Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Race, Opioid Addiction, & Crack Cocaine
A brief essay on how race may impact our approach to drug addiction. Worth watching and considering…
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Race, Opioid Addiction, & Crack Cocaine
A brief essay on how race may impact our approach to drug addiction. Worth watching and considering…
Wednesday, January 17, 2016
Poetry From Prison: From Jail to Yale
Saturday, September 5, 2015
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
I came across this interview with Bryan Stevenson by Charlie Rose by accident last evening, and this man is my new hero… what a beautiful, humble human being. It is riveting television, and I think he has it exactly right about race in America. I hope you’ll take the time to watch it.
If you have trouble with the link, go to http://www.hulu.com, search “Bryan Stevenson + Charlie Rose” and click on the first video.
Bryan Stevenson’s book is called Just Mercy.
Friday, August 21, 2015
Allergic to WIFI
For quite a while now — 2-3/4 years, since sustaining a concussion which was one of several over time — I have been a “canary in the coal mine” on the subject of Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: an “allergy”, for want of a better word, to electromagnetic fields such as those caused by cell phones and wireless internet. This is not a fun cultural role to play: it is extremely isolating, frightening, frustrating, and, at times, dispiriting.
With the explosion in diagnoses of autism, anxiety, depression and other neurological disorders among children, a growing number of scientists and citizens are adding their voices to concerns about the harm this radiation pollution can cause, particularly to children and young adults who are still developing. Here is an article from Boston Parents magazine that is worth considering.
Friday, August 7, 2015
Building an Oasis in a Philadelphia Food Desert
This story is so inspiring! We’ve become familiar with the extreme difficulty that people living in poverty face in accessing fresh produce and healthy food, and also with the barriers faced by those who have formerly been incarcerated in securing employment after release. Here is a wonderful man — a grocer — who is solving both these problems in an exceptional way.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Bored & Brilliant
Those who know me even a little know I’m a fan of unplugging from technology — mild understate. I’ve gone so far as to ban electronics for a week on family beach vacations… if I felt I could get by with it. Slightly autocratic I admit, but the results in calmer grandchildren who let their creativity shine amidst this “boredom” and wonderful conversations between adults — not to mention just gazing out at the scenery as opposed to down at the electronic device — was impressive. Of course, this does not mean that one can’t be creative with and through technology. Still… Needless to say, I was interested to hear this interview on the BBC World Service.
Slight conundrum: participating in this project of unplugging from technology requires an “App”! (It’s only in the last couple of years that I figured out what that word even means.) And this project comes through a website called “New Tech City.” But even a luddite was impressed with and intrigued by this interview. Also, yes, I am aware that, once again, I am putting this “out there” on a computer through WIFI.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Coercion or Cooperation?
Pine Street Inn in Boston, Massachusetts, New England’s largest resource for homeless men and women, sends Outreach vans onto the city’s streets 365 nights per year — in the cold, snow and rain — offering homeless men and women help in the form of warm blankets, hot meals, clean clothes and transportation to shelter. The journal below allows us to follow a van on one night’s journey and details some of the experiences of the shelter’s outreach volunteers.
Imagine just for a moment that you are one of the homeless women or men described in the article. As you read, ask yourself whether you would respond better to the approach used by Pine Street — one of respect and trust building — or to the methods used by many other cities, which often includes this choice: “Do you want to go to a shelter or go to jail?” KS
Every night, Pine Street Inn’s Outreach vans head out, loaded with warm blankets, hot meals and clean clothes, offering rides to shelter. Through the cold and snow, the Outreach teams crisscross the city from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., serving people in need.
Here are just a few of the situations that Outreach counselors Nelson, Vincent and Maggie encounter during one night on the vans.
10:05 p.m., Financial District
Outreach counselors find two homeless women in their 60s, Susan and Annie, huddled together in an alley. Susan was assaulted the previous night, and Annie is determined to stay by her side “to protect her.” Maggie offers the women hot soup and a sandwich. She listens as they tell their story, but senses that it will take time to build their trust before they will accept a ride to the shelter. Reluctantly, the Outreach team moves on, but they will check on Susan and Annie again tomorrow.
1:30 a.m., Washington Crossing
Outside a coffee shop, the Outreach team finds Donald, whom they have encouraged to go to shelter before. Tonight, he accepts a ride to Pine Street. On the way, Donald tells the counselors that he has been sick. By the time the van arrives at Pine Street, Vincent has arranged for Donald to see a doctor the next morning.
3:45 a.m., Boston Common
It’s cold and raining when Nelson spots a light coming from under a bridge. There, Nelson finds James, who is trying to stay dry. Nelson has known James for three months and is slowly trying to build his trust and convince him to spend the night at Pine Street. James has not been ready in the past, but tonight when Nelson asks if he’d like a ride to the shelter, James says “yes.”
A warm bed and a hot meal were his first steps on the road to a better life. Today – with the help of Pine Street – James has a full-time job and is living in his own apartment.
5:00 a.m., Pine Street Inn
The outreach vans return to Pine Street and the counselors meet to talk about the individuals they spoke with the night before and prepare for the next night’s journey.
Video link: “Human Dignity is Paramount:
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Piggybacking, with permission from Larry James, on his blog, here is a fascinating look at what one doctor in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania — Dr. Jim Withers — and his team are doing to heal a city by ministering on the streets to the city’s homeless population. Dr. Withers has been practicing ‘street medicine’ since 1992. There are always people living on the street who are unable to access medical care because of their inability to move through even the most streamlined red tape. That is why, for me, this type of medicine is particularly compelling and seems so very important. The post on Larry’s blog is on Monday, October 31, 2011. KS
Here’s the link to Operations Safety Net, founded by Dr. Withers to house his homeless patients in Pittsburgh.
Saturday, April 16, 2010
Mayoral Forum Held at The Stewpot This Week
The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church, Dallas, held a mayoral forum Thursday, April 14, 2011 to give Dallas Mayoral candidates an opportunity to address questions regarding the concerns and well-being of Dallas homeless citizens. Present at the event were vendors of the homeless newspaper Street Zine (published by The Stewpot), Stewpot and Crossroads Community Services staff, Bridge Homeless Assistance Center staff and homeless advocates. The forum was organized by Street Zine Editor, Pat Spradley and other Stewpot staffers, and the candidates were invited to the event by homeless advocate Clare Nilson.
Panelists were former Dallas Police Chief, David Kunkle, and former Homeless Czar, Mike Rawlings. Candidates Ron Natinsky and Edward Okpa were invited but unable to attend.
The questions ranged from their support of sales of the homeless newspaper published by The Stewpot, Street Zine and the needs of homeless citizens generally, to questions about the Bridge Homeless Assistance Center, and specifics regarding the candidates’ opinions of so-called Quality of Life ordinances, passed by Dallas and other cities to limit the presence and movements of homeless citizens in public places. Those attending learned about the opinions of the men regarding homelessness and a little of their personalities as well.
Everyone involved in the event is appreciative that the two candidates took time to attend and offer their perspectives on the important issues facing those experiencing homelessness in our city. Much gratitude as well goes to Ms. Spradley, Ms. Nilson and the Rev. Dr. Bruce Buchanan, Executive Director of The Stewpot, as well as Stewpot staff, for hosting this event.
Check the Street Zine Facebook page next week for an update on this important and informational event and see some pictures as well at :
‘Generic Ministry’ cares for Boston homeless in all weather
by Karen Shafer, February 10, 2011
“The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.” -Hubert Humphrey, 1977
The Boston area has been slammed by an unusually large amount of snow this winter, even by New England standards — six snowstorms in a month — but that does not stop John Mark, Judi, Mick, Robert, Scott and the dedicated volunteers of Generic Ministry in the small town Needham, Massachusetts from hitting the streets of downtown Boston every Tuesday and Wednesday night to care for those who are homeless. During a visit to my family in January, 2011, it was my privilege to ride along with this dedicated group for two nights in the midst of the some of Boston’s most extreme weather in years, and to learn a little bit about the situation for our homeless brothers and sisters in the Boston area. Although Boston provides an adequate number of shelter beds for its homeless population, there are always people in any city who are ‘shelter resistant’ — unable or unwilling to cope with going into shelters, often due to mental illness and its ramifications.
The Generic Ministry van is equipped with shelves of warm clothing organized by size and type, with hanging racks of winter-worthy coats, with bins of socks, underwear and hygiene products, and with military surplus blankets, all of which are stocked and sorted twice weekly by a ‘behind-the-scenes crew’ made up of Robert (who also coordinates all contacts), Rick, and Scott, and by Martha, who finds online deals for the toiletries. Sandwiches made by school children in Needham and adjacent towns are available, as are bottled water, juice, chips and desserts.
Street feeding is not prohibited in Boston as it currently is in Dallas, and requires no registration or permit, but I was still surprised the first night when we pulled up right on the busy street next to the sidewalk across from Boston Common and opened up the van for the distribution of food and clothing. The food giveaway is run by volunteers who themselves are formerly homeless, and they were waiting for us in front of a popular hamburger restaurant when we arrived. Immediately about thirty people came out of nowhere and formed a line behind the truck to request warm clothing, while traffic on the busy street patiently drove around us. Generic Ministry volunteer Mick filled orders for specific clothing items and sizes from inside the van. Short a worker for manning the food line, Anthony and James, who head up the formerly-homeless volunteers, put me to work distributing food from a table on the sidewalk, although we had to search for a path through the snow bank, which was about waist high. (By the time I left the area a week later, the snow banks were higher than your head!)
After everyone had been served, the remaining sandwiches, chips, desserts and bottled water were given to the formerly-homeless volunteers to distribute among people who sleep in train stations, doorways, alleyways, and on church steps throughout the city. At this point there was ample time for visiting and street counseling. The Generic Ministry volunteers have warm and mutually-respectful relationships with their street friends and seem to know them well. They hand out cards printed with information about shelters, emergency services, medical care and rehabilitation, but their service goes way beyond this. If someone is in need of transportation to a shelter or the emergency room (there are three major hospitals in the area), they will transport them in their van — or call 911 if appropriate, and they keep track of the situations and challenges of individuals from week to week.
One of the people I’ll always remember from that first night is Harry. He had brought with him a beautiful spiral bound notebook tied with ribbons, and I saw him ask John Mark for his signature. It turns out he was collecting autographs in celebration of the life of Sargent Shriver and his advocacy for those living in poverty and with disabilities. Then he pulled a twenty dollar bill from his pocket and gave it to John Mark as a donation for the ministry.
The next night, as we made the ministry’s usual stops around downtown Boston, Harry met us again at one of the locations to help out. I was sitting in the front seat of the van with the door open, and he came up to say ‘hi’. He was so cold that his teeth were chattering and he was shivering, as the temperature edged in the direction of zero for the second night in a row, but his dedication is such that he had gotten a ride from the halfway house where he lives in a small town outside of Boston to come and aid the ministry. I offered him a blanket to wrap around himself, but he laughed as he declined it — “Oh, I’m not homeless!” he said. John Mark later told me that Harry had collected clothing for his homeless brothers and sisters in the past and gotten a ride for the half-hour trip to the ministry headquarters to deliver it in person.
A highlight of the Wednesday night outing was a visit to the Pilgrim Church Homeless Shelter in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a neighborhood of Boston, where Generic Ministry delivers desserts weekly. The shelter operates without guards, metal detectors or policing of any kind, except for the self-policing done by those who stay there, despite the fact that Pilgrim Center takes in men who have been banned from other area shelters. Out of respect for those who were already bedded down for the night and those who were waiting in line to get in, I walked through quickly, but the order and calm of the shelter space — a church sanctuary with the pews removed — made a deep impression on me.
Later, outside on the snow-covered parking lot, I was introduced to the church’s pastor, The Rev. Mr. John Odams, and I asked him how the shelter works so well without guards. “We used to have a policeman on duty, but he didn’t have anything to do,” he told me. “I’m not sure why it works. Maybe it’s because it’s more an atmosphere of a home than a shelter.” A large number of those who stay at Pilgrim Shelter have aged out of foster care, not having been adopted by the age of eighteen, so the shelter is run under the direction of the United Homes Adult Services division of Children’s Services of Roxbury.
Keeping an eye on the weather, we left Dorchester and drove into downtown Boston. An emergency weather declaration had been issued for Boston that night — with the expectation of a winter gale predicted for 9 P.M. and slated to bring at least an additional eight inches of snow on top of the approximately four feet that had already fallen this winter — which means any car blocking roads or impeding snowplows can be towed by the city at the owner’s expense. As we drove around downtown, emergency vehicles were busy removing cars that had been left parked in order to make way for snow plows and sanding trucks. Despite the amount of snow that had fallen in the last several weeks, the streets of downtown were clear of snow, having been plowed and sanded aggressively in preparation for the next round that night.
The ministry know the whereabouts of a number of individuals and groups who ‘sleep rough’ in the downtown area and makes about a dozen stops on its Wednesday night rounds. In front of a downtown Seven-Eleven, we saw one of their ‘regulars’ — Sammy — sitting hunched over on a low windowsill. Judi got out to check on him, while we pulled over by a snow bank and parked the van next to the sidewalk in the valet area of an elegant-looking restaurant. I was surprised that no one asked us to move, though there were a number police cars cruising the area, as the streets were still actively being cleared of parked cars. Judi came back to the van with the message that Sammy had a leg injury and wanted to go inside somewhere for the night, so together she and John Mark helped him into the van. It had seemed at first that Sammy was willing to go into Pine Street Inn, a major Boston shelter, or to the hospital, but en route to the shelter he made the decision to go back to his camp in the back of a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority train station, so we took him there, and Judi and John Mark helped him limp inside.
Sammy had left Barbara McInnis House (which provides respite medical care for homeless men and women) against medical advice that same week, and, on our way to his camp, he and Judi discussed his plan for re-admittance. I was struck again by the nonjudgmental and respectful-yet-realistic approach that Judi took with him, acknowledging his rights as an individual to make choices — good or bad — yet encouraging in a calm and supportive way the healthy choice of rehabilitation and medical care. It is because of this non-patronizing approach that Generic Ministry — called ‘earth people’ by their homeless friends — has the trust and confidence of this extremely wary, at-risk population.
At one point we parked in a cab stand, and the cabbies waited patiently in line behind us as a small group of people lined up for clothing, blankets and sandwiches and we visited with them. A prosperous-looking man walked by and stopped to watch what we were doing. He looked at the ‘Generic Ministry’ name on the side of the van and nodded: “I like it,” he said.
As we continued our rounds, including a visit to another MBTA station encampment, I expressed my surprise that people are allowed to seek out and create their own shelter in the downtown Boston area, considering the restrictions on homeless people in Dallas and other cities and the amount of resources that many cities spend on policing to keep them off the street. Here is a conversation from a Boston Herald article which seems to sum up the city’s approach towards it homeless citizens. The article covers a high-profile homeless woman who refused to go indoors for this cold snap, saying she could handle this level of cold.
Homeless woman shuns shelter as temps turn deadly
By Christine McConville / The Pulse / Tuesday, January 25, 2011
“I’m not that cold,” she said, as she showcased her seven layers of clothing. “I can handle it.”Not possible, Boston police Superintendent in Chief Daniel Linskey told the Pulse. While police can’t force people off the streets, he said, he doubts the wisdom of testing the elements. “This cold is a different type of cold. It’s lethal. You can have negative effects just being exposed to the elements for a few minutes,” Linskey said.
This weekend, the city ordered evening shelters to remain open during the day and relaxed requirements for other, sober-only facilities. There’s the obvious threat of frostbite and hypothermia, said Dr. James O’Connell, who provides medical care for Boston’s many homeless. And in extreme weather conditions, chronic medical conditions can really tax the body, he said. “There’s nothing good about staying outside in this,” he said.
Each year in Boston, one or two people die from the extreme cold, he said, numbers kept down by active campaigns to get people into shelters….
No one can force [the woman] indoors. “It’s a tricky situation,” O’Connell said. “People have the right to live their life the way they want.”
Linskey agreed. “If someone can show us their sleeping bag and a heat source, and they are lucid and have the method and manner to survive the cold weather, we would allow them that option, if what they are doing is legal,” Linskey said. “If they’re drunk or in harm, we can put them in protective custody, but mainly, we’re just looking for them to go to the shelter.”
Yesterday, the city’s push appeared to be largely working. The Pine Street Inn was setting up extra cots to accommodate the overflow crowd, shelter spokesman Barbara Trevisan said.
O’Connell said he’s seeing some patients indoors for the first time. “There’s an elderly man in his mid 70s, and this weekend was the first time in 26 years I’ve seen him sleep in a bed, rather than a sidewalk,” he said. “With the bitter cold and all the snow, even though he struggles to be around other people, he realized it’s better to be inside.”
This article seems to represent a fundamentally different view of homeless issues and civil rights than what we are accustomed to seeing in many cities, and certainly in Dallas. Perhaps it can be classified as ‘non-criminalization’. One often hears about the ‘rights of individuals’, but this so often means that the rights of those who have financial means supersedes the rights of those who do not: property owners, business owners and organizations of those who are housed are more likely to be heard than those who are disenfranchised and have nothing.
At our last stop, a small tent camp on Boston Harbor that had been in the news because of the city’s efforts to persuade people living there to come inside during the extreme cold, Judi and John Mark delivered some supplies to the campers on foot. Then, as we began the drive home, we looked up at the Boston skyline, which was just beginning to be shrouded in a mist of snow. “It’s here,” said John Mark, of the impending snowstorm. It was making its appearance just over an hour past its predicted start time and had thankfully given us a grace period to complete our rounds. By the time we reached my family’s house about twenty minutes away, the footprints that we’d left on the driveway just a few hours earlier were completely obscured by the steadily falling snow.
Generic Ministry, Needham, Massachusetts
Pilgrim Church Homeless Shelter, Dorchester, Massachusetts
Pine Street Inn, Boston, Massachusetts
Barbara McInnis House, Boston, Massachusetts
This article appeared in the March, 2011 issue of Street Zine. http://www.thestewpot.org/sz.asp
Sunday, June 20, 2010
To Be A Great City, Must We All Look Alike?
Recently I received an e-mail from a Dallas church leader whom I greatly respect, and it contained this statement regarding people who are homeless in Dallas: “We don’t want them on our streets. We don’t want them in our neighborhoods. We can’t have it both ways.”
The debate on how and where homeless citizens will be housed has long been debated nationally, and the fight of neighborhoods to exclude homeless housing even has its own acronym: NIMBY — Not In My Backyard. This conversation in Dallas has recently become more open and heated because of a dispute between the agencies representing homeless citizens — in particular, the Dallas Housing Authority and The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center — and homeowner / business associations in North Oak Cliff, over the city’s plan to house up to one hundred homeless individuals in Cliff Manor. WhiIe painful, the discussion is also desirable, because it is leading to a higher-profile airing of the many sides of the Permanent Supportive Housing issue.
For me, it brings to mind a question that is not always asked: why do we object so vehemently to seeing poor people on our streets and in our neighborhoods, and is this objection reasonable? Is having our streets free of ‘the poor’ a desirable goal?
I am reminded of several visits I made to Paris, France, several years ago when one of my daughters studied and worked there. I found it to be the most exhilarating and beautiful place I’d ever been — architecturally stunning, and fascinating in its diversity. The thrilling, dizzying mix of all sorts of people — on the streets, in the crowded cafes, rushing into the Metro; reading, sitting, lying on the grass; running, walking, cycling; old men and kids bowling in the parks — these things make it a vigorous, animated city, and I fell for it the first time I was driven through its environs by my future son-in-law.
I especially liked walking in the evening to the Champ de Mars, the park in front of the Eiffel Tower. There I saw families picnicking, dogs chasing Frisbees, and people of every description playing games or music — even juggling fire! Those gathered at day’s end in the large open grassy space are poor and rich, dressed up and dressed simply.
When I compare life in Paris with my experiences working with homeless people in Dallas for the last six and a half years, one particular difference leaps to mind. Cities across America, including Dallas, continue to develop and implement strategies to get people who are homeless out of sight. These include passing special laws that target homeless individuals — ‘sleeping in public,’ ‘criminal trespass,’ ‘blocking the sidewalk,’ — so-called ‘Quality of Life’ ordinances for which a person in business clothing would not be ticketed but which allow police to pinpoint those who ‘look homeless’ and try to hustle them from view.
We all know how the Quality-of-Life-Ordinance story concludes: tickets that cannot be paid by homeless individuals, warrants for their arrest, jail terms which make their complicated life situation even more challenging, the filling of jails with people who are in fact generally not a social threat. This much-written-about practice of shifting the homeless from emergency services to prison to back on the street is not only the costliest way of doing business, it’s utterly inhumane, because so many of the homeless are mentally ill and do not belong in jail. So the people authorities want to get rid of haven’t gone anywhere, only now they have more obstacles to overcome in order to get their lives together. It makes no sense at all.
While we strive here to keep our homeless citizens out of public view by enforcing these laws, in Paris no one was being ticketed for lying on the grass of the park or sitting on its benches, because everybody does these things — talking, laughing, singing, sleeping. Yet, somehow that city has a spectacular ‘quality of life’ because its public life is vibrant and diverse.
I have come to realize that by trying to control the access of our least fortunate citizens to places and aspects of our common city life, we are attempting to create an environment that is homogeneous and sterile rather than one that is vital and alive. Could this be a reason why revitalization in downtown Dallas continues to lag? Is it really interesting to interact with and observe only people who are polished and look as though they just breezed in from ritzy a suburban mall?
The homeless are with us. When we don’t see them, it is only because they have been forced into hiding. We are creating a deceptive level of comfort for ourselves by forcing from view people who make us uncomfortable in their poverty.
The desire for homogeneity in communities used to manifest itself primarily in terms of skin color: Jim Crow laws, segregation. While racism is still a significant problem in our country, now it seems that we at least pay lip service to the desirability of racial diversity, and civil rights laws are in place to enforce equal rights and give access to the judicial system when they are violated. Whether you believe that racism has gone underground or has actually decreased, it’s still apparently acceptable to shun people because of their economic situation, especially when it comes to individuals who ‘look homeless.’ What is wrong with having people on the streets of our cities who may be dressed in clothing and groomed in a manner that is not ‘up to’ our middle class standards? It seems to me that successful cities are not merely hothouses designed only for the rich and well-heeled. A great city is a place where all kinds of people can live, as well as simply ‘be’ — not only people who look or dress a certain way.
Perhaps it would be a good thing if the current discussion, which began by a debate over the location of Permanent Supportive Housing for people experiencing homelessness, precipitated an identity crisis for us as a city and led us to look at ourselves both deeply and objectively. Is it possible for us to step back and re-invision the Dallas of tomorrow from a different perspective? Does our vision for ourselves really need to include having our streets free of everyone who doesn’t ‘look like us’?
Recently at Dallas City Council, two homeless women in attendance at the public meeting were asked by an advocate to stand. Outraged, a city leader said he felt ‘ambushed.’ One puzzles as to what could possibly motivate such a statement. Perhaps seeing people who are poor being called attention to in a meeting (a meeting that is in fact open to everyone) is offensive to some because it puts a human face on homelessness. When we see and come to know people who are ‘poor’ as fellow human beings, it’s no longer quite as easy to marginalize them. Once we see their humanity and recognize it as identical to our own, we may realize: it’s not ‘us and them’. These could be our neighbors and our friends.
What is the cost to us as a city when we pursue policies that exclude a certain group of people from public life? Besides the vibrancy which comes from diversity, at risk is also the greater good of the city — its moral fiber, its wholeness, its ability to address and solve hard problems such as homelessness.
I’ll bring up a point that I’ve not heard mentioned as we’re swept along in the tide of this essential and critically important battle to provide housing for 700 to 1000 long-term, street-dwelling homeless people in Dallas: there will be a few people — a few — who will not want to go into housing, even though the vast majority want very much to be housed. Therein lies a hidden danger in having as our goal city streets that are pristine in the sense of being homeless-and-beggar-free. It is important that our success in housing people does not become a further excuse to persecute those who are unable or unwilling to be housed. It is not a ‘blight’ to see people on the streets of our town who ‘look homeless’ — ie, poor — but it is truly tragic when people desperately want housing and are unable get it.
We have to be wary of having as our goal a city which is visibly free of ‘poor’ people if the impetus for that goal is the desire within ourselves to live insulated lives, free of the necessity to view the suffering of others.
As the Dallas public becomes increasingly educated through informed public dialogue about the benefits of Permanent Supportive Housing, perhaps holding in our hearts an honor for our differences can help us understand that those who have had a very different life path from our own can still be excellent neighbors.
It is not easy or simple to walk the path of reaching out to those who are down on their luck by including rather than excluding them from public life, because when we do this, we share in their pain, and we may become temporarily uncomfortable. But the upside is that our lives will be richer and more meaningful by far when we embrace our differences and realize that we are all — rich, poor, and in between — much greater and finer than we ever dreamed when we are able to work and live together.
This article appears in the July, 2010 edition of Street Zine. http://www.thestewpot.org/
Friday, June 11, 2010
Wayne Walker and ‘Our Calling’
I first met Wayne Walker a number of years ago on the parking lot of the then-city-shelter, The Day Resource Center. It was a Friday night, and, as they did every Friday night, he and his group of fellow church members were serving a delicious hot dinner to around three hundred of Dallas homeless citizens. They’d allowed me to join them to give away some gently used clothing I’d collected.
After dinner and the clothing giveaway, we all joined hands for a prayer circle, as people took turns praying aloud — for help with housing, with mental illness or addiction challenges, with family problems, or intercessory prayer for loved ones not present. Everyone seemed to feel free to pour out their hearts with unfettered honesty, because it was clear that here — among this group that went by the name ‘Our Calling’ — people who were accustomed to being judged harshly in society were accepted and loved for exactly who they were.
It surprised me, because Wayne and his group were prosperous-looking, middle-class folks, many from North Dallas, and I wasn’t accustomed to seeing this kind of unconditional love for my street friends from folks who were ‘housed.’ In the coming months, I too would pour out my heart in prayer in front of this extremely diverse group, would (to my embarrassment) begin to cry in front of them over some private heartache, and would find myself lifted up in love by many hands on my shoulders — some weathered from living outdoors and some smooth.
It didn’t take long to realize: here was Christian Love-In-Action — the way it’s ‘spozed to be’ [to borrow from the title of a book I like a lot.] All my [unjust] stereotypes of North Dallas churches were swept away. These people weren’t doing what they did for ‘flash’: during and after dinner, I’d see them sitting quietly at picnic tables on the parking lot talking caringly to people who were struggling with homelessness, treating them with an equality, lack of condescension and sense of friendship that is rare.
During these years of Friday nights on the Day Resource Center parking lot, we invited then-mayoral-candidate Tom Leppert to come and serve dinner with us, which he graciously did. I watched as Wayne took Mr. Leppert aside and asked him the ‘hard questions’ about homelessness and how he intended to help. I was impressed by Wayne’s candor.
Wayne — a happily-married father of four and a trained theologian — was at that time employed to head up the media department of Dallas Theological Seminary. As I got to know him better over weeks and years, I continued to learn more of (and be moved by) his knowledge and understanding of ‘street culture,’ the very personal relationships he had developed with people living on the streets, and his unbending compassion and advocacy for the struggles and challenges in their lives.
For as long as I’ve known him, Wayne has expressed a deep longing to help and serve full-time among the ‘poorest of the poor’ living on the streets. It is such a joy to see him doing that now and getting the recognition he deserves.
Here’s a recent clip about him and his ministry from Channel 8:
Friday, May 28, 2010
What Makes a City Great?
~~ a description of street life in 1788 Paris, France ~~
“Summer arrived, and in Paris the life of the boulevards went on as pleasantly as ever. Pleasure seekers gathered in the warm evenings to stroll along the broad walks under the huge trees, the roads were filled with carriages, the tables crowded at the outdoor cafes and gardens, where musicians played and people paused to rest and refresh themselves. A visitor from England admired the ‘cheerfulness and whimsical variety of the spectacle, the confusion of riches and poverty, hotels and hovels, pure air and stinks, people of all sorts and conditions, from the Prince of the blood to the porter.’ Ordinary Parisians put on their best silk breeches and ruffled shirts and came in groups to stroll or dine, dandies paraded on horseback, fashionably dressed women sat at the little tables surrounded by their admirers. Footmen, enjoying an evening’s liberty, sat and drank beer, old soldiers lounged and smoked, and talked of long-ago campaigns, shopwomen in their chintz gowns flirted with hairdresser’s assistants who courted them, hat in hand.”
“The buildings are very good,” the English traveler went on, “the walks delightful…” There were amusements in abundance, from plays and acrobats… magicians and rope-dancers… There were puppet shows and concerts… and dancing dogs. And there were many things to buy, cakes and fruit and flowers, prints and fans and lapdogs. Peddlers ran along the roads… jumping up on the steps of the fine painted carriages to offer their wares to the elegant ladies and gentlemen inside…. There was much political talk, and the street orators held forth on the evils of the tax burden… but for the most part the worries of the day were forgotten.”
~~ To the Scaffold, The Life of Marie Antoinette, by Carolly Erickson, p. 198
The description of 1788 Paris above reminds me very much of Paris today in terms of its lively culture, and of why I love it. It’s exhilarating and beautiful — architecturally stunning, but fascinating in its diversity as well. The thrilling, dizzying mix of all sorts of people — on the streets, in the crowded cafes, rushing into the Metro, old men and kids bowling in the parks, people reading, walking, cycling — make it a vigorous, animated city, and I fell for it the first time I was driven through it’s environs by my future son-in-law about a decade ago.
When I’ve been fortunate enough to go there, I like most to walk in the evening to the Champ de Mars, the park in front of the Eiffel Tower, in order to watch the activities there: families picnicking, dogs chasing Frisbees, people of every description playing games or music, or even juggling fire! It is LIFE — vibrant, diverse, thrilling. The people gathered at day’s end out in the large open space are poor, rich, dressed down, dressed up. And — imagine this — no one is arresting homeless folks for lying on the grass of the park because everybody lies or sits on the grass — talking, laughing, singing, sleeping. No ‘Quality of Life’ ordinances being enforced, yet, somehow — voila! — a spectacular quality of life!
One night at 1 A.M., the police blocked off the city streets to make way for over a thousand roller bladers who whizzed past the Eiffel Tower as those of us on the sidewalk whooped and yelled and clapped, cheering them on. It was a night I’ll remember always.
Begging (panhandling in our terms) is a way of life for some in Paris, and even a profession for a few. I remember my first ride on the Metro (subway). To my surprise, a father and son came through the train car asking for money. They were polite, low-key, almost matter-of-fact about begging. Many people ignored them, some people contributed, they moved on, and that was it. Not everyone likes begging, not everyone gives, but one can ignore it if one chooses.
What makes a city great?
These are the sorts of things which make a city fantastic and which draw people to it from around the world. Successful downtowns are not hothouses designed only for the rich and well-heeled. A great city is a place where all kinds of people can live, as well as just ‘be’, in open, green spaces — not just people who look or dress a certain way — EVERYONE.
The question of what makes a great city is a topic of heated debate in Dallas right now, particularly in terms of the question of where within the city to place affordable and permanent supportive housing. Generally, in downtown and in outlying neighborhoods, the attitude towards permanent supportive housing and formerly homeless individuals who might be housed there can be tagged by the acronym NIMBY (not in my backyard.)
Cities across American continue to develop and implement strategies to ‘get the homeless out of sight’, both on a daily basis and in particular for special tourist events like The Olympic Games [see a recent article on Vancouver in The Street Zine, May, 2010.] These include passing ‘special’ laws that target them — ‘sleeping in public,’ ‘criminal trespass,’ ‘blocking the sidewalk,’ as mentioned above — so-called ‘Quality of Life’ ordinances for which a person in business clothing would not be ticketed but which allow police to pinpoint those who ‘look homeless’ and try to hustle them from view.
We all know how the story concludes: tickets that cannot be paid by the homeless individual, warrants for their arrest, jail terms which make their complicated life situation even more challenging, the filling of jails with people who are in fact generally not a social threat. This much-written-about practice of shifting the homeless from emergency services to prison to back on the street is not only the costliest way of doing business, it’s utterly inhumane, because so many of the homeless are mentally ill and do not belong in jail. So the people authorities want to get rid of haven’t gone anywhere, only now they have more obstacles to overcome in order to get their lives together. It makes no sense at all.
Rethinking: Let’s Have A Productive ‘Identity Crisis’ in Dallas!
It would be wonderful if this discussion precipitated an identity crisis for us as a city and led us to look at ourselves both deeply and objectively [but I’m trying not to get my hopes up.] What if we took several steps back and reinvisioned the Dallas of tomorrow with new eyes? Does our vision really need to include having our streets free of everyone who doesn’t ‘look like us?’
The desire for homogeneity in communities used to manifest itself primarily in terms of skin color: Jim Crow laws, segregation. While racism is still a significant problem in our country, now it seems that we at least pay lip service to the desirability of racial diversity, and civil rights laws are in place to enforce equal rights and give access to the judicial system when they are violated. Whether you believe that racism has gone underground or has actually decreased to some extent (I think it’s both), it’s still apparently acceptable to shun people in terms of their economic situation, especially when it comes to individuals who ‘look homeless.’ What is wrong with having people on the streets of our cities who may be dressed in clothing and groomed in a manner that is not ‘up to’ our middle class standards?
Take a look at the debate over where the EVERgreen Residences, a beautifully-designed permanent supportive housing project put forward by First Presbyterian Church Dallas and The Stewpot, will/ will not be built and the at-times rabid opposition by the Expo Park / Deep Ellum business owners and residents. When providing people access to safe, clean, well-designed permanent supportive housing is supposed give way to the ‘artistic ecosystem’ that is said by residents to be developing in an area where bars and entertainment are a large part of the social scene, maybe it’s time to seriously reconsider our priorities and the power that affluent neighborhood associations have to scuttle much-needed projects in Dallas.
Small groups with large opinions should be a part of policy making, but they should not be allowed to dominate it. When they do, nobody wins — except the influential neighborhood groups in the short run, and perhaps the particular council person in the area in the next election. What is lost is the greater good of the city, its moral fiber, its wholeness, its ability to address and solve hard problems such as homelessness. So far in Dallas, in terms of housing, we have valiant efforts being undercut for the most part by powerful, affluent localized forces — a stalemate.
Where is bold, morally courageous, visionary leadership at the city government level? If it’s going to show up, this would be a good time. We have a lot of homeless and working people to house. And housing is the only way we’re ever really going to get them off the street.
A recommended read by Jim Schutze in The Dallas Observer: “City Hall’s Desire For A Fancy Downtown (Without Too Many Poor People) Costs Developers $30 Million”
This from the comments: * JimS 05/08/2010 9:53:44 AM • There is an important element in this story which I neglected to get into my column or the subsequent blog item. The decision by Lockey and Mackenzie to obey the HUD rules and provide the amount of affordable housing called for in HUD’s national guideline was in good part a market decision. They told me they looked at what had been built already downtown and saw way more high-end capacity than the market wanted to absorb. They were well aware of the weaknesses in several of the completed projects and could see, for example, that Prudential would foreclose on the Mosaic, as in fact it did this week. They said to me, Why provide more chocolate cake when the market already has more chocolate cake than it can eat? So they saw a project that was more than half affordable as a good market play – something that would rent up quickly instead of going belly up. I get the impression both of them also are people who think working people and young people are good for downtowns. And think about it. If you went to the quarter in New Orleans and all of a sudden it looked like Snyder Plaza in Highland Park, would you go back? Downtown Dallas is frozen and sterile because the people running it are afraid of anybody who isn’t rich. It would help if they were white, too. But that’s a suburb. Actually even our suburbs are more diverse than what has been created downtown. What we really see is an attempt at a replication of the Park Cities, where most of the decision-makers probably live. It’s their idea of cool. But they’re not cool. And they’re also not moving into it. To work for them, downtown Dallas would have to be Carmel. Which would suck. Anyway, I see a lot of comment here about listening to market forces. I think MacKenzie and Lockey would agree. They listened. The market forces said, More affordable. And City hall said, You’re toast.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Cold Weather Policy and Our Homeless Neighbors
Driving around downtown in the cold weather in the days preceding the Big Snow in Dallas, I began pondering our city’s Cold Weather Policy for our neighbors who are living on the street. I had recently learned during the monthly Homeless Advocacy Meeting at The Stewpot that a January, 2010 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless points to 40 degrees F as the temperature recommended for activation of Cold Weather Policy nationwide.
The City of Dallas currently has a policy of 32 degrees — freezing — for such activation: putting shelters on overflow and opening enough emergency shelters to give everyone a bed.
I was happy to learn this week from Dennis Strickland, Lead Case Worker at The Bridge, that staff there has implemented a policy closer to the NCH recommendation: 37 degrees, or a wind chill of 37 degrees. They also now allow ‘self-referral’ of guests after 10 PM during cold weather. There was at least one night during the Big Snow that the gates of The Bridge were not closed for re-entry at 10 P.M., which means there was an open campus. Homeless guests are allowed to sit up in the Welcome Center all night, and, if necessary after referrals and pick up from other shelters, the dining room can be opened for sleeping after getting in extra staff.
These are important and significant improvements over last winter and show an ongoing commitment to accommodate our friends on the street and keep them safe from injury and hypothermia. The Bridge staff seem to be coping as best they can within the limits of their space availability.
I would love the see the city as a whole move toward adopting all of the recommendations in the NCH report. The entire report is worth a read. Here are some highlights that struck me as particularly pertinent. It is of particular concern that, although ours is far from the most harsh climate in the United States, it is in fact the most dangerous for people living outdoors.
the most dangerous cases of hypothermia do not occur when the ambient temperature is far below freezing. Instead, Dr. O’Connell says, the worst cases they see arise when the days are warm (between 40F and 50F) and the nighttime temperature drops to the mid-30’s.
Temperature cut-offs should be avoided, since the effectiveness of a shelter is decreased when the population it serves does not know, from night to night, whether the shelter will be open. If a temperature cut-off is necessary, due to financial or other reasons, the cut-off should be at least 40F in order to prevent the most dangerous cases of hypothermia, according to Dr. O’Connell.
An exemplary winter shelter would be open 24 hours each day between October 1 and April 30, regardless of temperature, as well as any other days during the year when the temperature falls below 40F. It would also admit all homeless people, regardless of sobriety status or past bans, unless they are violent or causing an extreme disturbance.
It is also important to note that a consistent, across-the-board policy throughout a set number of months and all shelters builds trust between the homeless population and the service providers attempting to help them and indeed to keep them alive.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Comfort and Community
There’s both a reality and a myth, it would seem, that some people experiencing homelessness would choose to stay on the street even if they were offered shelter. I’ve been one of those among many who has said in the past, ‘I don’t know anyone who would rather be on the street than indoors.’
Yet look at this video from Channel 11 during last week’s bitter cold snap:
When I saw in the Dallas Morning News on January 6 stating that city officials were launching Operation Code Blue to try to get people indoors for the bitterly cold weather that was upon us, I felt both hopeful and cynical: we’ve been through these ‘Operations’ more than once, and what that has sometimes meant for ‘homeless’ people walking around downtown has been offering them the limited options of shelter, mental health facilities or getting a citation. At the camps, it’s generally meant ticketing and as well as confiscating the temporary homes and belongings of those living there — even as recently as a few weeks ago.
I’ve often wondered, is the theory of the these city policies that if you take misery and add to it a greater portion of misery, the sum of the misery will encourage people to make a change? I’m not sure if that accurately elucidates the philosophy, but I know it doesn’t work, as has been proven time and again both in Dallas and across the world. People have to be ready to move out of their situation, and their options have to be manageable.
I won’t attempt to explain the complexities of why someone would turn down shelter on a night in Dallas when the temperatures sink into the teens, because I don’t fully understand them. For certain, in past winters, I’ve known many people experiencing homelessness who have sought refuge in Dallas shelters and the homeless assistance center and been turned away for lack of space — even when the shelters have expanded their hours (beyond a 4 P.M. cutoff to secure a space) and lifted their space limitations to accommodate more people for cold weather policies. Certainly a number of people living outdoors have increasingly lost faith in the system that provides shelter. Yet I got an additional insight into their perspective last Thursday afternoon when I drove to one of the camps with one of my adult daughters to see how people were faring in the bitter cold.
We pulled up in my car and spoke to one of the camp leaders, whom I know.*
I introduced him to my daughter and asked, ‘So the city’s been here trying to get you all to go into shelters? How did that go?’
‘Did you see us on television?’ he asked. ‘We didn’t want to go.’
I said I hadn’t seen the television coverage. ‘Is the city strong-arming you?’ I asked him, and, to my surprise and relief, he said, ‘No.’
Then he surveyed the immediate landscape of surprisingly tidy cardboard homes and belongings stored in plastic bags along the sidewalk under a freeway overpass, and he swept his hand in an arc over what was around us. And a look of tenderness that took me aback passed over the face of this tough man.
‘This is our safety,’ he told my daughter and me. ‘This is our shelter.’ There was pride in his voice.
And in that moment, I understood something that I haven’t quite fully gotten in my six years of visiting the camps from time to time. Whatever camp life looks like to the rest of us — and, in this weather, it looks pretty grim — it represents life, community, survival and independence to the people who live there. It may not seem like much compared to the comforts of a warm place to sleep, and yet…
After all, independence and self-sufficiency are two of the premier American — and democratic — values, are they not?
I believe that, until we understand this sense of and desire for community, operating alongside autonomy, which every human being needs and values above many other things (apparently including comfort and convenience), we will have great difficulty in resolving the issue of long-term street-dwelling homelessness.
*[Ironically, this is the same man whose Bible and birth certificate were confiscated by the city in a sweep which I wrote about in this blog post. This is a perfect example of the counterproductivity of the sweeps, as, at the time of this post, he was very motivated and going through the process of getting off the street, yet he’s still out there.]
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Written December 2, 2009
“Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.”
~~ Matthew 5:42
My friend, Gabriela, who owns a lovely cafe in my neighborhood, has a streamlined method of communicating with me about clothing she collects for our neighbors experiencing homelessness downtown, because she’s done this kind deed so often. Her e-mail says simply: “Hey there, I have some male and female clothing items – shall i take them to your house? pls advise.” They appear at my house shortly, and I put them in the trunk of my car.
Shopping at Target tonight, I walk out into a cold rain, and an impulse tells me that this is the night. Moving the clothes — two large bags — from my trunk into my front seat, I head to a place where I know people are sleeping outdoors under cardboard.
On my way, I drive through downtown, and the streets are whistle-clean of humans. That means every single person without a home has a bed tonight, doesn’t it? All six (or is it ten?) thousand of them? Or have they somehow magically been swept away?
I say the streets are clear of human beings, but on a St. Paul Street corner, I pass woman with a small child knocking on the door at Family Gateway. Since it is cold, dark and almost bedtime, I stop my car beside them. ‘Do you have a place inside the Center already reserved?’ I ask the young mother. ‘Yes, I have a room. I go to school at night. We just can’t get anybody to come to the door. We’ve been here quite a while.’ ‘Let me call someone,’ I tell her. ‘If you can’t get in, I’ll take you somewhere.’ I call my friend, Clare — who knows everything about helping people — to get a phone number for Crisis Intervention, realize I already have one, and just then, inside the glass door of the Center, a woman holding an infant opens the door for the mother and her little boy. Thank God for the place. Thank God when things work.
I drive to the encampment — a small gathering of cardboard-box houses — pull up and stop the car. I haven’t been here for a while — the camp looks very sparse: streamlined, as though it’s been cut down to its barest bare essentials. It’s quite dark — not a spark of a campfire on this cold wet night. I roll down my passenger window and ask the first woman who approaches if H. is there, a man whom I know I can trust. She says, ‘I’m Samarah. First I want to pray with you.’
I start to get out, but she says, ‘Just stay in the car,’ and takes my hand through the window, across the seat. She talks for a while, then asks for prayers about her alcoholism. I offer her some clothes. ‘Na, I’m all right,’ she says.
A second woman says, ‘I’m ___’s wife — I just got out of TDC.’ (Texas Department of Corrections) She shows me her nametag, as though I won’t believe her, and says ‘I don’t have anything. Do you have hygiene stuff or underwear?’ Yes, in one of the bags, I say, and wonder, not for the first time: what can be gained by releasing women from prison with absolutely nothing? Maybe we feel their lives need to be as streamlined as possible when they’re starting over.
H. walks up. He looks thinner, is in his sock feet. I greet him, embrace him, and hand him the bags of clothes. ‘You’ll share them out, right?’ I say to him, but he’s already ducking back inside their cardboard house with them in tow.
The wife looks into my car and asks, ‘What else do you have?’ I hand her some whole wheat bagels from my Target shopping. H. comes back out and I give him a bag of Christmas M&M Peanuts I got at Target. Now, THIS ONE THING feels sacrificial! Everything else is easy, but giving away my Christmas M&M Peanuts, a generous handful of which I was planning to eat in the car… that’s the TRUE measure of my love! Ah, well, maybe without them I’ll be more… streamlined.
Samarah introduces me to her boyfriend. In a streamlined repetition of a conversation we’ve had a number of times over years, I ask H.: ‘Has the City been here?’ ‘A few days ago,’ he replies briefly, ‘Wiped us out.’
I. Somehow. Don’t. Feel. That. Much. Because. Things. Don’t. Change. Do. They. Just. Numb. Can. I. Not. Work. Up. Any. Outrage?
My emotions seem to have become streamlined, too.
Then, later, reading at bedtime, I am visited by an at-first-unnamed sadness. Reflexively I think, ‘What’s wrong with me? Everything’s fine.’ But soon I realize the sorrow is a familiar one and has been there all night — it was just hiding, tucked down inside me, the same way I’m tucked into my cozy bed with my book, down comforter and quilt. I know then that I’m being visited there in my room by that ragged and rugged band of individuals who cling to a cold, hard, windswept stretch of sidewalk somewhere in Dallas, squeezed down to the barest minimum of space between a chain-link fence and a gutter — and who struggle to hold on to the LIFE and to the COMMUNITY they’ve created there.
We may not like their lives, the way they look, or how they conduct themselves. But.
IF we are going to raid and raid and raid and raid and attempt to shut down the camps, THEN we need to be able to offer Housing First in a form that their inhabitants can deal with.
I. Guess. I’ll. Just. Keep. Saying. It.
View Kim Horner’s latest Dallas Morning News article on housing for homeless individuals (one in an occasional series) here:
Friday, December 4, 2009
Dallas International Street Church Celebrates It’s Twelfth Anniversary
Last evening, the Dallas International Street Church and Ministries celebrated it’s Twelfth Anniversary, and the event at the church at 2706 Second Avenue was great fun, quite moving and extremely inspiring. Founder and Senior Pastor Karen Dudley got the ‘call’ twelve years ago to minister to her sisters and brothers who are living on the street — truly out of options — and she has, from then to now, answered that call with a love, persistence and dedication few could emulate.
The music, as always at the DISC, was of the ‘make-you-wanna-get-up,-dance-and-shout-hallelujah’ variety. You can’t not clap and sing along, and, if you’re not careful, you’ll soon find yourself on your feet, even if it is a formal do, like last night. My favorite entertainment was the Praise Dance, reminiscent of Martha Graham done with great reverence.
Needless to say, the most moving part of the night was the series of stories and testimonies from the church Discipleship relating how Pastor Karen’s love and faith have helped them to relinquish the darkness in which they were living and to begin walking a clean, clear path of faith and action in Christ. The stories are stunning. One of the women began her testimony with the words: “My background is in prostitution and crack addiction.” When she described how Pastor Karen once walked into a local drug house to get her and said, “You’re coming with me,” I doubt there was a dry eye in the room.
City Councilperson Carolyn Davis attended the party, and she seemed moved by what she learned of the Street Ministry. In her speech, she said, “When I’ve driven by this building in the past, I’ve had no idea of all that was going on here. I’m committed to helping you in any way I can. This is what church should be: helping the poor and needy among us.”
I don’t know how Pastor Karen does it, but she seems to go forward on the rocky and extremely challenging path she’s chosen with a humility and lack of ego that are rare in the nonprofit world. But, if you ask her, she’ll brush aside the question with the quick answer, “It’s not me doing it.”
The event was organized by Pastor Karen, the church Discipleship, and church Business Manager Judith Sturrock, and they all did a superb job. We had delicious barbecue dinner and a wonderful time, and, as always when I show up at the DISC, I took away with me a peace and a joy which pass all understanding.
To read about a recent experience Dr. Janet Morrison (Central Dallas Ministries Director of Education) had at the Dallas International Street Church, click here:
Saturday, November 21, 2009
As you may know, the stereotype of the adult Trust Baby who lives on the street by choice because he or she doesn’t want to obey society’s rules is, if not a downright myth, then at least a rare exception among those experiencing street-dwelling homelessness, particularly on a long-term basis. At a Homeless Advocacy Meeting I attended this week at The Stewpot, as I looked around the room, I asked myself, as I often do: “What is the profile of a person who is homeless?” My answer, after years of pondering the question, is that there is no profile. As with the ‘housed,’ each person’s story is unique. However, I have observed that a history of family poverty and an interruption in the process of formal education seem to be a common themes among many individuals experiencing so-called ‘chronic’ homelessness that I’ve come to know over the past six years.
So, when I hear someone offering solutions to problems of poverty, disease and a lack of education on a global scale, and offering them in a clear-headed and practical way, I tend to listen. That happened last week when I caught an interview with Melinda Gates on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS (KERA.)
It was later than I like to be awake, but I couldn’t quit watching and was riveted to the interchange within the first couple of minutes, because I saw in Melinda a passion and conviction which I’ve come to recognize in those who are committed to positive action on a deep level. A statement she made — “That mother in Africa whose child is dying of malaria cares just as much about her child as I care about mine” — shows me: she’s been ‘on the ground,’ engaged in frequent and genuine contact with people who are suffering. For her, it’s no longer ‘us and them.’
What struck me first of all was her manner. When asked a question, one could tell she had so much information to give in reply that she had to hold back some of it in order to respond to the question within the timeframe allotted. That kind of interest and accumulation — not to mention synthesis — of data, comes only from a deep and impassioned curiosity.
A few things stood out from the interview.
~~ She said that the money she and Bill have put into the The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (many billions) was a drop in the bucket towards solving the problems they address. In particular, she mentioned the goal of the complete eradication of certain diseases from the planet — malaria, polio, smallpox, HIV-AIDS — and the improvement of public education. It was Warren Buffet’s donation of tens of billions more that allowed the Foundation to ‘go much deeper’, in her words, in addressing these problems.
~~ She could answer the hard questions, but never in a contentious and divisive way. When asked about the diversion of aid funds by corrupt governments in the developing world, she answered, with practicality but without blame, that she and Bill had learned that the work was best and most successfully carried out in certain countries where they could work well with accountable governments — in other words, tried and true solutions based on experience.
~~ The solutions to large, global problems lie, not in one segment of society alone, but rather only in partnerships between private philanthropy, government funding and cooperation, and faith-based organizations. That’s why, when I hear opinions put forth with monolithic solutions — and most often government participation as an evil is mentioned — I realize that these comments are based in ideology rather than in reality. The massive problems of hunger, homelessness, poverty, and global disease are indeed only amenable to large-scale partnering.
~~ The Gates Foundation sticks with it. They’ve been working on public education for a decade and are just now coming up with really workable answers to the question of what can make it succeed. At first they tried organizing smaller communities within the larger ones so that troubled kids could feel a sense of connection, but what they’ve learned over time is that the really important variable is — guess what? the particular adult individual teacher within the classroom. (How does that make you feel about the Dallas Independent School District laying off experienced, gifted teacher during its budget problems?) So now, they are trying to quantify exactly what are the characteristics of successful teachers, so that those can be taught and mentored to others. They are doing this through transparency in teaching methods and outcomes in pilot programs a couple of states — so that success can be shared, passed along, and hopefully instituted across the country.
~~ Something I observed in her manner was a presence of deep caring coupled with a lack of sentimentality. It may sound strange, but, as I’ve learned myself — sometimes the hard way — sentimentality about an issue can sometimes cloud its reality, and I believe its takes away from the dignity of those experiencing the problem. There is a fine line between these two, shall we call them ‘values?’ — compassion and sentimentality. But it’s probably an important line to learn to identify, in order to keep ourselves from enabling on the one hand and becoming cynical on the other.
Regardless of our situations, we are all human beings made of the same flesh and blood as well as emotional and spiritual components, and we are in this together. Not only is ‘right action’ a moral imperative, it is the correct practical option to try and solve these problems that plague our world.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: All Lives Have Equal Value
The Living Proof Project
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
A Night to Remember: Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers
An Evening of Bluegrass and Banjo Benefitting Central Dallas Ministries
One of my daughters and I attended the above concert at the Meyerson Symphony Center last evening, and we had a great time. The hall was sold out, and the concert was not only fun, the music was terrific. Of course, Steve Martin told his share of funny jokes and played a masterful banjo, and the Steep Canyon Rangers are excellent musicians and vocalists. A fine concert supporting an extremely worthy organization.
After the concert, my daughter and I were talking to the fiddle player, and I was telling him that Bluegrass music is close to my heart, since I’m from Tennessee. “Eastern Tennessee?” he asked. “Oh, yeh!” I said. “Our band lives in Asheville,” he told us. We high-fived. “You know,” he said, “East Tennessee and Western North Carolina are a separate state unto themselves.” “Yes,” I said, “no more beautiful place on earth.” “Absolutely,” he replied, “a well-kept secret.” A band after my own heart.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Solutions: ‘The Soloist’ and Housing First
Please take a moment to read these critically important quotes regarding the Housing First concept as a solution to long-term homelessness, from Casey Horan, Executive Director — LAMP (Los Angeles Men’s Project), in an interview from the movie, The Soloist:
“LAMP is a non profit, and we’re based in Los Angeles, and we exclusively serve men and women who are long-term homeless — often they’ve been living on the streets for three, five, ten, even twenty years — and also have a severe mental illness.
What we do is we quite literally just move people immediately from streets to real homes — an apartment of their own — and we do that with no strings or no barriers or no intermediary steps. And then what follows is what keeps people housed and healthy. So we then provide them with customized services right there where they live and in the community. And that might mean helping them set up the apartment and get a phone connected and reconnect with family; mental and physical healthcare; drug recovery services; job placement services; and on and on.”
“It costs just $16,000 a person a year to provide an apartment and social and clinical services. It costs much more — about $100,000 a year — if we leave people on the streets as they cycle through the public health system and jail. And, unfortunately, as they cycle through, they always land back on the sidewalk, and there’s been no resolution to their long-term homelessness and no improvement to their health.
We can end street-dwelling homelessness in about two years with the right investment, and, in the short run, it will actually save taxpayer money.”
“When we hand over that set of keys [to an apartment], you know, I wish that others could see… what happens. It’s close to a miracle…. people that haven’t had housing in their entire adult life… and they are off the streets, and they have a bathroom and a telephone and a studio apartment, and it really is the first step for them to transforming their lives.”
~~ Casey Horan, Executive Director — LAMP (Los Angeles Men’s Project)
From the DVD of The Soloist: Special Features, “One Size Does Not Fit All: Addressing Homelessness in Los Angeles”
Monday, February 16, 2009
While Dallas city officials have been busy this winter enforcing ‘quality of life’ ordinances by ticketing and arresting homeless citizens during the bitterest cold weather, other cities have found more humane solutions to the question of “Where will homeless people be during cold weather?”
Here are some links from various cities around the United States which have employed the use of ‘warming stations’ and ‘hypothermia vans’ to help those without homes get out of the cold:
Charlotte, North Carolina
“Warming shelters open for the homeless”
“Charlotte leaders activating emergency homeless shelters due to the anticipated cold”
Las Vegas, Nevada
“Warming stations for homeless opened”
“As cold hits, city makes sure homeless OK”
“City of Middletown says warming station in church breaks zoning laws”
“Warming Stations Open For Homeless”
Rochester, New York
“Poor People United, Emergency Warming Station kicks off!”
“Volunteers needed tonight for warming centers”
San Luis Obispo, California
“Prado Day Center offers SLO’s homeless a second shelter from cold”
“Riding cold: Hypothermia van rescues homeless from frigid nights”
“Cold has agencies helping the homeless”
“Winter blast leaves 17 dead”
I am beginning to wonder: are we going to be able to get it right here in Dallas?
Remember, we have less than 2000 shelter beds for around 6000 homeless individuals. Let’s spend some of the money we have spent on policing this winter on warming stations (other than the jail) and hypothermia vans.