The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

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

 

Saturday, March 28, 2009

 

Hot Off the Presses!

Kim Horner and Courtney Perry of the Dallas Morning News 

on Homelessness in Dallas

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KS

 

 

With No Conditions March 21, 2009

 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

 

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

 

With No Conditions

 

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


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

 

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


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


 

Trust March 9, 2009

 

Monday, March 9, 2009

Trust

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Clarity.  Consistency.  Transparency.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

http://www.thestewpot.org/

http://www.soupmobile.org/

 

Karen Shafer

 

Link on Pegasus News:  

http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2009/mar/10/dallas-homeless-organization-need-develop-trust/

Link on Dallas Homeless Network:

http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/

 

Homeward Bound March 3, 2009

 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

 

Homeward Bound

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KS

 

Just Like Us February 26, 2009

Thursday, 2/26/09

 

Just Like Us

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Karen,

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

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

 

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

 

just

like

us.

 

 

KS

 

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

 

We Built It, They Came, Now What?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What I Know For Sure

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/121308dnmetgarage.561b9995.html

 

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

 

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

 

What I Believe to be the Case


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

 

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

 

What Can Be Done

 

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

 

For this winter, I respectfully request that we:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In Conclusion

 

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

http://www.wfaa.com/video/?z=y&nvid=312288

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/121308dnmetchurchfix.38b6e7d.html

 

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

 

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

 

KS

Link:  http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2008/dec/16/bridge-we-built-it-they-came-now-what/

 

Miracle on Second Avenue December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

 

Miracle on Second Avenue

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

http://www.wfaa.com/video/?z=y&nvid=312288


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KS

 

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

 

Reggie’s Story October 6, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

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

 

STEP Transformed Plan A & B Into G For Me

By Reggie Crawford

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Reprinted from the October 2008 issue of Street Zine [http://thestewpot.org/streetzine.asp].

 

The Poorest of the Poor and Forgiveness September 24, 2008

Journal Archives

Friday, 2/24/06                                                                                                                                        

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

 

The Poorest of the Poor and Forgiveness

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

                                                                                                             ~~Mother Teresa

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KS

 

Sleeping On the Hard Streets of Dallas September 9, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

 

Sleeping Among the Homeless on the Hard Streets of Dallas

by David Timothy (AKA SoupMan)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

In the Midst of Them August 27, 2008

Regarding people who are homeless in Dallas…

 

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

 

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

 

                                                                                                                      

 

Progress, Not Perfection: Working Together August 6, 2008

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

 

Advocating for Mutual Respect and Communication in Solving Homelessness in Dallas

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KS

This article reprinted at:

http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2008/aug/08/advocating-mutual-respect-and-communication-among-/

For other perspectives:

http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2008/jul/18/dallas-homeless-shelter-bridge-still-facing-challe/

http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2008/aug/03/where-does-bridge-lead/

 

Successes at the Bridge July 15, 2008

Friday, 7/11/08

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KS

 

Dinner at The Bridge May 24, 2008

Saturday, 5/24/08

Last night I helped with the evening food service at the Bridge, the new homeless assistance center in downtown Dallas.  Along with Our Calling Ministries, with whom I’ve worked at the Day Resource Center for the past couple of years, and  teaming up with David Timothy, AKA SoupMan of SoupMobile Mobile Soup Kitchen, we assisted the Stewpot staff in serving dinner to several hundred homeless people.

David served as a sort of ‘maitre d’’ to the homeless guests, helping them find seating, and my job was that of ‘gatekeeper’ at the door, teamed with one of the Downtown Dallas Safety Patrol officers who serve as security at the center, letting people into the dining hall in small groups.  I liked this job, because, each time I opened the door to the long line of people in the courtyard, SoupMan and I were able greet the people coming in face to face. 

There was a steady stream of people through the door from 6 PM until about 7:15, and a trickle of people from 7:15 to 7:30, when the meal ended.  From my perspective, the meal service went like clockwork, very smooth.

I had a few random observations of the evening:

~~  The first five people in the door were in wheel chairs and were missing some part of a lower extremity.  Three more wheel-chair-bound guests came as the evening progressed.

~~  Four women who came to eat were pregnant.

~~  The Safety Patrol officer I was teamed with asked me to request extra food for the pregnant women who came through.  This kind of sensitivity will build good relationships between the keepers of the peace / guardians of the rules at the center and those they are there to protect.

~~  There were three or four women of my age (middle age) that I had not seen before who were dressed as if they were middle class.

~~  A couple of men coming through the line were carrying a portable magnetic chess game and continuing their game as they waited.  “I’ve tried to learn how to play chess,” I told them, “but I just can’t remember how all the different pieces move.”  “Repetition,” one of them told me. “That’s all it takes.”  “I’m pretty sure my brain just doesn’t work that way,” I said to him, “My five-year-old granddaughter can beat me.”  Good laugh, but sadly true.

~~  There’s a library at the Bridge.  Many people who came through the line were so involved in reading a book that they looked up only to say hello as they entered the dining hall and waited in line.

~~  One of my young friends who is pregnant — I’ll call her Deanna — has already enrolled in the job training program at the center and is very excited about learning to do housekeeping.  I have been seeing her on the street for a couple of years.

~~  My ‘street son,’ Tim, who has no family and has been on the street for ten years, has been employed for two months at a local downtown ministry near the Stewpot and is within a month of earning his way into an apartment.  Please send him your thoughts and prayers.  He’s making an heroic effort to get his life together and to help others to do the same.  In the past, he has sometimes protected Deanna when she was on her own on the street.

~~  Inside the Welcome Center, two friendly volunteers were answering questions for homeless guests and signing up volunteers.  In offices beside the lounge, workers were still conducting interviews with homeless individuals at the time I was leaving, about 8 PM.

~~  There were two medical transports from the main building during time I was there, people being taken from the Welcome Center on stretchers.

~~  The atmosphere appears to be non-threatening and welcoming throughout the campus, but the rules of civil behavior are strictly followed.  That’s exactly the balance that is needed.

~~  A comment I heard:  “It’s obvious that they care about us.  They built these buildings [The Bridge.]”

~~  Another:  “Inside these walls you can learn to solve your problems and get your life together.”

It’s a promising start, and it was a joy to see my homeless friends in a safe, clean, beautiful environment.

KS

 

 

 

The Bridge Is Open! May 22, 2008

 

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

 

Subject: Report from the SoupMan to SoupMobile Advisory Board

Date: May 21, 2008 3:58 PM

 

Dear Advisory Board Members:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord bless you all. 

David Timothy, a.k.a. The SoupMan

SoupMobile

3017 Commerce St.

Dallas, Texas 75226

 

Blogger’s Note:

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

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

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

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

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

KS

 

A Middle-Class Homeless Crisis in Dallas? May 21, 2008

This blog received a comment on the post entitled “Broken” from a friend in my church, Church of the Incarnation (Episcopal) that I hope you’ll go back and check out (May 15, 2008.  Click on ‘Comments’ at the bottom of the post.)  

May I just say…I love my church, not only because it is a beautiful, old building with lovely, reverential services, but because of people like English, who care enough to ask the hard questions and to show up on Christmas Eve at the Hyatt Regency Dallas for the SoupMobile’s Christmas Angel Project — and to go to Honduras to build schools, and to New Orleans to rebuild houses, and to fight poverty in Belize, and to mentor in areas of poverty around our very blessed church property, and on and on (it requires an entire book to list all of the outreach that is done out of Church of the Incarnation, thanks to Outreach Director Martha Lang and many others).  My fellow parishioners and our priests put their love on the line constantly all over the place.

Anyway, I hope you’ll read the comments of the “Broken” post where English asked an important question:

“Do we have a middle-class homeless crisis in Dallas?”

and read the response from David Timothy, AKA SoupMan, of SoupMobile Mobile Soup Kitchen.

I would love to know what readers think.  What is your experience and what are your observations?

KS

 

Broken May 15, 2008

Journal Archives

Thursday, 12/22/05

I was out with the mobile soup kitchen on a feeding run tonight, and unlike most nights, the vibe was strained on the truck.  For starters, I’d arisen from my sick bed to show up for the commitment I’d previously made, realizing that in the past few weeks I’ve been writing about the homeless, thinking about them, talking about them a great deal… but that I needed to see them, touch them, talk to them — that being with them is what I love, not doing politics about them.

I felt ill on the run, alternately sweating and freezing, thinking I might pass out.  There’s nowhere to sit on the truck, and the floor was slimy with spilled soup, so we volunteers slipped and slid around as it bumped along through the downtown streets.  One of the regular volunteers was tired, which made her very sharp-edged.  When she was rude to the rest of us one too many times,  I came within an ace of walking away and hitching a ride back to my car.  It was an unusually wretched start and middle to the run, and I was determined to just endure.

Then I began talking with Joe, a homeless man we picked up at the first stop to ride with us and help us feed. Wanting to get the real lowdown, I was asking him how things were out there.  It was a grim, unflattering and unsympathetic portrait of who was out on the street and what was going on.

As the van clattered and lurched along, between bouts of bending over to slop scalding soup into paper cups, as I sweated and froze and felt I’d faint, as the grouchy volunteer barked irritable orders at everyone, as an uncharacteristically-rowdy, block-long line of ragged people milled and pushed and shoved and shouted outside the truck in front of the Day Resource Center, I thought to myself, “Now, exactly why am I doing this?”

Joe offered to do the ladling, and I stepped away to rest my back.  He was so kind to notice I was tired.  Then the director asked me to come outside the truck and ‘work on the ground,’ which I love, so it was a relief to get outside and hand people food and talk to them a little.  “How are you?  How’s it going?”  “God bless you all for being out here!” they’d say, or  “I’m OK, but I could sure use some work.”  “Joseph, I’ll pray for you.”  “Oh, thank you.”  A man getting mock angry when I let a woman be served ahead of him.  The woman giving me a hug, and then another.  “Why do the women get to go first?” a man asks.  “Does it make you men feel like chopped liver?” I joke with him.  “You call them ladies, but you call us men.”  “OK, we’ll call you gentlemen from now on!”

I was starting to loosen up, to remember, to feel what this was about.

And then I began to look into their faces, one by one, as they stepped up in line to receive their soup, sandwich, cookie and banana.  A young woman with cerebral palsy, looking brave and dignified, not wanting to meet my eyes.  A man who could barely stand, trying to signal something as he swayed away, almost as if he were crossing himself.  A woman deathly pale with a yellowish pallor to her skin and a cap pulled down that barely covered the absence of hair.  People with skin leathered and hands swollen from the cold.  Someone blind.  Someone on crutches.  So many of them thanking us, blessing us, wishing us Merry Christmas.  Loving us for loving them.  Dark faces, pale faces, every kind of face in the world.

Broken faces.  Broken, as we all are.

Beauty.  Real beauty. 

We left, and as we rumbled back toward our starting point, I thought, “This is why I do it.  To be near them.”

But, still, why?  What is the Grace that’s near them, that spills over onto me, that makes me want to be out in the cold, ladling soup, giving away sandwiches?  When I try to pin down a reason, it slides away, like mine and Joe’s tennis shoes on the soupy metal floor of the catering truck.

And then, sitting here in Barnes and Noble, drinking my hot cocoa, feeling less at odds and less resentful of the middle-class Dallas culture than I did in my first entries into this journal a year ago — accepting it, even, and my place in it, and the fact that I drive a nice car while many people have no homes…  Remembering that driving here, I drove all the way down Beverly Drive looking at the stupendous displays of Christmas lights and didn’t need to turn away in frustration, accepting that that kind of wealth is part of life, too — just observing, not judging…  

Anyway, I got it, sitting here, remembering the beauty, the desperation, the softness, the fear, the humanity, the love, the blankness, the greed, the need — in those broken faces in the crush of people outside the Day Resource Center — giving to them out of my own brokenness, as they gave to me.  I got it…

The beauty, the grace is in the brokenness.

But it makes no sense!  And when I once read that Henri Nouwen said it, I thought, well, my great hero is just wrong on this one.  Beauty in healing?  in unconditional love?  in service?  Sure.  But in brokenness?  

The only connection I can make is with Christ’s broken body on the cross.  But wasn’t the beauty in the resurrection?  The brokenness of Christ’s body I find devastating!  Do we have to be broken first in order to be healed?  Is it because only through brokenness comes the possibility of Grace?

The Spirit of Love is out there on the street, for sure — in the people themselves — surrounding them, hovering near them.  I feel the intensity of Christ’s Love there, have always felt it.

It a mystery, a magnificent mystery.

And our street people show it to me.  Every time.

KS

 

Worthy or Unworthy…Is That the Question? April 28, 2008

“It’s not about whether people are deserving. It’s about our compassion.”

Journal Archives

Monday, 5/9/05

When the subject of  the homeless comes up in general conversation, people frequently want to discuss ‘Unworthy Homeless Persons I Have Encountered.’  Often that single, and sometimes unpleasant, experience with a street person becomes a certain knowledge of the ‘ubiquitous homeless.’  The ‘shiftless’ mother who, babe in arms, asks for money for formula and takes it straight into a liquor store somehow becomes every woman out on the street who has a child and asks for help.  The stories may well be true, but they miss a couple of points.

Helping the homeless is not about their worthiness.  It is about our giving.  If receiving blessings were dependent upon worthiness, would you and I have all that we have?

If you see someone misusing a resource they’ve been given, that’s not a reason to refrain from helping the person in need that comes along.  What if she’s in earnest?  If you give aid to five women in a row who buy liquor with the money and meet a sixth who’s on the level, would you deprive that sixth hungry child of the help she’d receive from you?  Or, if you want to be sure of how what you give is used, you could go and buy formula for the child yourself.

This is one of the reasons I have liked working with mobile soup kitchens, who go to feed the homeless where they live.  There are no questions asked, as Jesus asked no questions when he helped the poor and the sick.  The worthiness of the recipients is not at stake.  The work is about compassion.  There are no qualifications required except that a person be hungry, thirsty, cold, in need of solace.  “Ask, and ye shall receive.”

There is no single profile for a homeless person.  There are hustlers, manipulators and thieves on the street, yes.  Ditto drug addicts and alcoholics.  There are also veterans:  about 40% — people broken by war in body, mind and spirit, the same people who were heroes when they went off to war.  There are families who lost their jobs and missed a few house payments, finding themselves on the street.  There are mothers with children who ran from an abusive husband in the middle of the night and didn’t know how to seek out a shelter or couldn’t get in.  Do I want to feed and clothe these people if I have the opportunity?  Yes.  Do I want the woman who lives under a bridge because her ex-husband tied her up in their basement for a long period of time and she can’t bear confinement to get treatment for her trauma?  Yes.  If she doesn’t or is unable get it, do I want to offer her a sandwich?  Yes again.

Do I want to interview each of these people when I encounter them to determine whether they fit someone’s profile of worthiness?  Definitely, no.

KS

 

Going Political for a Moment April 18, 2008

Because much of what I’ve previously written elsewhere regarding homeless people in Dallas has been political, I generally prefer to stay away from politics on this blog. However, we are at a critical moment in our history as a city regarding our homeless friends: the moment is full of hope and also contains some potential pitfalls, so I’d like to address a few issues here that I think are important.

THE UP SIDE:
New Homeless Assistance Center, The Bridge

Something fantastic happened a couple of years ago in Dallas: voters put hearts, minds and hands together and approved a $23 million bond package to fund the creation of a Homeless Assistance Center, The Bridge, currently being built and set to open in early May, 2008 in downtown. This is a massive step forward in ‘catching up’ with cities like Miami and Philadelphia in developing a comprehensive plan to help our large homeless population (around 6000 by census, but some say closer to 10,000) into creating safer, more productive lives for themselves and into employment, mental health services and housing.

However, there are no perfect solutions to complex human problems. Like any step forward dealing with a problem as bewildering as homelessness, there are an unfathomable number of moving parts in this one.

Add to that the complexity of pleasing many disparate groups — the homeless themselves, homeless advocates, church groups who have fed and ministered to the homeless for decades, businesses trying to thrive in the area of downtown where homeless people stay, developers in a resurgent downtown, new urban dwellers, the police, politicians — and you have yourself a very complicated formula.

Taking into account the needs and desires of these groups surrounding the homeless is a daunting task, but a necessary one. And, for the first time, I believe that the city is attempting to do a comprehensive job in this regard. We have a mayor, Tom Leppert, who truly seems to care about people in each segment of our city and to make himself accessible to them, and we have a responsive City Council.

The more I learn more about every ‘side’ in this situation, the less I’m able to take sides, with one exception. I love my homeless friends downtown. They comprise an extremely vulnerable population. While often unable to exercise the responsibilities of citizenship fully and successfully, still, as members of a democratic society, they must be granted the rights thereof. How to balance their rights with the other groups listed above? Very, very difficult.

Here are some thoughts on a few of these groups and issues.

The Stewpot

The Stewpot, a 30-year homeless ministry of First Presbyterian Church in downtown Dallas, has been given the contract to provide meals at The Bridge. Since 1975, the Stewpot has served over 2,500,000 meals to the homeless downtown, and is also the primary provider of numerous other services as well.

In my opinion, awarding the feeding contract to the Stewpot is the most hopeful sign regarding how The Bridge is to be managed, because the Stewpot and First Presbyterian Church have by far the most proven track-record in homeless services for decades, and their integrity is beyond question.

For groups around the homeless to question the budget and intentions of the Stewpot at this point seems counterproductive for two reasons:
~~The contract has been a done deal since February. The time for other groups to question or apply for the contract would have been prior to that.
~~Implications that the Stewpot is making money on the contract is ludicrous. The contract with The Bridge is providing only 80% of the costs of feeding around 2100 meals a day, seven days a week (up from their current 600 lunches on weekdays), and the Stewpot is working hard at raising funds for the balance.

Dallas Police

In a recent meeting with some of their number in Central Operations Division downtown, I was struck by the compassion of the individuals involved and their sophisticated understanding of the issues on all sides. This was valuable information for me, because, as friends of the homeless, we hear more often of police abuses, which do occur. But I believe that a majority of Dallas Police do not wish to victimize the homeless, and are caught in the middle of the complex web which surrounds our most vulnerable citizens.

THE MIDDLE:
The Changing Role of Mobile and Volunteer Feeders

Those of us who have been able to meet with and feed our homeless friends at the Day Resource Center in the past few years are going through a time of transition and, at times, of fear. When The Bridge opens, the DRC will close, and so, temporarily, will volunteer and mobile feeding.

But the Stewpot has made it clear it not only welcomes but most definitely needs, in its feeding program at The Bridge, the hundreds to thousands of volunteers who have been feeding the homeless on the streets and in the DRC parking lot downtown. However, it requires about three months before it will know the level of the that need. So, for those to whom being with the homeless is a ministry, the shape of that ministry will change, but the ministry itself does not have to go away. That is not to say, though, that such a transition will be easy for anyone.

Again, there are no perfect solutions to complex human problems. But we are all on the same team, hard as that may be to remember in times of such enormous transition.

THE DOWN SIDE:
Ordinances Targeting the Homeless

Here are some concerns I do have in our dealings with our homeless citizens from here forward, expressed in a letter in the Dallas Morning News on 3/13/08:

“Letters for Thursday, March 13, 2008
[http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/letters/stories/DN-thurs_letters_0313edi.ART.State.Edition1.46c6310.html]

Thankful for Stewpot

The new Homeless Assistance Center, The Bridge, is indeed an essential step in Dallas’ plan to end chronic homelessness. However, what will happen to those homeless individuals who refuse to be welcomed into The Bridge?

Those who know the homeless at the street rather than the organizational level know that some will probably not go in. Will the city revert to the disastrous if well-intentioned practices of Operation Rescue, arresting and criminalizing those who do not choose to be welcomed into The Bridge? Or will a more creative and tolerant solution be sought?

The staff at the Stewpot knows homeless people better than anyone, having been on the front line for this population for two decades. I am glad that they are providing the meals and as much expertise and wisdom as they are willing to give.

Karen Shafer, Dallas”

Besides humanitarian concerns, there are enormous problems with laws targeting certain populations, such as the homeless — populations that are ‘inconvenient’ but not a threat to public safety. Such laws carry an ominous and particularly insidious threat to democracy. These laws may be highly controversial, like our anti-panhandling ordinance. Or they may be sleeping in public, obstructing the sidewalk, etc.

Consider this: Think of how hard it is to get stalkers arrested, even with repeated threats to their victims. And think of how difficult it is to bring to justice perpetrators of domestic violence, even after they’ve committed proven mischief and while they’re still threatening bodily harm to their victims. In both cases, the perpetrators are, in fact, actual threats to those being pursued.

Now consider a group of people who are NOT a threat to public safety, the homeless (this was proven recently in a study commissioned by the Dallas County Commissioners’ Court which was published in the Dallas Morning News). However, this group is considered by many to be a nuisance, their actions and presence generally undesirable (and there are sometimes valid reasons for these objections.)

Consider that a group of laws has been CREATED SPECIFICALLY to target this group, to control their movements, to get them out of the way, to control even their speech. Here you have panhandling ordinances, obstructing the sidewalk ordinances, sleeping in public ordinances. Think of the legality and morality of a law which prohibits one such person speaking to another citizen on a public street, even if that speech is made in an unpleasant or even aggressive manner.

Next, you have people being ticketed who cannot pay the fines. Eventually you have warrants issued for their arrest. This wastes police time and takes up space in seriously-overcrowded jails. And, one should note, these are laws which would typically not be enforced if a person involved in the same behaviors looked and dressed ‘middle class.’

Such laws are not only immoral because they target a group of people who are a public-relations problem but not a public threat. Legal scholars (which I clearly am not) have said they also represent constitutional challenges to free speech and freedom of movement.

I abhor the social conditions which lead to begging; although it does not offend me personally, I realize it can be an offensive practice to some; and I have high praise for those people who are helping to obviate the needs that drive it.

Yes, the new homeless assistance center, The Bridge, along with adequate transitional and permanent supportive housing, will drastically impact this problem in a positive way. But these solutions will take between months and many years. In the meantime, we are going to have beggars. How are we going to treat them?

Some have said it is no longer the time to debate these issues, since we are taking such positive steps in city government towards solutions for the homeless. I would argue that there is never a time when these ideas shouldn’t be debated, because SUCH LAWS CARRY WITH THEM A HEAVY MORAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGE. When a city ceases to argue about laws which target a particular group, it is in danger of losing its moral compass, no matter how much it solves its problems at the practical level.

Such ongoing debate goes to the heart of democracy. When we set it aside because we are fixing things at a practical level, we are in danger of returning to unethical practices when practical plans run into the inevitable snags to which even brilliant solutions are prey.

KS

 

Little Ones April 2, 2008

BLOGGER’S NOTE: Regarding the children in this story, I am glad to report that I have rarely seen children on the street in about the last three years. This is purely subjective, but our city seems to be doing a better job of getting them into shelters. I am printing this story to show what children sometimes go through.  KS

Journal Archives
Thursday, 2/19/04

Employed!

I went to help crew the mobile soup kitchen truck at the last minute today, as some volunteers had cancelled. I didn’t need to buy the prenatal vitamins for Robin after all, as she and her husband, Sean, had left for the Gulf Coast last night. I didn’t meet Sean last week, but the director told me he is movie-star handsome and is in fact an actor. He was in a soap opera in Los Angeles, then came out to Dallas for an acting job that fell through, which is how he and Robin ended up on the street. He just procured a job on an oil rig at the coast, so they’re headed south.

I worked ‘on the ground’ for the first time tonight, which means standing outside the truck receiving the food from the passthrough at the rear of the truck and handing it to people — sort of crowd control, although there’s nothing to control — our customers are usually very polite. There are most often male volunteers out front, but it was a ‘girl group’ of workers this time. I like the closer contact with people that being on the ground provides, getting to reach out and touch them and talk to them for a minute.

We gave away all the socks I’d bought at the dollar store at the first stop. There was one young man at the City Hall Plaza, dressed in a single light shirt, who asked for a blanket, but we didn’t have any. Blankets will be my focus this week at thrift stores.

One of the people that touched my heart especially tonight was a young man who couldn’t speak — though he could make sounds, I couldn’t understand him, and I hated that I couldn’t. He was asking for something and pointing, perhaps another sandwich, but we had run out.

Little Ones

It was a pretty upbeat run because it wasn’t too cold, and at most stops we had enough food for people to go through the line several times. Then at the third stop came a stomach punch. A mother and two daughters, ages about eight and ten, came through the line and got their food. The director made a special effort to get off the truck and visit with the little girls, giving them some extra cookies.

When we’d finished handing out food, I noticed the family of three sitting together under a tree across the park. I walked over to talk to them and saw that they’d made a bed on the ground out of one thin sleeping bag, so I asked if they had a place to stay for the night. The mother said they’d been kicked out of two shelters. I asked her why, but couldn’t understand her answer; then she told me the shelter said she didn’t do her chores. Privately, I questioned her story, but didn’t confront her about it. I have not known the shelters to kick out children.

For the first time since I’ve been doing this, I thought I was going to start sobbing: those beautiful, trusting little girls with their brilliant smiles were looking up at me from the ground. I asked the mother what she needed. ‘Blankets,’ she said, but we didn’t have any, so I went back to the truck and got a heavy plastic bag for them to put under their sleeping bag and also gave them two thick sweaters I had brought along. ‘Will you be safe here?’ I asked her. She said she hoped so.

The director and I wondered aloud if in fact the shelter did kick out this mother with kids, but just before we left the stop, the mother told me she might be able to get into Austin Street Centre tonight after all.

I continue to be really shaken up by this experience, finding it devastating, and I’m haunted by the thought that I should have done something more to help them. But what? Call 911? Would that have made their situation better or worse? Bring them home to stay at my house? Although the latter may be the answer in my heart, it’s almost certainly not realistic and brings up all sorts of questions. But don’t radical problems require radical solutions?

In retrospect, I believe I made a mistake in not calling 911. I had never encountered such a situation before, and we left the scene before I could think it through. One thing I know: little girls sleeping under a tree in the cold in a park in downtown Dallas is not acceptable.

KS

 

Ups, Downs, and Blessings March 28, 2008

Filed under: homelessness,hunger,inspiration,mobile soup kitchens — Karen Shafer @ 8:06 pm

       “Joy is the secret gift of compassion. We keep forgetting it and thoughtlessly look elsewhere. But each time we return to where there is pain, we get a new glimpse of the joy that is not of this world.”
                                                                                                            ~~Henri Nouwen, Here and Now

Journal Archives
Saturday, 2/14/04

Ups and Downs

The mobile soup kitchen feeding run last Thursday night was exhilarating and depressing, both in the extreme. It was very cold, and several people at the first and second stops (beside bridges on Industrial Boulevard) lacked even the basics for staying warm.

We had two new volunteers from Centex Corporation; they were wonderful and seemed to be very moved by the experience. When we finished the run, both said they’d never done anything quite like it, even though one of them had previously volunteered in a homeless shelter. They plan to get more involved.

At our first stop, I got off the truck to talk to people — mostly day laborers, the working homeless: one man’s a former university professor. There several people didn’t have any socks, hats, or gloves. A couple of us gave away our stocking caps, but we didn’t have any spare socks.

At the next stop, a young man, who had only been on the street for twenty-four hours, told me he was just so cold he could barely think: he was wearing a thin shirt and a light denim jacket. We had some donated clothes to distribute, but nothing warm, so I gave him my fleece pullover. It’s hard for people to think of the next step in getting their lives together when all their attention’s focused on the cold.

At the third stop, there was Robin, who’s about six months pregnant. I’m going to bring her some prenatal vitamins next week, but, hopefully, by the time the baby comes, she’ll be off the street.

One piece of good news is that Daniel, a homeless man who often rides the truck with us and helps us serve, is now employed. He went to work for one of the volunteers who owns a roofing company. Although we miss him on the truck — he’s a great organizational force as well as being very funny and brilliantly political — it is great news that he has a job.

It’s hard to imagine the level of need that’s out there in our own backyards, so to speak, especially in the cold. The people we feed are so grateful, so loving, and the mix is surprising — many who’ve been out there a long time and some who could be your next-door neighbor. As another volunteer said to me recently, “You can clearly see that many of these people are just one step away from being able to put together a normal life.”

Blessings

When I awoke Friday morning after the Thursday night run, it was with an extreme awareness of my blessings, large and small. Although I generally try to stop and smell the roses, that morning I felt intensely the joy of having a beautiful white lace curtain across my French doors which I could tie back with a piece of gold Christmas cord. The simple act of putting a pan of water on the stove for a cup of tea was a cause of great pleasure, so fortunate did I feel for having cup, pan, tea, water, stove, kitchen and home. The blessings of this work are very great, the disappointments notwithstanding. I only wish all my peeps out there on the street had their own dwellings to cherish as much as I cherish mine.

KS

 

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

Journal Archives
Tuesday, 5/10/05

The Good

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

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

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

The Bad

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

The Very Sad

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

KS

 

Are You Willing To Be Transformed? March 5, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,homelessness,hunger,mobile soup kitchens,Vocation — Karen Shafer @ 9:31 pm

       “…Are you willing to be transformed? Or do you keep clutching your old ways of life with one hand while with the other you beg people to help you change?

…It is not a question of willpower. You have to trust the inner voice that shows the way. You know that inner voice. You turn to it often. But after you have heard with clarity what you are asked to do, you start raising questions, fabricating objections, and seeking everyone else’s opinion. Thus you become entangled in countless often contradictory thoughts, feelings, and ideas and lose touch with the God in you. And you end up dependent on all the people you have gathered around you.

Only by attending constantly to the inner voice can you be converted to a new life of freedom and joy.”

                                                                                                        ~~Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love

Journal Archives
Saturday, 4/23/05

Church and Candace

When I last saw Candace a couple of weeks ago, she asked me to take her to church with me sometime, and I said, “Sure!” There is something unique about Candace. She feels like my daughter. And Patrick is someone I think I might be proud to have as a son-in-law. But I can’t help but wonder, is it wise to take a virtual stranger in my car, even one who feels like family?

I asked my friend, David, for his opinion, as he is familiar with street culture, and he responded:
“You asked if I thought it would be a problem with you taking Candace to church. No, I don’t see a problem there. I think this would be a very kind thing to do for her. However each case is different. There are definitely some individuals on the street that I would not want you to take anywhere in your car. My sense for Candace is that it would be fine for you to take her to church.”

So I’m going to try to arrange to take her to church with me on Wednesday.

Wednesday, 4/27/05

Losing Track

This early evening, during which I’ve done a fair share of crying, proves the point of the above Henri Nouwen quote on transformation, it seems to me, with unusual clarity. I’ve lost track of Candace and Patrick, and the impact of the loss feels overwhelming. Now they’re gone, and I have no way to find them.

I had asked David to tell Candace when he went by their camp yesterday that I would pick her up for church today at 5:30 P.M. But he didn’t see her, so I drove to their little house at that time to see if she could go. I pulled up beside their lot and they weren’t there, so I stopped to ask two people who were sitting on the Stairs Going Nowhere, waiting for the bus.

“Candace isn’t here,” they said. “Are she and Patrick still staying here?” “No, she and Patrick have sort of split up for a while.” “Do you know where she is?” “No.” “Is Patrick still here?” “He’s around.” I knew they didn’t trust me enough to say more. The street’s a closed society until people know you. “Please tell them Karen said hello,” I said, as there seemed nothing else to say.

I pulled away and began to cry — ‘the ugly cry,’ as Oprah calls it, face all distorted, nose running, the works. On my mobile, I tried to call both of my daughters for comfort — no answer.

I drove around, feeling I’d lost track of something of irreplaceable value, feeling so lost myself, drowning in the conviction that I’d missed something vital with which I was supposed to connect. So odd and inexplicable, how one can love certain strangers after knowing them such a short time. I had met hundreds of people while going out on the street to give away clothing and food, but Candace and Patrick had drawn me to them and their little home like a magnet. Our meeting on that Holy Saturday seemed providential.

It had taken me two weeks to get around to taking my new friend and surrogate daughter to church with me. I had kept thinking about it but not getting it done. And my friends who felt like family had slipped through that small crack in time.

[to be continued]

KS

 

Candace and Patrick Revisited March 1, 2008

Filed under: homelessness,mobile soup kitchens — Karen Shafer @ 7:04 pm

Journal Archives
Tuesday, 4/12/05

SoupMobile

I had an extraordinary experience today going out to feed with a different mobile soup kitchen, SoupMobile, run by David Timothy, also known as SoupMan. His group feeds lunch five days a week to people who are homeless and goes to where they live, under bridges or beside dumpsters. We were able to spend plenty of time at the stops talking to people about their needs and concerns.

David is extremely dedicated to ‘his people’ and has an exceptional rapport with them. He visits them in jail when they’ve been arrested for sleeping in public; goes to see them in hospital when they’re ill; knows which couples have broken up because somebody’s in rehab and somebody isn’t. He really seems to have people’s trust.

Tent City

I finally had the opportunity to visit the large homeless encampment under a bridge with SoupMobile today, unveiling to me another chapter in the homeless story here in Dallas. It seems to be a fairly stable community, complete with a porta potty and trash cans, and even has a de facto political structure, complete with a ‘mayor,’ Mack, whom I met. He’s a friendly man, and I get the idea that he looks after things and helps keep life in the camp peaceful.

Robbed

As we were driving away from the camp, I thought I recognized the street corner where I’d met Candace and Patrick! David agreed to stop and check on them. I got out of the van, climbed the steps and called their names. It was the first time I’d seen their house in daylight. It consisted of a jumble of boards, sheets of tin and plastic, and some wire.

The rest of the SoupMobile team got out of the van too, but, seeing no one, we were turning to go when I heard a high-pitched shriek and wheeled around to see Candace bolting full tilt across the yard towards us, her arms waving wildly over her head. She was laughing happily and looked like a gleeful child running for the ice cream truck.

“Do you remember me?” I asked her, “I came by here on Holy Saturday.” She jumped up and down in delight. “Yes, you’re the lady who gave me the bedspreads and pillows! Oh, you should see how I’ve got them all propped around my house! It’s just beautiful! I feel so cozy. I love my new stuff so much. You’re that lady. Sure, I know you!” Once again, her open spirit was contagious. The others gathered around, and I introduced everyone.

David had already bagged up a generous sack of food for their little camp and was giving it to them, when Candace burst out with the news that they’d been robbed the night before. “They took everything, even my Bible!” she told us. The loss of her Bible was the thing that upset her most. The shoes she was wearing were battered, formerly-pink terry cloth house slippers. She got me aside and told me the thieves had even stolen her underwear. “I’ll get you some clothes,” I promised her.

At that moment Patrick appeared, very cordial as before, and she introduced him proudly to my friends. We expressed our regrets over the robbery, and David promised to bring them food the following week. One of the volunteers, Matt, offered to get Candace a new Bible.

We said our goodbyes and left them, full of that happiness which genuine connection with people can bring. Odd coincidence that we showed up just after they’d been robbed and were in such need.

[to be continued]

KS

 

Children, Stuffed Animals, Hot Cocoa and Grace February 15, 2008

Journal Archives
Monday, 12/29/03

When the rear door of the mobile soup kitchen slides up and I see the faces of the people lined up outside waiting for food, it’s as if a powerful energy and grace flow from them into me.

Tonight, my daughter, Mandy, sent along two new plush stuffed animals in case there were children in the food lines of the mobile soup kitchen, and at City Hall Plaza, the first two people in line were children. The soup kitchen director asked if she could be the one to give them the toys. A girl, about seven, chose the lion, and her brother, who looked to be around four, embraced the gray monkey and held it tight. Someone in the crowd around him said, “Look, he doesn’t even care about food! He just wants the monkey!” And the homeless people surrounding him laughed in a carefree way and shared for a moment in his joy.

We had enough food so that at the last stop, some people were able to come through the line three or four times. Some of the cookies had gotten wet, and, when the crisp cookies were gone, I scooped up the soggy bits in my plastic-gloved hands to throw them away, but people stopped me, asking for what was now ‘goo,’ so I opened my hands and they scooped it out, eating it eagerly.

Then, as we were closing up the back of the truck — all the sandwiches, soup, bananas, and nearly every cookie crumb having been given away — a man hurried up to the truck, looking as if he’d come from a distance. “Am I too late?” he said. “We’re so sorry, everything’s gone,” we told him. He was very lean and weathered and obviously hungry. He struggled to hide his disappointment, and succeeded. “Well, I just got here too late, it’s OK,” he said, as we apologized again. It was heartbreaking.

It occurred to me while driving to the bookstore for my ritual hot cocoa, a metaphorical foot still in the ‘street’ world but edging back into the reality of north Dallas, that it is dangerous to look out at the faces of the people lined up outside our mobile feeding truck and think that their being homeless is an acceptable and inevitable reality. One must, I think, keep sharp in one’s mind that solutions must always be sought to homelessness and hunger, even if they’re never found. One cannot acquiesce.

Am tired, drained, going home. I am so grateful that I have one.

KS

 

Waxing Philosophical February 14, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,homelessness,hunger,mobile soup kitchens — Karen Shafer @ 2:33 am

Giving Freely

“…a nun once said to me, ‘Mother Teresa, you are spoiling the poor people by giving them things free.  They are losing their human dignity.’

When everyone was quiet, I said calmly, ‘No one spoils as much as God himself.  See the wonderful gifts he has given us freely.  All of you here have no glasses, yet you all can see.  If God were to take money for your sight, what would happen?  Continually we are breathing and living on oxygen that we do not pay for.  What would happen if God were to say, ‘If you work four hours, you will get sunshine for two hours?’  How many of us would survive then?’

Then I also told them, ‘There are many congregations that spoil the rich;  it is good to have one congregation in the name of the poor, to spoil the poor.’

There was profound silence;  nobody said a word after that.”

                                                                                ~~Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World

Journal Archives

Tuesday, 12/23/03

 

To my surprise, feeding the homeless is controversial. I did not know this, although, being oppositionally-defined as I can sometimes be, it would only have encouraged me. Nonetheless, I’m surprised that not everyone thinks hungry people should be given food.

 

‘People should get their needs met through the institutions and organizations we’ve already created to deal with the problems of hunger and homelessness,’ an acquaintance recently told me. But what if they’re not going to? What if the organizations, excellent though they may be, are woefully inadequate to the scale of the task, which is clearly the case in Dallas? What if significant numbers of people fall through the cracks? Some are not going to get their needs met with current resources; some are unable to; some — many — do fall. And for those, another approach is required.

 

To me, feeding the hungry seems self-evident, especially as a person who calls myself a Christian. “Feed my sheep,” says Jesus in John 21. He doesn’t say, “If my sheep are employed, or at least job hunting,” or “If they can conform enough to live in a shelter,” or “If they promise to take their antidepressants and visit their psychotherapists on a regular basis.” Jesus states simply, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Lord…you know that I love you,” Simon Peter replies. Jesus: “Feed my sheep.”

 

And even more direct is the bit in Matthew 25: “…I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Then follows the horrific fate awaiting those ‘goats at the left [hand]’ who decline to offer these kindnesses to their brothers and sisters — read that passage if you want to tremble!

 

The argument that feeding street people enables and perpetuates homelessness confuses me. Can you look for a job when you’re starving? Dirty? Freezing? Without an address? Did Mother Teresa perpetuate starvation by going on the streets of Calcutta and feeding the ‘poorest or the poor?’ Did she encourage the sick to get sicker because she tended to their medical needs?

 

Or does our plenty somehow shame us, that we are willing to let children live cold and hungry on the streets of Dallas while we buy designer tennis shoes and IPods for our own kids? Is this moral? Is it correct human behavior, religion aside? Is it even reasonable?

 

If rational self-interest is our guiding principle, does the terrible reality of homelessness and poverty in our own city and around the world serve that principle? Sometimes I wonder if our collective anger towards street people has something to do with their reminding us of the ludicrous, wasteful splendor in which most of us live, and perhaps also of the ubiquity of vulnerability all humans share.

 

True, feeding the homeless is only one part of the puzzle. A comprehensive plan is required to get people off the streets and into housing. Enlightened self-interest tells us that to do everything we can to solve the problems of homelessness and hunger in our city benefits us all. It tells us that that there are many paths to this desirable conclusion, that all kinds of help is needed: shelters, job training, treatment centers, rehabilitation programs, housing — yes, but also, surely, the simple service of alleviating people’s suffering directly, wherever they are, by giving them food when they’re hungry, a smile, a hug and a kind word when they’re lonely, a blanket and clothing when they’re cold.

KS

 

Paranoia Strikes Deep February 13, 2008

Filed under: homelessness,hunger,mobile soup kitchens — Karen Shafer @ 3:21 am

Journal Archives
Thursday, 12/11/03

I got off the catering truck last night at Dallas City Hall plaza and talked to some of the homeless people who were eating the food we’d passed out from the mobile soup kitchen where I was volunteering. I asked one woman, “Where will you stay tonight?” “Under a bridge,” she replied, but she flinched when she said it. When I didn’t register surprise, she seemed to become more at ease. “Will you be warm enough?” I asked her. “Oh, yeah,” and she seemed proud to say it, “I have plenty of blankets. I sleep on four or five and have four or five over me. If I get cold, I just flip another one over me from underneath.” We both laughed and agreed it was a good system. She said she used to have a tent, but the city won’t allow it any more. How ridiculous, I said.

She can’t stand the homeless shelters, she told me — too many people, she can’t get any sleep there. Crowds makes her very anxious. She confessed to me that her sense of confinement in closed-in places comes from an abusive ex-husband who kept her captive in their basement, tied up for months. I told her I could see how that would do it.

I sometimes feel the same about crowds, I said, and even occasionally get anxious in a grocery store line. Two homeless men standing near us joined in our conversation, saying that they felt the same way. One, a nice-looking and well-spoken man in his twenties, said he used to play baseball in college, and when he was on the field looking up at a crowd of tens of thousands of people, it was fine, but he could never stand to be IN the crowd. The other young man, also attractive and neatly-dressed, said he always wanted to sit at the rear of restaurants with his back to the wall. “Me too!” I told him, “Paranoia strikes deep.” We laughed at our common affliction.

KS

 

First Night

Filed under: homelessness,hunger,mobile soup kitchens — Karen Shafer @ 3:18 am

[Three and a half months later…]

 

       “We’re not trying to solve the problem of homelessness in Dallas, because we don’t know how.  We’re  just trying to keep people alive.”       ~~Phil Romano, Restauranteur and HungerBusters Founder

 

Journal Archives
Wednesday, 12/10/03

 

I’ve just returned from my first night as a volunteer for a mobile soup kitchen that goes out into the city to feed people who are homeless and am now sitting in a north Dallas Barnes & Noble cafe. Drinking a mug of hot cocoa, I feel as if I’m in a no-man’s land of culture shock. I’m intensely aware of my comfort and am thinking of the misery I’ve just witnessed among the Dallas homeless people out on the streets on this very cold night.

 

It’s surprising the sorts of people one sees waiting for food in the lines outside the catering truck that serves as the mobile soup kitchen — several were well-dressed and looked middle class, though most seem very poor. The little kids are the ones that break your heart.

 

I’d like to learn more about the roots and causes of homelessness, but tonight, sitting here getting thawed over my steaming hot cocoa in this comfortable cafe, with my cozy fleece jacket zipped to my chin and a scarf wrapped twice around my neck, I’m aware of feeling angry — and sad. I look around at my fellow middle-class Dallasites, and all I can think is that they surely don’t know about the four-year-old child in the very long line of homeless people at City Hall Plaza tonight where, an hour ago, I and seven other soup kitchen volunteers gave away the last of our sandwiches, soup, cookies and bananas. None of us can really be aware of the number of people who will sleep on the ground in downtown Dallas tonight, I tell myself, or we wouldn’t let it happen. It seems impossible that it does happen in the midst of such prosperity.

 

My next thought is that it’s easy to get self-righteous after just a little bit of ‘helping.’ And my next: that my optimistic view of human nature — that people would help if they were aware — is probably naive. Nonetheless, I think some would if they only knew how. It is not helpful to blame either society or the homeless themselves for these terrible circumstances. The causes of homelessness matter, but if one gets hung up there, it’s all too easy not to take action. I like the approach of the mobile soup kitchens because it goes straight to the solution and simply feeds the hungry — no questions, no analysis, no red tape. To me, this seems like the most Christlike solution.

 

KS