.
Granted, it may not be enough to ‘hang out’ with people who are experiencing homelessness. But being with them, talking with them, sharing their concerns — one human to another — is one of the most essential parts of what we do, just as it is with our families.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Mutuality of Ministry
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep.” ~~ John 10: 14-15
“…the same Lord who binds us together in love will also reveal himself to us and others as we walk together on the road.” ~~ Henri Nouwen
I read the following passages recently and felt they challenged, in important ways, certain commonly-held cultural assumptions about ‘helping’ and ‘serving others’. What do you think? KS
“Ministry is not only a communal experience, it is also a mutual experience… [Jesus] wants Peter to feed his sheep and care for them, not as ‘professionals’ who know their clients’ problems and take care of them, but as vulnerable brothers and sisters who know and are known, who care and are cared for, who forgive and are being forgiven, who love and are being loved.
Somehow we have come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead… Someone serves, someone else is being served, and be sure not to mix up the roles! But how can we lay down our life for those with whom we are not even allowed to enter into a deep personal relationship?
We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.
Therefore, true ministry must be mutual. When the members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others and begins to show authoritarian and dictatorial traits. The world in which we live — a world of efficiency and control — has no models to offer to those who want to be shepherds in the way Jesus was a shepherd. Even the so-called ‘helping professions’ have been so thoroughly secularized that mutuality can only be seen as a weakness and a dangerous form of role confusion. The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world. It is a servant leadership*… in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader… a leadership that is not modeled on the power games of the world, but on the servant-leader Jesus, who came to give his life for the salvation of many.”
~~ Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, Reflections on Christian Leadership
*Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
A Night to Remember: Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers
An Evening of Bluegrass and Banjo Benefitting Central Dallas Ministries
One of my daughters and I attended the above concert at the Meyerson Symphony Center last evening, and we had a great time. The hall was sold out, and the concert was not only fun, the music was terrific. Of course, Steve Martin told his share of funny jokes and played a masterful banjo, and the Steep Canyon Rangers are excellent musicians and vocalists. A fine concert supporting an extremely worthy organization.
After the concert, my daughter and I were talking to the fiddle player, and I was telling him that Bluegrass music is close to my heart, since I’m from Tennessee. “Eastern Tennessee?” he asked. “Oh, yeh!” I said. “Our band lives in Asheville,” he told us. We high-fived. “You know,” he said, “East Tennessee and Western North Carolina are a separate state unto themselves.” “Yes,” I said, “no more beautiful place on earth.” “Absolutely,” he replied, “a well-kept secret.” A band after my own heart.
Monday, October 19, 2009
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” ~~ Isaiah 41:10
“Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.” ~~ Mary Shafer
The Shafer clan lost a radiant light when Mary Shafer died this past Wednesday in my hometown of Knoxville, after a 14-year battle with recurrent breast cancer. A book could be written about her accomplishments, but I like thinking back to when I first met her.
I was going through Freshman Sorority Rush at the University of Tennessee, and, when I walked into the Phi Mu room at the Panhellenic Building, Mary, then the sorority’s president, met me at the door. She took a look at my name tag, and her eyes opened widely. She put her hand on my arm. “Are you related to Bo Shafer?” she said, her face alight with what I took to be hope.
As I answered Mary politely, “Yes, he’s my cousin,” and she, becoming even more animated, said to me, “We’re dating!” my first thought — which I obviously kept to myself — was, “Uh-oh, I can see that this poor girl is already in over her head.” My second: “Please… don’t get your hopes up,” which, fortunately, I also didn’t share, and next, “Ah, well, another one bites the dust.”
I don’t mind telling you, her question was one I got often, because, in addition to being tall and handsome, my older male cousin was frequently in the news. He’d played varsity football for Tennessee and had met Mary when she was cheerleading there, but his philanthropic work and business acumen were what kept him in the public eye.
This cousin of mine was a quintessential illusive bachelor in our town. How many beautiful women had set their sites, and their hearts, on him? I’d met a couple of them at family gatherings — rarely did I see them again. It’s not that Bo was an intentional heartbreaker — it’s that he was looking for the Real Thing. I realize now that he’d know it when he saw it, and it turned out to be Mary Gwyn, because the next thing I knew, they were married.
Bo wasn’t looking for a trophy wife, but rather for a partner in life, and he surely found it in Mary. He was quoted on KnoxNews.com this week as saying, “I was so old I didn’t think I could fall in love, but I fell head over heels in love with that woman,” he said. “We never had an argument. Her goal in life was to keep a smile on my face, and my goal in life was to keep a smile on her face.”
A number of years ago, when Bo was International Kiwanis President, Mary traveled the world with him, even though she was in and out of cancer treatment at the time. I could never figure out how she had the stamina to keep up the fierce pace of their commitments, and she never, ever complained. Instead, she called her battle with cancer ‘an adventure.’ A devout Christian and active member of Second Presbyterian Church, her faith never seemed to waiver.
It was Bo who told me throughout my life: “As middle-class Americans, we are in the top 2% of fortunate people living in the world. For most of humanity, life is entirely different and much, much harder. We are extremely spoiled. It is our privilege and our obligation to give back.” In Mary, he found someone who lived this philosophy at his side, day in and day out.
Bo said that, during the year of his Kiwanis presidency, he and Mary lunched with the King and Queen of Thailand and spent time in the most poverty-ridden villages in Africa. It surprised no one that Mary was equally at home in either place.
During one of my family’s trips to Knoxville in recent years, each time we were with Mary, I knew I was in the presence of someone who was truly living the moments of her life to the fullest, cherishing her family and her life’s work. The phrase ‘Seize the day’ describes her way of being in the world. She was the kindest, the friendliest, the most caring individual one could ever meet, with an incisive intelligence. She was also incredibly fun-loving. As close as she and Bo were, her description of their recent wine-tour of France, with her imbibing a glass with every course, and Bo being a teetotaler, was hilarious.
At their house on the lake, where they spent every weekend, they have a tire swing in the living room. Not too many women would think that went with their decor!
Mary and Bo sent out yearly Groundhog’s Day cards, which were always upbeat and inspiring. In recent years, their greetings contained business cards for an organization called water.org., as Mary had developed a passion for finding solutions to the problem of clean water scarcity in developing nations. Together, they built wells in Ethiopia and Guatemala.
The message of this year’s card was that life is so precious, we should never complain about small things. She truly and fully took her own advice. I am in awe of the life she lived and the legacy she leaves us all.
Looking back to that week of Freshman Rush when I first met Mary, I recall that at the end of the week, Phi Mu did a pageant in which she played the lead. The title of the presentation was “Starlight.” All these years later, it fits more than ever.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Available On a Street Corner Near You!
Today the October, 2009, issue of StreetZine was put into the hands of licensed street vendors downtown and around the city. As usual, StreetZine is chock-full of fascinating articles and tidbits, and this month you will also find an important article by Pat Spradley, Editor, on the pending court case against the City of Dallas, defending the rights of groups who wish to feed people on the streets of downtown who are hungry and homeless. [http://thestewpot.org/streetzine.asp]
There is also a recent interview I did with The Gardeners from the Dallas International Street Church ministry’s The Garden: South Dallas, Texas. In it, you will get to know some of them personally and see what gardening organically has come to mean to their lives. Included are lovely pictures by Mandy Mulliez of a few of The Gardeners and of the Fall Garden at the DISC.
Special kudos and big appreciation to Pastor Karen Dudley, Founder and Senior Pastor of the DISC, not only for her soon-to-be twelve years of dedication and commitment to helping people salvage their lives from the ravages of street living, but also for continuing to pay the water bill on The Garden throughout this long hot summer, when it appeared as if the total yield was going to be somewhere around a single cherry tomato and ten green beans! [www.kdministries.org]
Here are some quotes from the interview:
ks: Noting that many of the people in the Dallas International Street Church have experienced homelessness in the past, do you think that having a Garden has any special meaning for people that have been or are homeless? Does having experienced homelessness give people a special appreciation for having a place to grow their own food?
Luis: Yes. Do you remember the first time we planted and we used those community service men and women from the City of Dallas community court program? You know, last week, two of the guys who did community service came back just to see the beds they had helped build!
ks: How did that happen?
Luis: They just came! I was out at The Garden in the morning, and I saw them, and one of them said, “I just came to see my garden bed,” and I said, “Cool! Come on!” He was surprised, he said “Wow! This is OURS?” I said, ‘Yea, look!’ It was great.
He was telling me about when he was in jail and stuff like that and when he got out, and The Stewpot brought them over here to do their community service. And he was really surprised at how The Garden grew. He said, “I didn’t think it was going to grow!” And I said, “Yea, but look at it now!” I mean, it’s our pride and joy.
ks: What keeps you motivated to continue working in The Garden?
Raymond: Getting the fruit from the plants! Getting the tomatoes…
Luis: Yea, that stuff. [Pause] The best and the most important thing is to be WANTED, to be needed by something that — it grows. Cause it’s not just the plants that are growing, but US, TOO.
I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the October StreetZine from a licensed street vendor (or at The Stewpot, 408 Park Avenue, Dallas, TX 75201) and see the beautiful garden pictures, as well as the expanded interview. Selling StreetZine provides a sustainable living for many of these men and women and is helping them get off the street and regain their independence.
For Mandy Mulliez’ slideshow of The Garden, see:
For background on The Garden: South Dallas, see:
Monday, September 14, 2009
St. Teresa of Avila: The Bookmark Prayer
Let nothing disturb you;
Nothing frighten you.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God.
God alone suffices.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Standing in a Circle
Imagine that each of us who cares about and works to solve the problem of long-term, street-dwelling homelessness in Dallas is standing in a circle. In the center of the circle is the problem — one that is enormous and complex: it is a given that each of us sees it and its solutions from a different perspective because of the position in the circle which we stand.
Some of us sit at desks inside nonprofits and make policy. Maybe we ‘make the rounds’ to see how things are ‘on the ground’ within our organization, or maybe we don’t. This alone will help determine our perspective. Those who do make the rounds and who attempt to be the link between the employees on the ground, the homeless guests, those who sit upstairs making policy, and the public have a particularly hard job.
Others inside nonprofits work closely with the homeless population in a direct way, talking to them, touching them. Some of us befriend them; others think we should keep our distance. Friendship is vital to those on the street who have nothing: so are boundaries. Which looks more vital depends on where we stand.
Some of us take our homeless friends into our churches and homes for meals and prayers when no one else wants them. Others of us go out on the street and offer hungry people food and drink people. All of it matters.
Some of us go out, from time to time, and talk to people where they live in cardboard boxes under freeway overpasses, or where they sleep, as best they can, out of sight in the city. This is one of the things I occasionally do (there are others who do much, much more.) I listen to and try to understand their problems and struggles; I bring them clean, dry clothing; I drive them to the doctor. I go home and research what services are available to help them, and I share the possible solutions with my friends under the bridge, offering to aid them in getting through the system. Sometimes I plead with them to get help a particular kind help if I think it’s vital. But they are human beings and are free to choose what is best for them.
For one of my friends, her place ‘in the circle’ this week was at the gates of a highly visible and well-funded nonprofit serving the homeless population in Dallas. There, she observed and documented abusive language by guards directed towards homeless people trying to gain admittance to the property. Not every guard. Not every homeless person. But any is too many. This verbal abuse by some employees has been a common and persistant practice since this facility opened. Why is it still happening, my friend wants to know? She shared this information with the staff of the nonprofit itself and with others in the service community.
Others ‘in the circle’ criticized how and why she did what she did. Why didn’t she do it differently? Better still, why didn’t she ask them how they wanted her to do it? The answer is that she stands at her own place in the circle, and it’s a place very few have the ability or fortitude to stand. She is one of the very few people who successfully brave the often thankless role of ‘linking person’ between the ‘powers that be’ regarding homelessness in Dallas and the extremely vulnerable people on the street. I don’t know anyone who could do what she does. I most certainly could not.
How things look when I stand with my friends who are living under the freeway overpass is quite different from how things look sitting in an office making policy that determines much of how they live, but that does not mean my view is more right or that it’s better. It simply means that I have information — in my mind, in my heart, in my soul, in my experience — that someone who has not been there doesn’t have.
It is equally true that someone sitting in an office in a nonprofit agency or at City Hall may have a great deal of information that I don’t have — an overview, or an awareness of the scope of certain problems. From this, perhaps they design a policy that seems good and even vital, but that policy may look untenable from where I stand.
I try to carry forward with me as I go along my path the assumption of good will from everyone in the circle toward our friends on the street. It is easy to become cynical as I listen to expert public relations and know full well that what happens in practice is quite different from how it seems in a sound byte, and that how it sounds is going to have a great deal more impact on public policy and opinion than how it is — because the people experiencing the results of policy generally don’t have a voice.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Solutions: ‘The Soloist’ and Housing First
Please take a moment to read these critically important quotes regarding the Housing First concept as a solution to long-term homelessness, from Casey Horan, Executive Director — LAMP (Los Angeles Men’s Project), in an interview from the movie, The Soloist:
“LAMP is a non profit, and we’re based in Los Angeles, and we exclusively serve men and women who are long-term homeless — often they’ve been living on the streets for three, five, ten, even twenty years — and also have a severe mental illness.
What we do is we quite literally just move people immediately from streets to real homes — an apartment of their own — and we do that with no strings or no barriers or no intermediary steps. And then what follows is what keeps people housed and healthy. So we then provide them with customized services right there where they live and in the community. And that might mean helping them set up the apartment and get a phone connected and reconnect with family; mental and physical healthcare; drug recovery services; job placement services; and on and on.”
“It costs just $16,000 a person a year to provide an apartment and social and clinical services. It costs much more — about $100,000 a year — if we leave people on the streets as they cycle through the public health system and jail. And, unfortunately, as they cycle through, they always land back on the sidewalk, and there’s been no resolution to their long-term homelessness and no improvement to their health.
We can end street-dwelling homelessness in about two years with the right investment, and, in the short run, it will actually save taxpayer money.”
“When we hand over that set of keys [to an apartment], you know, I wish that others could see… what happens. It’s close to a miracle…. people that haven’t had housing in their entire adult life… and they are off the streets, and they have a bathroom and a telephone and a studio apartment, and it really is the first step for them to transforming their lives.”
~~ Casey Horan, Executive Director — LAMP (Los Angeles Men’s Project)
From the DVD of The Soloist: Special Features, “One Size Does Not Fit All: Addressing Homelessness in Los Angeles”
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: http://www.kdministries.org/