Sunday, August 7, 2011
Dallas Area Cooling Centers
From The Stewpot blog:
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Dallas Area Cooling Centers
From The Stewpot blog:
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Situations like this may be the thing that gives Dallas its sterling reputation nationwide.
Ignorance & Bigotry: 10 / Tolerance & Compassion: 0
Homeless man upset at being called a ‘bum’ by council member Hunt on Twitter
By KIM HORNER
Published 08 July 2011 11:24 PM, Dallas Morning News
A homeless man who was photographed downtown and called a ‘bum’ in a recent tweet by Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt spoke out on Friday, saying that he has been demoralized by the incident.
‘I’m not a bum,’ said Julian Arredondo, 72, whose photograph appeared on the Internet, in the newspaper and on television news this week after Hunt expressed her frustration with the presence of homeless people at the Main Street Garden.
‘I don’t steal from nobody. I don’t bother nobody,’ Arredondo said.
The council member, who posted the photo link on Twitter last Saturday, raised concerns about camping, loitering and a ‘threatening environment’ at the downtown park. One of her tweets read: ‘I’m tired of bums in Main St. Garden. Counted 12-many sleeping. Where is DPD’ Where is Bridge”
Hunt said in interviews this week that she wanted the city to address how to encourage homeless people to use shelters and services. She could not be reached for comment Friday.
City Manager Mary Suhm said this week that police have received other complaints about the homeless at the park and that the city is working to address those issues.
Arredondo said he only visits the public park to sit on a bench or buy a sandwich at the cafe. At night, he sleeps on a mat in the unair-conditioned pavilion at The Bridge, Dallas’ homeless assistance center. The former construction worker said he cannot afford an apartment on his roughly $10,000 annual retirement income.
The great-grandfather also has a felony conviction, which makes it especially difficult to find housing. He became homeless for the first time in his life a year ago after serving two years in prison for assault with a deadly weapon. A Dallas police report from the March 2008 incident states that the victim was stabbed with a pocket knife. Arredondo said he was defending himself during a robbery.
The self-described ‘loner’ regularly meets with caseworkers at The Bridge and The Stewpot, hoping to find a place to live one day.
Arredondo said he was at the Main Street Garden last weekend when a man asked if he could take his photo but would not explain why. Arredondo said he was surprised later when others at The Bridge told him they saw him on the news.
‘They said, ‘Hey, you’re a movie star. You’re on TV,” he said.
Arredondo, who never learned to read after leaving elementary school to support his family by picking cotton and other crops, asked someone to read the news article to him. He says he feels ‘slandered.’
‘I can’t go nowhere. They say, ‘There he is,” he said, adding that he has not returned to the park.
Trina Taylor, a caseworker at The Stewpot, said she has been helping Arredondo rebuild his life for a year. She said that Arredondo does not panhandle, get into trouble, do drugs or drink.
‘Anything we’ve asked for, he’s done,’ Taylor said. ‘He’s a good guy.’
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 :
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Last night I realized that this is the first year in many that I haven’t given away my winter coat, hat and gloves to someone living on the street. However, lest this admission be seen as my attempt to cast myself as St. Karen for past impulsive generosity — the same sort of thing I’ve often seen other advocates do — I’ll quickly add that this year’s new self-care feels good. I ordered a good wool coat from a catalog in early fall and am wearing it right now — indoors, sitting in a cafe. And I fully intend to keep it with me until spring.
However, if I were inclined to drive around in downtown Dallas, as I’ve done for the past seven winters, and look for people who are out on the street and in need of warm clothing in order to give them something to wear or a blanket, I’d be hard put to find them. The streets of our fair city are pristine these days late at night — free from those in need or want and, for that matter, of everyone else.
Last week I attended a lecture near downtown that ended around 10 P.M., so I drove through the central business district afterward — past The Stewpot, past The Bridge, past Austin Street Shelter. It was cold, but not bitter, so there was no one waiting on the sidewalk outside The Bridge for ‘overflow’ to go into effect due to cold weather policy, and I saw only two people, walking quickly, on the streets. At Austin Street last winter in my ’rounds’, I always found between five and twenty people sleeping either on the sidewalk or in the parking lots adjacent to the shelter. But this year all of those areas are fenced in, and there was nary a backpack, sleeping bag or plastic-grocery-sack suitcase to be found.
I’d like to think this is a result of the unstinting efforts of homeless service providers and advocates to solve the problem of homelessness in Dallas — that we are a glistening city, a beacon on a hill, because there are no longer any homeless people in the downtown area. But, as the newly-strengthened panhandling ordinances passed by the Dallas City Council show us, we are still, in Dallas, extremely concerned about the appearance of things, and I think the empty streets are much more likely to be a result of policing. Our unhoused brothers and sisters are still with us. They just don’t dare show themselves on the streets of downtown at night.
I’ve written about this in the past, so I won’t repeat my thoughts here.
But, like many others, I’m concerned that the creation of new ‘solicitation-free zones’ in the expanded ordinance has at its heart a deeper purpose than the desire to protect the middle class and the tourist who are visiting downtown from aggressive and ‘vewy scawey’ panhandling homeless people, and I worry about its application in practice.
Here’s a quote from the Dallas Morning News article above:
“Bradley Kizzia, an attorney for Groden, said he is concerned the ordinance is written so broadly that the city could use it to crack down anytime on people like his client.
Groden was arrested in June for selling conspiracy theory merchandise in Dealey Plaza without authorization. He has sued the city, arguing his free speech rights were infringed.
“Nowhere in the [amended ordinance] does it even mention begging or panhandling. Rather, the ordinance is specifically aimed at ‘solicitation,’ which is broadly defined. I’m suspicious of the city’s intent and how the Dallas Police Department will be asked to apply the ordinance,” Kizzia wrote in a recent e-mail.
Kizzia said the ordinance appears to be tied to the Super Bowl and could be used to round up any number of people the city doesn’t want on the streets.
“The language of the ordinance’s prohibition on ‘solicitation’ is not aimed only at aggressive, coercive, or threatening conduct. Watch it be used against the likes of street musicians in the West End (who leave open their instrument cases for tips) and street preachers who accept donations,” he wrote.
First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers said the ordinance is targeted to panhandlers who work the streets for handouts.”
How will such a broadly written ordinance be interpreted by city officials, and how will it play out to those trying to survive on the streets? It remains to be seen.
I can’t help feeling, as I reflect on the last seven years during which homelessness in Dallas has been an issue to which I’ve paid attention: we just don’t get it in Dallas, and we never will.
Monday, September 20, 2010
The Stewpot ‘In House’ Art Sale Is This Saturday!
You are invited to attend The Stewpot “In House” September Art Sale on Saturday, September 25th, 3 pm – 8 pm in the 2nd Floor Gallery at The Stewpot.
This is a unique opportunity to view and purchase our homeless and at-risk friends artistic creations including acrylic paintings, water colors, oil pastels, mixed media works, jewelry, ceramics and more.
Most of the work will be on sale, with a portion of the work priced between 50% and 90% off!
90% of each sale goes to the artist with 10% going to buy more art supplies.
The “In House” September Art Sale will be at The Stewpot, 1822 Young Street, Dallas, TX 75201, across the street from 1st Presbyterian Church Dallas. Free parking provided.
Questions about the Sale or the Art Program? Please contact Stewpot Art Program Director Cynthia Brannum, firstname.lastname@example.org, 214-746-2785, ext. 235.
Director of Volunteer Services
The Stewpot & Second Chance Cafe
– a community ministries program of 1st Presbyterians Church Dallas
214-746-2785, ext. 320
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, 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.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
As you may know, the stereotype of the adult Trust Baby who lives on the street by choice because he or she doesn’t want to obey society’s rules is, if not a downright myth, then at least a rare exception among those experiencing street-dwelling homelessness, particularly on a long-term basis. At a Homeless Advocacy Meeting I attended this week at The Stewpot, as I looked around the room, I asked myself, as I often do: “What is the profile of a person who is homeless?” My answer, after years of pondering the question, is that there is no profile. As with the ‘housed,’ each person’s story is unique. However, I have observed that a history of family poverty and an interruption in the process of formal education seem to be a common themes among many individuals experiencing so-called ‘chronic’ homelessness that I’ve come to know over the past six years.
So, when I hear someone offering solutions to problems of poverty, disease and a lack of education on a global scale, and offering them in a clear-headed and practical way, I tend to listen. That happened last week when I caught an interview with Melinda Gates on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS (KERA.)
It was later than I like to be awake, but I couldn’t quit watching and was riveted to the interchange within the first couple of minutes, because I saw in Melinda a passion and conviction which I’ve come to recognize in those who are committed to positive action on a deep level. A statement she made — “That mother in Africa whose child is dying of malaria cares just as much about her child as I care about mine” — shows me: she’s been ‘on the ground,’ engaged in frequent and genuine contact with people who are suffering. For her, it’s no longer ‘us and them.’
What struck me first of all was her manner. When asked a question, one could tell she had so much information to give in reply that she had to hold back some of it in order to respond to the question within the timeframe allotted. That kind of interest and accumulation — not to mention synthesis — of data, comes only from a deep and impassioned curiosity.
A few things stood out from the interview.
~~ She said that the money she and Bill have put into the The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (many billions) was a drop in the bucket towards solving the problems they address. In particular, she mentioned the goal of the complete eradication of certain diseases from the planet — malaria, polio, smallpox, HIV-AIDS — and the improvement of public education. It was Warren Buffet’s donation of tens of billions more that allowed the Foundation to ‘go much deeper’, in her words, in addressing these problems.
~~ She could answer the hard questions, but never in a contentious and divisive way. When asked about the diversion of aid funds by corrupt governments in the developing world, she answered, with practicality but without blame, that she and Bill had learned that the work was best and most successfully carried out in certain countries where they could work well with accountable governments — in other words, tried and true solutions based on experience.
~~ The solutions to large, global problems lie, not in one segment of society alone, but rather only in partnerships between private philanthropy, government funding and cooperation, and faith-based organizations. That’s why, when I hear opinions put forth with monolithic solutions — and most often government participation as an evil is mentioned — I realize that these comments are based in ideology rather than in reality. The massive problems of hunger, homelessness, poverty, and global disease are indeed only amenable to large-scale partnering.
~~ The Gates Foundation sticks with it. They’ve been working on public education for a decade and are just now coming up with really workable answers to the question of what can make it succeed. At first they tried organizing smaller communities within the larger ones so that troubled kids could feel a sense of connection, but what they’ve learned over time is that the really important variable is — guess what? the particular adult individual teacher within the classroom. (How does that make you feel about the Dallas Independent School District laying off experienced, gifted teacher during its budget problems?) So now, they are trying to quantify exactly what are the characteristics of successful teachers, so that those can be taught and mentored to others. They are doing this through transparency in teaching methods and outcomes in pilot programs a couple of states — so that success can be shared, passed along, and hopefully instituted across the country.
~~ Something I observed in her manner was a presence of deep caring coupled with a lack of sentimentality. It may sound strange, but, as I’ve learned myself — sometimes the hard way — sentimentality about an issue can sometimes cloud its reality, and I believe its takes away from the dignity of those experiencing the problem. There is a fine line between these two, shall we call them ‘values?’ — compassion and sentimentality. But it’s probably an important line to learn to identify, in order to keep ourselves from enabling on the one hand and becoming cynical on the other.
Regardless of our situations, we are all human beings made of the same flesh and blood as well as emotional and spiritual components, and we are in this together. Not only is ‘right action’ a moral imperative, it is the correct practical option to try and solve these problems that plague our world.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: All Lives Have Equal Value
The Living Proof Project
Saturday, November 14, 2009
With winter upon us, it’s a good time to reflect upon the extremes of need that will exist this year for those who are not yet housed and are living on the street. I found this entry in my journal from the end of last summer, when I still volunteered at the Second Chance Cafe, run by The Stewpot at the Bridge, and thought I would share it. KS
Journal Archives, Friday, August 16, 2008
Sometimes the amount of need among people who are experiencing homeless in Dallas — even with the welcome advent of the Bridge, our new homeless assistance center — seems overwhelming. This was one of those nights. The enormity of the problems of the people involved, the monumental scope of the pain in their lives, the scarcity of readily available solutions, such as adequate housing: these things were at the forefront of my mind tonight as I left the Second Chance Cafe at the Bridge after helping to serve dinner to somewhere between seven hundred and eight hundred people.
Of course, this evening’s bright spot was, as it always is, looking into the eyes of people as they came through the food line. Always, but even more so tonight, the eyes of the guests meeting mine as they came through the line — almost without exception — were full of light, respect and dignity, longing for acceptance, willingness to respond with love to the smallest kindness — so much more so than I would ever be able to be in their circumstances. They almost always say ‘Very Blessed,’ or at the least ‘Can’t complain,’ when asked how they are doing. The other great blessings are the other volunteers, who show up every week, and the Stewpot staff, which shows up every day.
I find that if I just hand somebody a plate in the food line at the Bridge, they may be looking down, preoccupied or frowning, and go on their way with a ‘thank you,’ but without ever looking up. If I greet them or ask how they are doing, their whole face, their whole being changes — they become radiant. If I say their name, they become a friend. And that is no different than you or me. It’s just that the desperate nature of their circumstances keeps it real: they know how much it means to have a friend, and what it means not to have any.
Why is it that sometimes, like tonight, I look at homeless individuals and the scope of homelessness in Dallas and feel weighed down by the challenges? Is it seeing people as their ‘diagnosis’ or label rather than seeing them just as the people they are, in the here and now? Maybe.
I usually see the beauty when I go to the Bridge. Tonight I could only see how far there is to go. It was one of those rare times when I say to myself, “How do those who deal with this face to face every single day — for example, the Stewpot staff or the caseworkers and management at the Bridge — how do they do it all the time without losing hope or becoming jaded?” Granted, I think, write or talk about homelessness in Dallas every day, but I go to the Bridge only a couple of times a month.
Perhaps it’s a ‘fix-it’ mentality that one can get into, although trying to ‘fix it’ is a necessary component of approaching the problem as a whole. Sometimes, though, until we can figure out what we need to ‘do,’ maybe it has to be enough just to go to where the pain is and ‘be with’ it. It seems that there is tremendous grace in that. In face, maybe, while action is necessary, being present for someone is the most important part of taking action anyway.
Granted, it may not be enough to ‘hang out’ with people who are experiencing homelessness. But being with them, talking with them, sharing their concerns — one human to another — is one of the most essential parts of what we do, just as it is with our families.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Available On a Street Corner Near You!
Today the October, 2009, issue of StreetZine was put into the hands of licensed street vendors downtown and around the city. As usual, StreetZine is chock-full of fascinating articles and tidbits, and this month you will also find an important article by Pat Spradley, Editor, on the pending court case against the City of Dallas, defending the rights of groups who wish to feed people on the streets of downtown who are hungry and homeless. [http://thestewpot.org/streetzine.asp]
There is also a recent interview I did with The Gardeners from the Dallas International Street Church ministry’s The Garden: South Dallas, Texas. In it, you will get to know some of them personally and see what gardening organically has come to mean to their lives. Included are lovely pictures by Mandy Mulliez of a few of The Gardeners and of the Fall Garden at the DISC.
Special kudos and big appreciation to Pastor Karen Dudley, Founder and Senior Pastor of the DISC, not only for her soon-to-be twelve years of dedication and commitment to helping people salvage their lives from the ravages of street living, but also for continuing to pay the water bill on The Garden throughout this long hot summer, when it appeared as if the total yield was going to be somewhere around a single cherry tomato and ten green beans! [www.kdministries.org]
Here are some quotes from the interview:
ks: Noting that many of the people in the Dallas International Street Church have experienced homelessness in the past, do you think that having a Garden has any special meaning for people that have been or are homeless? Does having experienced homelessness give people a special appreciation for having a place to grow their own food?
Luis: Yes. Do you remember the first time we planted and we used those community service men and women from the City of Dallas community court program? You know, last week, two of the guys who did community service came back just to see the beds they had helped build!
ks: How did that happen?
Luis: They just came! I was out at The Garden in the morning, and I saw them, and one of them said, “I just came to see my garden bed,” and I said, “Cool! Come on!” He was surprised, he said “Wow! This is OURS?” I said, ‘Yea, look!’ It was great.
He was telling me about when he was in jail and stuff like that and when he got out, and The Stewpot brought them over here to do their community service. And he was really surprised at how The Garden grew. He said, “I didn’t think it was going to grow!” And I said, “Yea, but look at it now!” I mean, it’s our pride and joy.
ks: What keeps you motivated to continue working in The Garden?
Raymond: Getting the fruit from the plants! Getting the tomatoes…
Luis: Yea, that stuff. [Pause] The best and the most important thing is to be WANTED, to be needed by something that — it grows. Cause it’s not just the plants that are growing, but US, TOO.
I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the October StreetZine from a licensed street vendor (or at The Stewpot, 408 Park Avenue, Dallas, TX 75201) and see the beautiful garden pictures, as well as the expanded interview. Selling StreetZine provides a sustainable living for many of these men and women and is helping them get off the street and regain their independence.
For Mandy Mulliez’ slideshow of The Garden, see:
For background on The Garden: South Dallas, see:
Sunday, August 16, 2009
The Soloist: Friendship and Freedom of Choice
“Let your good deeds be like drops of water into the ocean, which then disappear.”
If you have not seen The Soloist, I hope you will. A friend who has worked among people on the street for over a decade highly recommended it, saying it changed her view of things. “I’ve been trying to make them like me,” she told me, “but that’s wrong.”
I’ve just watched it, and it utterly reinforced one of the most challenging conclusions I’ve come to in knowing and caring about some of the people who are ‘chronically homeless’ in Dallas over the last six years: one cannot have an ‘agenda’ for people who are experiencing homelessness. And not having an agenda — yet still knowing them, loving them, being somewhat involved in their lives and trying to be of assistance to them in resolving critical, and sometimes urgent, issues in their lives — that is a very fine line to walk.
This past week, someone that I know, care about, and stay in touch with who lives outdoors under a bridge — we’ll call her Mary — became seriously ill. I’ve become increasingly close friends with this woman and her husband this year and see them from time to time. She didn’t call me until last Monday night, when the critical part of her illness, which had lasted several days, had passed. Fortunately, they’d had the money for a motel room for three nights when she was sickest — wracked with pain, drenched in sweat, up all night trying to get her fever down with Tylenol with cold baths. “We thought I was going to die Saturday night,” she confessed. “We were really scared.”
By the time she phoned me Monday, she had improved but was still in a considerable pain, and they were back in their outdoor camp. She thought she could make it through the upcoming night, but asked if I would be available to take her to the emergency room the next day if the pain became intolerable again, because her husband had to work, and, of course, they have no transport, their lone bicycle having been stolen a few months back shortly after they acquired it. I said I would. I offered them money for a motel room that night, but they declined.
The next morning, I got busy trying to find out what emergency medical services are available for homeless individuals besides the ER — information I felt I should have known but didn’t. I called and e-mailed friends who are staff members at The Stewpot and an acquaintance who’s a caseworker at The Bridge and learned the following:
~~ Parkland Hospital has a mobile medical unit (‘HOMES: Homeless Outreach Medical Services) which is at The Stewpot on Wednesdays and every other Monday.
~~ Parkland also runs a medical clinic at The Bridge each weekday.
~~ The Stewpot has a medical clinic in-house on Fridays.
~~ If one calls the City’s Crisis Intervention Team, there’s now a streamlined procedure set up to process a person with the medical emergency at The Bridge quickly, short-circuiting any expected wait in line which might occur. But this would only be an option, for me at least, if the friend who is homeless agreed to it, and they are often unwilling to involve city government in their situation for fear of being ticketed.
When I was unable to get in touch with Mary by phone all that day, I drove to their camp in the late afternoon, armed with cranberry juice for a kidney infection she thought she had, a bag of ice to combat the heat, and dog biscuits for their dog. I was shocked at how much thinner she’d become, noticeable just in the few weeks since I’d last seen her. She’d never had cranberry juice before, but loved it, and we made plans to go together the next morning to the Parkland Mobile Unit at The Stewpot. This time when I offered to loan her and her husband the money for a night out of the heat in the motel, she accepted.
The next morning when I drove up to the camp, she came walking down to the car and got in. I handed her the breakfast I’d brought her to eat on the way and another bottle of cranberry juice, but now, suddenly, she was hedging about going to the Parkland Mobile Medical Unit. She was really feeling OK and was no longer in pain, she said, and she looked better. But I urged her to let me take her to the clinic anyway. I knew that she has only one kidney with functions fully, and I so much wanted her to avoid another crisis. As we sat in the air conditioning of the car and the morning outside heated up, I tried again to persuade her to go see the doctor. I knew she’d be back out in that August Texas heat all day, barely recovered from her illness. “Shouldn’t we just get you checked out, get you in the system for Parkland? Then, if you have another crisis or if you need medicine for your kidneys, that will speed the process up for you when you go in.” But she didn’t want to go — it was as simple as that. I could see that she was grateful for my help but that she wanted me to support her decision.
And then… there was a moment… believe it or not, that I almost drove away with her in the car. I had been worried about her, on edge for two days; I had put things on hold to help her deal with her medical crisis; I’d canceled other plans I’d had for that morning in order to drive her downtown. I. I. I.
I argued with myself silently, and the inner monologue was pretty simple, going something like this: “Are you insane? This is a grown woman with children and grandchildren! OF COURSE YOU MAY NOT take her to the medical van at The Stewpot if she doesn’t want to go.” End of monologue. I hugged her goodbye, and, bag of breakfast and cranberry juice in hand, she climbed the hill back up to their camp.
I know better than that ‘friend-napping’ impulse implies, and it surprised me about myself. It was my choice to try to help Mary when she was ill. It was her choice, then, to say, “I’m OK now.” Would I have had the same impulse with a friend who is housed and lives in the suburbs to drive away with him or her in the car?
We cannot have an agenda for those people to whom we want to offer assistance. Suddenly, in that moment in the car when I had a momentary impulse to drive Mary to the Parkland Mobile Unit to get the medical care I thought she needed, I seem to have flown into maternal — or maternalistic — mode. I remind myself that the life Mary is living requires strengths, skills, nerve and wisdom which I myself don’t possess.
There are very to-the-point discussions in The Soloist about just this sort of issue. Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.) tries to get a shelter director to force homeless cellist Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) into psychiatric care, medication and housing.
Lopez: “I want you to help him, because he’s sick and he needs medication and you have a team of doctors here. Tell him to sit down with them. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?”
Shelter Director: “Nathaniel’s made it quite clear he’s not ready to speak to a psychiatrist.”
“That’s not what we do here… Look, even if I did want to coerce Nathaniel into psychiatry… which I don’t, I couldn’t force him to take medication. The law’s the law. Unless he’s an imminent danger to himself or someone else…”
Later, Lopez’s ex-wife wisely tells him, “You’re never gonna’ cure Nathaniel. Just be his friend and show up.”
I think The Soloist gets it very right. We can’t fix people, nor is it our job to do so. We can love them and do our best to offer them opportunities that we hope will make their lives better — if we so choose. And they, as sacred human beings in their own right, have every right to accept or decline our offers of assistance.
And then there’s this optimistic bit of science at the movie’s end which one may view as a form of Grace, when Steve Lopez says of his friendship with Nathaniel Ayers:
“There are people who tell me I’ve helped him — mental health experts who say that the simple act of being someone’s friend can change his brain chemistry, improve his functioning in the world. I can’t speak for Mr. Ayers in that regard. Maybe our friendship has helped him, but maybe not. I can however speak for myself. I can tell you that by witnessing Mr. Ayers’ courage, his humility, his faith in the power of his art, I’ve learned the dignity of being loyal to something you believe in, holding onto it, and, above all else, of believing, without question, that it will carry you home.”
Monday, July 20, 2009
There are occasionally people who impact one’s life significantly, even if you rarely see them. For me, Tommy is one of those.
Tommy lives on the street and is always alone. It is said of him that he won’t talk, but sometimes there are exceptions. One of the people he’s always trusted is our mutual friend, Trey. Trey is one of those earth angels to our homeless friends who does a very great deal to help them — and has for years — but does it all quietly and behind the scenes, with no fanfare. He’s an important part of Tommy’s safety net, often buying him clothes and checking on him, and Trey will be moving out of town soon with his wife and young children. So Tommy is strongly on my mind these days, knowing that an important link in his support network will soon be missing.
I saw Tommy this week at a monthly meeting that we both attend. I usually sit at the same table with him at the meeting, but this week our tables were adjacent. During a speech by someone that got a little lengthy, I looked over at him and he was looking my way. He made the motion of casting a fishing line off into the distance and reeling it in, then cut a look back at me and flashed a rare, enigmatic smile. I laughed. “Somebody needs to reel in this speaker,” he was telling me.
I’ve known Tommy for a number of years, back from the time of the Day Resource Center when I used to volunteer there on Friday evenings, tagging along with Our Calling Ministries because they’d let me give away clothing I’d collected for our homeless friends after the ministry had served a hot, home-cooked meal to several hundred street people on the DRC parking lot. Although his is a sizable physical presence, Tommy is so quiet and still that it is somehow possible to be almost unaware that he’s around. I remember going away from a freezing cold evening on that urine-soaked parking lot and thinking, “Wait a minute? Who was that person in a large army-green trench coat standing stock still most of the night, all on his own in the shadows?” I had the feeling it had been an apparition. Then I had the strangest thought — that it was Christ Himself among us. I still think that thought was right.
Soon Trey introduced me to him, and from that time on I made a point of saying, “Hi, Tommy,” whether or not he responded, but often he did. Then one night in prayer circle, he was suddenly standing next to me and even held my hand. From then on, I would often look up to find him standing nearby when I was handing out clothing, and sometimes we would have a brief conversation.
I wonder if Tommy mostly refuses to speak with people because sometimes his words don’t come out as he wants them to. After this week’s meeting, I asked him if he needed some new clothes, as he tends to wear what he has down to the bitter end of its usefulness (and way past its cleanliness), and he replied, in his soft drawl, “Wellll… I could use some shoes, or whatever you can get.” I looked at his shoes, which have become well-vented over the summer through coming apart at the seams. He told me his shoe size, and then, as has often happened when I talk to him, he began to speak further, but his words came out in a jumble. (The words themselves are sometimes of the so-big-that-average-people-have-to-consult-a-dictionary variety.) I saw him wince almost imperceptibly, as though he himself was surprised by it, and I tried not to register discomfiture but rather to go on with the conversation as though I understood. This somehow seems to reassure him. Although we both knew I didn’t get it all, it was OK, because we had made a connection.
One night on the DRC parking lot a few years back, I asked him if he wanted me to help him look for housing through a new program that Central Dallas Ministries was starting called Destination Home. “No,” he said, “you see, I’m mentally ill…” and then his words continued in a stream but went off in an obtuse direction and were spoken so softly that I couldn’t understand them. “OK,” I said when he was finished.
Somehow all of the highly-publicized help we are giving people who are experiencing homelessness in Dallas through our city services — and our arresting, ticketing, jailing and trying to force them into mental health care for which there’s inadequate funding to keep them there — as well as our efforts to transition them into housing that’s woefully insufficient because nobody wants ‘the homeless’ in their ‘hood — somehow all of this costly and much-touted assistance is passing Tommy by. The only place I’ve seen him safe and cared for is The Stewpot. But he still lives on the street and sleeps in the open. I continually ask myself how he survives.
When we can find a place for Tommy (and the many others like him) in ‘our world’… a place that is safe, that he can trust, where he can be cared for and be able to care for himself, a place that is clean and out of harm’s way… on that day, I’ll be willing to concede: we will have made a good start on solving the problem of homelessness in Dallas. But not until then.
Wednesday, July 8, 2008
Reconnecting to ‘The Wild’
This past Fourth of July weekend, one of my daughters, Rose, and granddaughter, Cora, and I went to Glen Rose, Texas to stay a few days, do the ‘Dino’ thing (this granddaughter is six and admires T Rex as much as any six-year-old), and visit Fossil Rim Wildlife Ranch. [http://www.fossilrim.org/]
I’d been to Fossil Rim with my older daughter’s elementary-school class as a Room Mother mannnnnnny years ago for the Scenic Wildlife Drive, accompanied by twenty-five 6-to-9-year olds, and remembered feeding the ostriches through the car window and how it felt like the force of a thunderbolt hitting your hand when they took the food pellet from you. It was great fun to drive through the 1700 acres, seeing the animals wild and free while we remained safely in our ‘car cage.’
This past weekend’s drive through the park was more enjoyable than any of us had imagined. Cora is a ‘nature fanatic’ — for example, she’s caught and released around fifty snakes and lizards this spring and summer — and her excitement at hand-feeding the endangered Addax, European Red and Fallow Deer, Aoudads and other species through the car windows is easy to imagine.
These days, visitors are warned against feeding the ostriches, but the shrieks and screams all around inside our ‘car cage’ as the aggressive big birds tried to insert their heads and necks through the windows was quite funny. We got to touch the nose and flank of a Grant’s Zebra as he nuzzled our car door, but the big thrill of the trip was interacting with the giraffes, the only animal one is technically advised to hand feed these days at Fossil Rim because they have no teeth.
We’d been told by ranch staff that, if the giraffes were reticent about approaching us to be fed, we should pull our car over, turn off the engine and quietly wait. “They like to figure out who’s serious about feeding them,” the ranger told us. When we got to the giraffe area, they were indeed ‘doing their own thing,’ nibbling the tree tops, so we did as instructed, parking near them.
It took a few minutes, but soon we saw one of the magnificent giants approaching the rear of the car. The three of us were giggling and whispering and trying to ‘be cool’ and not scare him away. Elegantly, he glided slowly over to us and bent his towering head down to the back window, and Cora held out her hand with a feed pellet in it. His long purple blue tongue gently swooped the pellet into his mouth. To say that the child was ecstatic understates it.
One is strictly forbidden to leave one’s car at Fossil Rim, but we remembered that our car has a moon roof, so we opened it, and Cora stood up through it and continued feeding the enormous, exquisitely beautiful animal as he lowered his head to earth, petting his nose as she did so. The giraffe was utterly gentle and peaceful, with the most polite entreaties for food we had encountered all day.
Cora sat on the top of the car with her legs still inside through the moon roof, and the giraffe nuzzled her ear and then nibbled at her ponytail! She was overjoyed. It was a moment none of us will ever forget.
We all three came away from Fossil Rim in a joyful state. It is so important to connect with the natural world, and I often forget this living in the city. What a gift these beautiful, inquisitive animals gave us. We have an incalculable treasure just an hour and a half from Dallas. After the weekend, I felt more restored and whole than I have in years.
This experience brought to mind what many of the Stewpot Community Court Volunteers and the Dallas International Street Church disciples said on the Garden-Raising Day at the Street Church on May 2, 2009. There was something about being outdoors, close to Mother Earth, that helped us all relate and get along in a way that would not have been possible in a different setting.
We get disjointed, disconnected — or I do — and my life begins to feel compartmentalized. But how healing it is to remember and to feel at a deep level that we are an integral part of a much greater picture than our daily concerns allow us to realize, even though those concerns may be of the utmost significance. If we’re lucky and take the time, the ‘critters’ and the grandkids can help us find our way back to sanity.
The Garden Is Growing!
Update on The Garden: South Dallas, Texas
The Garden: South Dallas, Texas — a community garden for, by and with people who are homeless or formerly homeless in Dallas — is thriving under the leadership of the Discipleship of the Dallas International Street Church at 2706 Second Avenue near Fair Park. Team Leaders from the DISC took charge and led a work force of forty people from The Stewpot’s Community Court Project in a successful and fun Garden-Raising Day on Saturday, May 2, 2009. On April 2 we had a lovely but trash-littered field behind the church; by day’s end of the Garden-Raising, we had seven fully-planted organic raised garden beds!
All of us involved that day were tremendously joyful and proud of our accomplishment. Not only did these energetic and hardworking crews clean up the field and dig the turf out of the seven 4’ X 12’ garden beds, they hauled and laid concrete block borders, carried organic soil by wheelbarrow from the soil pile to fill the beds, trimmed trees, dug a flower bed, built garden benches and tables, and — the best part — at day’s end, everyone celebrated their labor by planting all seven beds with vegetables, herbs and flowers.
To view a slideshow by Mandy Mulliez of the the garden site, planning meetings,
and the Garden-Raising Day’s events, look here:
For a video clip of The Garden Team Leaders speaking on television about their experiences, look here: http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/2009/05/garden-south-dallas-video.html
For many of us, the best thing about the day was the way that teams of homeless and formerly homeless individuals from the two programs, the Dallas International Street Church and the Stewpot Community Court Project, pitched in and worked together in a spirit which was more than harmonious — it was truly joyous! So many of us came away from the day elated with not only the significant physical accomplishments of the six crews, but the spirit of love, unity and camaraderie that we discovered working together.
More than once during the day, people came up to me and spoke of how hard it can be for people who live or have lived on the street to work together because of the challenges that each faces in his or her life. They expressed happiness both in their creation of The Garden and in the way they were able to cooperate in order to create it. Barry, one of the Stewpot supervisors, shared an observation of how people talked about their lives and their challenges with each other as they dug weeds, shoveled soil and planted seeds and plants.
Since the Garden-Raising, I’m proud to report that the six Team Leaders and their teams at the Dallas International Street Church have taken full responsibility for the care and nurture of their garden beds, watering them diligently, adding new plants, and reporting excitedly at our Garden meetings about which seedlings are emerging, what plants are producing, a couple of plants that are having problems and possible organic solutions. We already have a burgeoning crop of green beans! I quickly learned at our first full-church Garden meeting that we had many very knowledgeable and skilled gardeners in the congregation, and that knowledge grows and is spread around as people work side by side and share their expertise day by day. A Friend of the Garden has even donated a hammock where the hardworking gardeners can rest from their labors!
Here are some of the things we are growing this season: bush beans, Swiss chard, collards, Japanese eggplant, cucumbers, yellow crookneck squash, lettuce, onions, sugar-pod peas, carrots, okra, tomatoes, several varieties of peppers, strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, Italian-leaf parsley, cilantro, citronella, roses, marigolds, dianthus, zinnias, nasturtiums and about five other types of flowers — many of them tucked decoratively into the spaces in the concrete blocks. One of our gardeners is creating a special butterfly and bee garden bed. The gardeners have not only worked hard, they’ve been very creative in their garden design.
Something exciting and completely unexpected happened a week ago: just as we had exhausted our initial Seed Money Fund, an Anonymous Angel left an envelope at my house. On one side was written: “DON’T ASK WHO… PLEASE. IT IS A GIFT. KEEP UP WITH YOUR WORK.” On the other side, it said: “FENCE FUND. GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS.” Inside was… $500! We are very grateful for such kindness, and this Saturday, May 17, the Stewpot DART Community Court Project is sending us another work crew, and we will install our new fencing!
If you are currently or formerly homeless, this is your garden, and you may become a gardener now or at any time by joining one of the teams at the DISC. (The church office telephone is 214-928-9595.)
Although we are going to wait until fall growing season to invite groups of volunteers to come in from outside the community and work with us, everyone is ALWAYS welcome to visit us — just knock on the Dallas International Street Church door and ask someone to show you the path. The Garden: South Dallas is a magical and serene place and one where we already love to sit with friends or alone, to talk or simply and quietly ‘find our peace.’
Special Thanks to:
Bruce Buchanan and the staff of The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church, Dallas
The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, especially Martha Lang, Outreach Director
The Garden Advisory Committee
Friends of The Garden for financial support and in-kind donations
Mandy Mulliez for photography
The Dallas Morning News and Michael Ainsworth for a photo spread of The Garden in the Metro Section on Sunday, May 3
Nancy Baker of White Rock Coffee for great coffee
Aaron Hardwick and Mindy of Breadwinners Restaurants and Catering for breakfast pastries for 100
Sandra Davis of SoupMobile for providing lunch for 100
Soil Building Systems for special pricing on Organic Growers Mix
Lowe’s at Northwest Highway & Jupiter for materials at cost
Louis, Cora and Anna for inspiration
and, OF COURSE, Pastor Karen Dudley for her great leadership, compassion and kindness to us all!
a bird bath
a bat house
concrete blocks for additional beds
cash for additional organic soil purchase
any and all healthy plants
any and all seed, especially heirloom varieties
gardening tools and gloves
limb loppers and pruners
a pole tree trimmer
a subscription to Organic Gardening Magazine [http://www.organicgardening.com/]
Saturday, May 2, 2009
The Garden-Raising Day, May 2, 2009
As of today, The Garden: South Dallas, Texas exists on the ground and not just in our minds, hearts, spirits and to-do lists! And it’s beautiful.
We had a wonderful day. Thanks very much to every single person who was involved.
Particular appreciation to The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church, Dallas; The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation; and The Garden Committee, all of whom made this possible.
Many Blessings, Karen
For a look at pictures of The Garden-Raising Day in progress, see the inside front cover of the Dallas Morning News Metro Section for Sunday, May 3, 2009.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein;…” ~~ Psalm 24
The Garden: South Dallas, Texas
On the morning of April 2, 2009, I blithely put up a blog post here about gardens (“The Magic of Gardens”.) I quote myself from that article: ”The idea [of a community garden] is something that’s beyond my purview to [help] organize … right now,” – and I was convinced of that at the time. However, by the same afternoon, I had received e-mails from staff members of two of the best nonprofit agencies benefitting people who are homeless in the City of Dallas saying that they were interested in being involved.
Janet offered the possible involvement of some volunteers. Pat informed me that Pastor Karen Dudley, Founder and Senior Pastor of the Dallas International Street Church in South Dallas, had been wanting to start a community garden for years, and, most importantly, that she had access to land where it could be done. [http://www.kdministries.org/]
I realized that perhaps… a community garden with and for Pastor Karen’s congregation and neighborhood and the street people of Dallas and was an idea whose time may have come.
Pastor Karen is a friend and someone I deeply admire (see “Miracle on Second Avenue”), and by the next afternoon, she and I were in the meadow adjacent to her church property, looking at a possible garden site. A week later, several people met at the Street Church to discuss what was involved in undertaking such a project. By the end of the meeting, these generous women, including Pastor Karen, had taken out their checkbooks and given us a significant start on a “Seed Money Fund.”
Driving home, I phoned my church, The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, and asked Outreach Director, Martha Lang, whether they might be willing to contribute to our community garden’s Seed Money Fund. I sent her a proposal that night and received a reply that she thought they could help. Miracle of miracles, it is two weeks to the day since “The Magic of Gardens” was written, and… The Garden: South Dallas, Texas (so dubbed by Pastor Karen) seems to be coming to life.
Generosity of Friends
~~ Our Seed Money Fund is up to $550.00, raised from the Garden Committee and Church of the Incarnation. $300 of this money will go to purchase organic soil from a Dallas company; the rest will go for concrete blocks to construct the four raised beds for the first phase of The Garden. (The soil on the land is not tillable.)
~~ We are incredibly blessed to have a work force of homeless individuals coming for a Garden-Raising Day (remember old-time barn raisings?) the first week in May to clean up the land and construct the beds. This has been arranged by The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, and the group will work alongside Pastor Karen’s congregation (most of whom have also come from the streets of Dallas). Our nonprofit friends are also providing work gloves and some tools!
~~ The Garden is being planned to be wheelchair accessible: one of our Garden Committee members, also an experienced gardener, uses a wheelchair, and she will advise us. Many individuals experiencing homelessness, whom we hope will come and work with us, use one as well.
~~ We have received invaluable input, research, information, donation of materials and enthusiastic support both from our Garden Committee members and from friends. All of this is much appreciated.
What Do We Need?
~~ To increase our Seed Money Fund in order to buy hoses to reach The Garden and soaker hoses for the beds to save water, to put a second level of concrete blocks on a few of our beds to make them higher for those in wheelchairs, to afford to construct additional raised beds beyond the four that our budget allows for now
NO DONATION IS TOO SMALL (unless you want change for a penny!)
~~ Donation of new or used fencing to enclose The Garden in stages to ward off theft or vandalism
~~ Donations of healthy plants or seeds from other gardeners (we’d love to try some heirloom seeds)
~~ Gardening tools of all kinds, garden carts or wheelbarrows for transporting soil and plant materials, or anything else you can think of!
Who Is the ‘Community’ in ‘Community Garden’?
‘Who Is the Community’ in the ‘Community Garden’ called The Garden: South Dallas, Texas? It is Pastor Karen’s church congregation and the friends and neighbors who live around the church (a neighborhood which would benefit greatly from fresh produce, as there are few supermarkets nearby), but also the true and full sense of community for The Garden: South Dallas, Texas, extends beyond geographical borders to include the entire homeless community of Dallas. One may not typically think of people spread across the city in different geographical locations as such, but a community it is –
it is a spiritual network of human beings spread across Dallas, the members of which sometimes stay in shelters, sometimes in alleys or behind dumpsters, sometimes under bridges in cardboard homes.
If you wonder whether this is a community, ask a person who is homeless on the streets of downtown whether they know a person who lives under a particular freeway overpass in a cardboard home several miles away. Percentage-wise, I’m guessing they are more likely to know that individual than many of us would be likely to know someone on our own block in the suburbs.
Our mission, our vision, our commitment, then, is a little different from that of the typical community garden, and also includes the desire to bring together people from disparate parts of the city with differing backgrounds to help us all come to know each other and to realize: we are the same — not ‘us and them.’ So come and work with us!
Possibilities for the Future
~~ We would like for The Garden to include benches, picnic tables, and walking paths for the enjoyment of gardeners, congregants, friends, and neighborhood families. Our dream is that it can become a beautiful and peaceful refuge for the community, with flowers, berries, fruit trees and herbs as well as vegetables.
~~ In time, we would love to have a produce stand out front that the gardeners can operate as a small business.
~~ We hope that a second phase of The Garden can contain raised beds for neighborhood families to rent for a nominal fee and manage on their own, such as is done in the East Dallas Community Garden and others. Our first four beds will serve the Street Church, the neighborhood, and the homeless community at large across the city.
~~ Perhaps in the future our gardeners can attend Master Classes in gardening at a community college, or go to work for landscaping companies or garden centers. Thus The Garden could come to help with job skills training.
For Now, a Hope for Healing
In a time of ’food insecurity’, growing what can sustain you has real power in and of itself. Along with this, perhaps someone who is in transition in their lives will come to dig or weed or plant in The Garden and remember… she or he had a garden as a child with their family, and it was a good thing. A healing reconnection to the past could be made by someone who has been alienated from his or her loved ones. Perhaps someone will realize, after feeling for a very long time that he or she can do nothing right in society’s eyes or their own… they have a skill, a gift and can make a contribution. Few things are more powerful than feeling that we matter and that we have something to give.
P.S. Within 48 hours of writing “The Magic of Gardens”, I received this e-mail from my grandson, Louis, who is six (Cora is his cousin, also six):
“i herd about the homeless garden wen you get started can we help? and is cora helpeng. love, louis.”
Good news travels fast!!!
“…What I do you cannot do: but what you do, I cannot do. The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” ~~Mother Teresa
Link: Dallas Homeless Network Blog [http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/2009/04/garden-for-homeless-community.html]
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Hot Off the Presses!
Kim Horner and Courtney Perry of the Dallas Morning News
on Homelessness in Dallas
A friend just brought me the early edition of the Dallas Morning News for Sunday, March 28, 2009, which he knew I’d want right away. Front and center on page 1A is the first in a series of articles by Kim Horner, with photographs by Courtney Perry, on homelessness in Dallas, with an emphasis on the ‘chronically homeless.’
In reading the article, I was impressed by Kim’s sensitive and comprehensive grasp of this very complicated and heart-rending issue. I learned a great deal that I didn’t know about aspects of the problem that I never see. I think this first installment is excellent and goes beyond anything I’ve previously read on the subject here in Dallas. As usual, Kim is balanced and non-polemical while, I believe, laying out the complex challenges involved in addressing the problems covered.
Courtney’s photographs are excellent and show us that she’s been places in the city that few of us will ever go, not surprising for this intrepid photographer.
Kim and Courtney have really done their homework for this series of articles. I look forward to future installments. I’m thinking ‘Pulitzer.’ What do you think?
By the way, SoupMobile gets a mention in the section, ‘Reaching out to the homeless: Other social services’. Well deserved!
Monday, March 9, 2009
When we have solved the problem of homelessness in Dallas, we will know it. We will not need to ticket, arrest and harass homeless people for being on the streets of our town in order to get them out of sight. They won’t need to be on the street, because they will have access to housing, social programs, and jobs which pay a living wage.
Our programs serving the homeless will not be averse to criticism, because they will be good, fair, evenhanded and effective. They will work, and, if they do not work, we will listen to those who ‘know how to,’ and we will change them. Therefore, they will be funded.
Take the example of the Stewpot. When the Stewpot puts out an appeal, people generously respond. Why? Because this is an organization which has credibility, viability, integrity and staying power. Rules are rules, and the homeless clients they serve know this; the rules are for everyone, and they don’t change every day. A client may or may not believe that a rule is fair; nonetheless, trust is built with the organization because those living in the perilous and shifting sands that street life offers know what to expect at the Stewpot, day in and day out. Donors have the confidence that their donations, in-kind and monetary, will be directed efficiently to the targeted population. There is a strong, trusted, and experienced leader at the Stewpot [Rev. Bruce Buchanan], and there is accountability among the staff to him.
Clarity. Consistency. Transparency.
Here is a conversation I had with an intelligent and well-educated ‘chronically homeless’ individual recently in response to my question, “Do you use the [homeless assistance center and shelter system]?”
“I tried it for a while, but I gave up. If I want craziness, I can get it out here [on the street]. I don’t have to go there to get it. They want me to give up whatever drugs I might want to use, but then they want to put me on their [prescription] drugs in order to sedate me into being a person who can fit into their way of doing things and be compliant.”
I am not an advocate of ‘recreational’ drugs — don’t use them or champion their legalization. I think they are almost wholly destructive. But this point of view makes sense from a certain perspective.
What is the element that is missing between this homeless individual and the organizations built to facilitate her or his getting off the street? Trust. I’m not sure I would trust the system much either if I were in his or her position, and I understand the viewpoint even from the privileged perspective of being a property owner and a taxpayer [although, as we are seeing, even these privileges are quite tenuous in uncertain times.]
But when one is utterly powerless and living on the street, it is not likely that one will give up the little power and comfort one has in order to put oneself in the hands of authorities which are perceived to be unreliable, unpredictable and whimsical in their exercise of power, at best. Not one of us would choose that, would we? Is it a character flaw to choose independent living, rough as it is, over the perception of a dangerous surrender? We have squandered an opportunity to win the trust of some chronically homeless individuals in recent months, and I hope it can be rebuilt.
“If I want craziness, I can get it out here. I don’t have to go there to get it.” A concise and eloquent statement.
When we have solved the problem of homelessness in Dallas, we will know it. There won’t be hundreds to thousands of homeless individuals living in the woods, hiding from Dallas authorities. We won’t have to dissemble, harass, prosecute, and hound people into shelters and treatment. Our programs will be open to constructive criticism, and our responses to the same will be forthcoming, measured and rational.
As my friend, David Timothy, says of his organization, the SoupMobile: “I don’t want us to just look good. I want us to be good.”
That is a goal worth striving for, and it is the only one that will succeed.
Link on Pegasus News:
Link on Dallas Homeless Network:
Monday, December 15, 2008
We Built It, They Came, Now What?
Here I sit in the same cafe where I sat exactly 5 years ago, thinking the exact thoughts I had the first time I went out with HungerBusters Mobile Soup Kitchen to feed the homeless on the streets of Dallas in 2003. How are the people around me going about their daily lives (and how am I?) while homeless individuals in the hundreds are starving and freezing on the streets of our city?
This time, though, the public will has been mobilized, the $21 million has been spent building the Bridge Homeless Assistance Center in downtown Dallas, the ‘promise’ has been fulfilled, hopes have been raised for homeless and housed alike, and much good has been accomplished, only to have it come crashing down now that bitterly cold weather is upon us. It Has Been Built, and They Have Come. And now They are locked out by the hundreds.
What a grim, and, for me, unexpected lesson in failed bureaucracy. People who know much more than I do may have seen it coming. I didn’t.
There is much rumor and hyperbole around the disastrous new policy implemented at the Bridge since December 1, so I am going to focus first on what I know for sure.
What I Know For Sure
~~People who do not have a Bridge ID cannot get into the campus for meals. The numbers of meals served at the Second Chance Cafe by the Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church has dropped to around 1300 per day from around 2150. That means that, currently, 850 times a day someone is being denied a meal that has been provided since May, 2008, and that Second Chance Cafe is committed to serving. This meal service was promised in national and local media by Bridge management when the center opened.
A friend who was licensed to feed on the streets, but is now prohibited from feeding the homeless downtown by a city ordinance which does not allow feeding outside the Bridge, told me a story of a man coming up to his car on the street outside the Bridge asking for food and crying because he was so hungry several days ago. Such stories are just the tip of the iceberg.
~~The Bridge ID application procedures have been unwieldy and frustrating, if not non-navigable, for the homeless, to say the least. As of the end of last week, the process for getting an ID required standing in 3 different lines for up to 3-4 hours, and sometimes still coming away with no ID. Add to that that to get a Bridge ID, preexisting identification is required, and many chronically homeless people don’t have that, or have had their ID’s stolen, and you see the potential frustration inherent in the process. Throw in the percentage of this group that are mentally ill and have poor coping skills to begin with. Add to that the number of homeless people who have to be at work 6 AM, when the Bridge ID lines opened at 9 AM, and you start to see the complications of a solution that on its face sounds simple and reasonable. There have been promises of streamlined procedures from Bridge management, and hopefully they will/ have come through.
People who were issued temporary ID’s as early as Thanksgiving still don’t have their permanent ID’s. Sometimes they are admitted to the Bridge with a letter from their Bridge caseworker, and sometimes not, depending upon who is on duty at the gate.
~~ As to the Bridge sending its overflow guests to other shelters, I was out among the homeless during the subfreezing weather a week ago and learned that the shelters were requiring payment and identification, two things they are often without. But, more importantly, I learned that on those cold nights the shelters were full. Even if you discount the ‘shelter-resistant’ population — and you cannot in good conscience do that — I personally saw and spoke with many people sleeping outside shelters on those nights who told me they had tried to get in and were turned away for lack of space. And, if you can’t get into a shelter, you obviously can’t eat your meals there.
Additionally, the working homeless are still at work at the time most shelters require occupants to be inside, around 4 PM, so they are essentially penalized for having jobs.
Just this afternoon I spoke on the phone with a friend who is currently sleeping under a freeway overpass and offered to let him sleep on my couch. He said overflow procedures are in practice at the shelters due to subfreezing temperatures tonight, but, at Dallas Life Foundation, for example, you have five free nights until you have to pay, and he’s saving his money until he really needs it (! the current temperature is around 30 degrees!) because all the homeless are having to buy their food now since the Second Chance Cafe is unable to serve them meals due to lack of access to the Bridge campus.
When you add to that reports of theft and other problems within some of the shelters and you understand why there are, once again, hundreds of people hiding wherever they can and sleeping outdoors.
~~ The primary population this policy change has impacted negatively is the “chronically homeless,” the exact population the Bridge was to target when it opened.
~~ A homeless man was seriously burned last week trying to stay warm in a parking garage stairwell in downtown Dallas.
~~ When I was at the Bridge campus on November 30, the last night that sleeping was allowed on the courtyard, and I spoke with a number of women sleeping there about where they’d sleep the next night. ”We have no idea,” they told me. All of these women were on their own, without the protection of male partners. I don’t know whether you know what women alone face living on the street, but it is not a pretty picture.
~~ I personally know one pregnant woman who is on the street in this weather, and I would surmise from past experience that there are more.
What I Believe to be the Case
~~While the stated reason the Bridge has closed its gates to those without Bridge Identification because of issues with the Fire Marshall, it has been shown to be the case in the past that temporary compromises on these sorts of issues can be reached within the city for the greater good of the affected population, where there is a constructive plan and the public and political will to do so.
~~ While rumors persist among and from my homeless friends that two people have died sleeping outdoors in this weather, there has been no confirmation of this. However, what is being predicted by homeless people and service providers alike is that, before winter is out, there will be casualties of this current situation. We have to do all in our power to prevent this happening.
What Can Be Done
I am certain this problem can be solved quickly, and it must be. Here are some suggestions for what can be done. I welcome others in the comments section. It is not an exaggeration to say that people’s lives are at stake.
For this winter, I respectfully request that we:
~~Effective immediately, reopen the Bridge campus during meal hours to anyone who needs a meal. This has been the practice since the opening in May.
~~ Reopen the Bridge campus for sleeping for anyone who is nonviolent, and especially for women, and use the police manpower that is currently being used for sweeps of the homeless to keep order there if necessary. This way, people can at least be safe. Those who have previously been banned for violent or predatory behavior should remain so.
~~ For warmth, large outdoor heaters could be set up and a large tent with side flaps for temporary protection could be provided — infinitely better than sleeping in the open on the concrete.
~~ The Fire Marshall could be asked to make special provision for the winter for an expanded number of people to be allowed at the Bridge until Spring 2009. The city or the Bridge should provide funding for a Fire Marshall to be on duty at all times to insure public safety for the numbers of individuals that need to be sheltered for the winter.
~~ These policies should be in place every day until a date to be determined in the Spring, 2009, not just for subfreezing weather.
~~ Even with the cost of extra policing and fire prevention, the costs to the city are likely to be considerably less that the current cost of police sweeps of the homeless downtown and of providing for them through emergency services, (ambulances, hospitals, jails, emergency mental health services, crisis intervention, policing), as we are now back to doing, statistically proven to be by far THE MOST EXPENSIVE way to deal with homelessness, humanitarian concerns aside.
~~ Alternatively, or in addition, we could consider using one of the abandoned buildings downtown as temporary shelter, complete with Porta-Potties, and use Downtown Safety Patrol or Dallas Police to keep order there. Guests there could eat and use other services (bathrooms, laundry, storage) at the Bridge, as they were doing before December 1.
~~ Being a ‘Can-Do’ city, I know that we can come up with the Code and Zoning permits we need to make these solutions possible if we feel they would be successful and effective.
With the publicity around the Dallas International Street Church regarding its becoming a refuge for the homeless when they were turned away from the Bridge and other shelters (See “Miracle on Second Avenue”) I don’t have to tell you that there is unhappy irony in a tiny, poor, South-Dallas church trumping a $21 million state-of the art homeless assistance center in its care of the homeless population.
The homeless population is the responsibility of the Bridge now, and the staff there are being paid well, in a state-of-the-art facility, to handle these issues. It is failing to live up to that responsibility at this time. With our tax dollars supporting the Bridge, we as taxpayers are entitled to transparency and accountability, not just an effective public relations campaign.
It would be tragic if the promising start made by the Bridge towards a compassionate and successful resolution to the homeless problem in Dallas up until now were at this point seriously derailed by a policy that is harming in a critical way the population it is supposed to be helping.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Last night, armed with a carload of heavy coats and blankets given to us by an Anonymous Angel, I went out on a mission into the heart of downtown Dallas with a good friend. We went in search of the city’s homeless people who have been banned from sleeping in the Bridge courtyard as of December 1 and are now back to ‘sleeping rough.’
After an hour of driving around, we couldn’t find anyone out on the street, but we knew they were there — just in hiding. It we could have found them, though, so could have the Dallas Police, who had been issuing written warnings and citations to them for the past two days. We talked to the very few homeless individuals who were walking on the downtown streets. “Where is everyone sleeping tonight?” we asked them. “They’ve scattered,” a woman told us. “The police have really been after us and came this morning at 6 A.M. to the freeway fence where people were sleeping and started ticketing them. Media crews showed up about that, and it saved some.”
My friend and I knew the obvious places where homeless people used to sleep before the Bridge opened, and we drove there. Not a soul could be seen at any of these locations. After that, we checked out the places we knew of that are farther out from the central district downtown. No one in sight, no heaps of blankets on the concrete containing sleeping human beings.
We guessed where to look even farther afield, and we guessed correctly. When we found them, we stopped our car and got out. They knew us, trusted us, and began to come out of hiding, one or two at a time, in the dark, in the cold, to talk to us. Near where we parked, one person had found a single piece of wood about 2 inches wide and 3 feet long, had been able to light it and was huddled over it, trying to stay warm. Some people were sleeping under cardboard, some just blankets, most well out of sight. One man said, “I’d been sleeping at the Bridge until they shut us out on Monday.”
It had been a Godsend that our ‘angel’ had showed up that afternoon and given us enough coats and blankets to give away. I stood at the rear of the vehicle and handed people blankets one by one. “Can I have one for my wife?” someone asked. “She’s sleeping right over there around the corner.” At our vehicle’s side door, my friend fitted people with warm jackets. We also had some socks, hats and gloves. We stood around and talked. Word spread that we were there, and more people showed up. Everyone hugged us, thanked us, hugged us again. At the end, they wanted to pray with us, so we put our arms around each other’s shoulders in a circle, and one of the men spoke a prayer of thanks and offered requests for our well-being. The Miracle of the Coats and Blankets was that, when we were finished at the end of the night, we had exactly one blanket left.
Of course, even though people are now hungry — because some are no longer allowed on the Bridge campus at all due to the new identification procedure and some only have day passes which keep them off the Bridge campus after 5 P.M., so they either miss all meals or the evening meal — it is illegal for us to feed them. All feeding of the homeless outside the Bridge (except on private property) is now officially banned by the city. So there are currently many people who can at this point neither eat at the Bridge, nor can they be offered food outside it. I had heard already since December 1 the dinner numbers at the Stewpot’s Second Chance Cafe (the Bridge dining hall) are down to the mid-200’s from the steady number of 750-900 per meal since the homeless assistance center opened in May of this year.
Last night, we left our homeless friends and drove around some more downtown. A number of people were sleeping on the sidewalk next to one of the shelters, which was full. These people were clearly not shelter-resistant: we spoke with some of them, and they had tried to get in.
Once again, the poorest of the poor are being criminalized and driven underground. The ‘fringe’ people are being forced back to the fringes and beyond. It is a tragic turn of events.
Designed to serve in particular the ‘chronically homeless,’ the Bridge is not effectively doing that for large numbers of them at this time. For a few days this week, these people were back out on the street. For a couple of days after that, they were persistently ticketed by police at the orders of undetermined entities at City Hall. Now, they are in hiding: in the open, on the ground, cold, hungry. Tonight, I heard a weather report that a ‘bitter’ freeze is on its way to the Dallas area. Imagine how that will feel sleeping outdoors without even the shelter of a building to lie close to.
We can do better. We have done better for the past few short months. And we must do so again immediately, before people begin to die from the cold.
We must deliver on the emergency shelter that has been promised. At the very least, we must allow the shelter-resistant homeless or those the shelters can’t accommodate — especially women — to sleep back on the Bridge campus away from predators and violent offenders. As the Bridge management sorts through who is ‘qualified and unqualified’ to receive shelter there, we must follow through on the the commitment that the Bridge has clearly and emphatically put forward to the public through the media since it opened in May and even before: to provide safe refuge and access to the meals that the Stewpot is offering to all those who need it.
For heaven’s sake and for our own as well, it is time to stop playing politics with people’s lives.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Conversation With a Dallas Police Officer: A Good Man ‘Just Doing His Job’
Last night at 10:35 P.M. I drove downtown to see for myself what was going on with the homeless people who’d been banned from sleeping in the courtyard of the Bridge and were once again sleeping on the street. I had heard a rumor that authorities were going to start ticketing homeless people tonight. I drove down Corsicana Street and turned right onto Park Lane. Just ahead of me were a small group of homeless individuals sitting or lying on the steps of a ramshackle building across the street from the Bridge and few Dallas Police officers standing in front of them on the sidewalk and street. There were a couple of police bicycles pulled up there, a scooter of some sort, and, as I sat there, a police cruiser arrived.
I stopped my car beside one of the officers and rolled down my window, asking him respectfully, “What’s going on? Are you ticketing people tonight?” His face was familiar, and he was polite and forthcoming. “Right now we’re issuing warnings. Tomorrow, a list will be drawn up and we’ll go from there.” I asked for more details: were there to be warrants and arrests? “I don’t know. I just get my orders piece by piece.” I questioned him further about where the orders were coming from. City Hall was all he knew, but no specifics. “I know this must be hard on you guys, too,” I told him. “No, I’m just doing my job,” he said emphatically. “Thank you for the information,” I told him. I made eye contact with a homeless man who was sitting on the sidewalk waiting for his citation from another policeman. “I wish it could be different,” I said to all concerned.
I used to see the police department differently in these situations. Around this same time last year, I would have thought of the ticketing officers as enemies of my homeless friends. Then I sat in a church service at First Presbyterian Church downtown and listened to a sermon by Dr. Joe Clifford around the time 150 to 200 homeless people were taking refuge at night from police arrest by sleeping on that church’s parking lot. At the end of his moving sermon, Dr. Clifford said a prayer that surprised me: he prayed with sympathy and with unity for the homeless, for the church, for the city, for the Dallas Police — ALL of whom, he said, were doing the best they could in a difficult situation. In that moment, my thinking changed from ‘us’ — the homeless and those who advocate for them — and ‘them’ — city officials and police who make and enforce laws that I believe unfairly target the homeless — to ‘all of us, doing the best we know how at this point in time.’
Nonetheless, as I drove away and pulled up to a stop light near the Farmer’s Market last evening, I felt devastated by this turn of events. For the second night in a row, I sat by the Farmer’s Market in my car and wept. This is what we were putting behind us when the Bridge opened, wasn’t it? Weren’t the days of huddled and miserable human beings sleeping on the cold concrete of our city streets being roused from their brief rest by uniformed men, ‘just doing their jobs’, issuing them citations for ‘sleeping in public,’ ‘obstructing the sidewalk,’ and any number of other ordinances designed to specifically get the homeless out of public view… weren’t those days now going to be behind us for good?
I pulled over into a driveway and ‘phoned a friend’ who knows the situation. He, too, was stunned by this turn of events. Neither of us could believe that, a year later, after all that has come to pass, we are back to this. God help us all, then and now.
Monday, December 1, 2008
The Bridge Closes Its Courtyard For Sleeping: The Rest of the Story
I have been a consistent and vocal supporter of the Bridge homeless assistance center since its opening in May, 2008, and have believed that, even with the glitches and challenges in getting it up and running that have been widely reported, it has had an extremely positive impact on the Dallas community, both homeless and housed. However, I have serious questions about the current decision to ‘clear the Bridge courtyard’ for cold weather and deny overnight access for safe sleeping there to homeless individuals who are not able to go into shelters for a variety of reasons.
Where is the impetus coming from to relocate homeless people who have, until December 1, been sleeping in the Bridge courtyard, now that the coldest part of the year is upon us? On the face of it, relocation to shelters seems a compassionate response to colder weather. However, what will be the result? History and experience tell us that there will be some people who will not, for one reason or another, be able to go into shelters, even with the adaptations made to their usual guidelines by the shelter directors in order to accommodate them at the request of Bridge management. People who know this vulnerable population realize this.
A friend of mine who is homeless says this forced relocation off the courtyard will simply lead to many more people being back on the street, and people I’ve talked with who are directly involved in homeless services tend to agree with him. Already, one finds an increasing number of people sleeping in doorways and on sidewalks in the area surrounding the Bridge. It seems we may be inviting some of our old dilemmas back into the picture. Certain people will have nowhere to go; yet everyone has to be somewhere.
I can only imagine, and have tried to comprehend, the myriad pressures on Bridge management. From what I understand, in this case, pressure is coming from the City of Dallas via the Fire Marshall around the issue of code compliance. The permit for a larger than expected population at the Bridge was temporary. The decision ‘up there somewhere’ has been made that the numbers need to be reduced. Why now? We have had overcrowding at the Bridge since its opening in May.
Just as it makes sense to ban people from the Bridge who are consistently violent, there are also good arguments for tracking more closely than was originally thought necessary those who use the services at the Bridge. Hence, there is now a requirement for Bridge guests to have ID cards. But Friday evening I talked to a homeless friend at dinner at the Second Chance Cafe (the Bridge dining hall run by the Stewpot) who said he had stood in line that day for 4 hours and then been unable to get one. Then he found out he’d also been directed to the wrong line!
Friday night, when I left the Second Chance Cafe at the Bridge after helping serve dinner, I walked around the darkened courtyard where most people were already bedded down against the cold. I did a very approximate count, and there seemed to be at least 150 people sleeping outdoors there. Many of them were women. Once courtyard sleeping closes, where will they go? It seems counterproductive, to say the very least, for them to go back out on the street and seems reminiscent of the not-so-good old days.
I went back to the Bridge Sunday night, November 30, and spoke with several people who were sleeping on the sidewalk inside the gates, three out of four of whom were women, about where they’d sleep after that night. ”We have no idea,” they told me.
When I left to drive home, I saw that, in the blocks surrounding the Bridge campus, people were sleeping in doorways, on the sidewalk, up against the freeway fence, huddled under a floodlight for safety: the EXACT conditions that the Bridge was built to eliminate. A very vulnerable community, once again in extreme disarray.
Although people sleeping in the cold may truly be the concern of staff and the city, it’s still preferable to sleep ‘cold and safe’ rather than ‘cold and in danger’ — that is, to at least be able to sleep within the confines of the Bridge fences. So, while there may be a legitimate and compassionate impetus for people to be moved into shelters, booting them off the courtyard doesn’t meet the criterion of making things better for them.
As things always are for the homeless community, I’m guessing the ‘full story’ is very complicated. Someone in authority has made a decision profoundly affecting people’s lives, and probably for reasons other than the ones which have been stated. But then that decision has to be explained in ways that will try to please everyone and that will seem as if it has at its basis the highest well-being of those it impacts. To what extent well-being as a motive is the reality is impossible to tell. But, if the good of the homeless is the intent, it is surely not panning out that way in practice. It would be nice every now and then just to be told the truth about it from the very start.
It is clear to me how rapidly and successfully the Dallas community is able and willing to take effective action by the way we solved our temporary housing problems for the homeless last winter, once the political will and a plan to do so were in place. We are a ‘Can-Do’ city. The new policy of banning Bridge courtyard sleeping may be well-intentioned but is, in my view, misdirected.
My hope is that we will change course right away and make a commitment to do what is necessary to allow nonviolent homeless individuals, and, in particular women, to sleep within the confines of the Bridge campus through the winter as we continue to sort through maze of who is ‘qualified and unqualified’ to receive shelter. This is not the time to jump ship on the commitment that has been clearly and emphatically put out there since before the Bridge opened.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Reflecting upon the sense of community I often feel at the Bridge homeless assistance center in the Second Chance Cafe, I came across the following. There can scarcely be a more displaced group than the homeless community, and yet so often it feels like family to me, even when, like this evening, there are so many new, unfamiliar faces which come through the food line. KS
“The word community generally expresses a certain supportive and nurturing way of living and working together…. If we want to reflect on community in the context of compassion, we must go far beyond these spontaneous associations [of sentimentalism, romanticism, and even melancholy]. Community can never be the place where God’s obedient servanthood reveals itself if community is understood principally as something warm, soft, homey, comfortable, or protective. When we form community primarily to heal personal wounds, it cannot become the place where we effectively realize solidarity with other people’s pains….
The call to community as we hear it from our Lord is the call to move away from the ordinary and proper places…. The Gospels confront us with this persistent voice inviting us to move away from where it is comfortable, from where we want to stay, from where we feel at home….
Why is this so central? It is central because in voluntary displacement, we cast off the illusion of ‘having it together’ and thus begin to experience our true condition, which is that we, like everyone else, are pilgrims on the way, sinners in need of grace. [Thus] we counteract the tendency to become settled in false comfort and to forget the fundamentally unsettled position that we share with all people…. [which] leads us to the existential recognition of our inner brokenness and thus brings us to a deeper solidarity with the brokenness of our fellow human beings…. The Greek word for church, ekklesia — from ek = out, and kaleo = call — indicates that as a Christian community we are people who together are called out of our familiar places to unknown territories, out of our ordinary and proper places to the places where people hurt and where we can experience with them our common human brokenness and our common need for healing.”
~~Compassion, A Reflection on the Christian Life, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, Donald P. McNeill, and Douglas A. Morrison
Friday, November 14, 2008
Here is a recent good-news email from Jean Jones, Director of Volunteers at the Stewpot:
Nov. 11, 2008, 4:31 PM
Dear Stew Pot Volunteers:
A story of success and hope we want to share…
Last Friday, during the lunch meal service, a big six foot, 40-something guest named Mike literally skipped into the dining hall, his feet barely touching the ground and a huge smile on his face. “I have to tell you – I got it! I got a JOB!!”, he cried joyfully. We all cheered and congratulated him and asked “how?” and “where?”. “Right here”, he replied, pointing proudly to his ball cap, emblazoned with the logo of a new Cajun restaurant chain. “I got it off the Stewpot Jobs Hotline. I’m a cook, fulltime, forty hours a week. I got me a room. I’m going to save my money and move on up!”
Do you remember the first time you said those words?…”I got a job”… the feeling of pride, the sense of accomplishment. Most everyone wants a job, including our homeless friends – to work, make money, care for themselves and build a future. In these economic times the job market is tough, even more so for them.
The Stewpot Transitional Employment Program (STEP) focuses on preparing persons who are experiencing homelessness with job-readiness skills leading to employment. We need partners in the business world that will consider giving these folks a chance once they complete the three month STEP program.
Attached is a flyer outlining the STEP program. Please consider it, pass it along to your employer and to anyone that might be able to assist with this program. You are all on the “front line” serving the homeless with the basic need of a hot meal. Let’s work together to take them a step further…to a job and independence… out of homelessness.
As always, Thank you to everyone for all you do to serve “the least of these”, our friends in need.
Jean Jones, Director of Volunteers, The Stewpot
214-746-2785, ext. 320
About the S.T.E.P. Program:
The S.T.E.P. Program
Stewpot Transitional Employment Program
Your company’s regular volunteer work at The Bridge on behalf of the Stewpot is just part of the work The Stewpot and other volunteers do to help those experiencing homelessness make it through the day and try to get a better life.
Our S.T.E.P. (Stewpot Transitional Employment Program) program focuses on preparing persons who are experiencing homelessness with job-readiness skills, leading to employment. We need partners in the business world that will consider giving these clients a chance once they graduate from our 3 month program. We have clients wanting work in customer service, warehouse, data entry, security, janitorial/maintenance, restaurant and IT work and most are looking at entry level positions.
Please talk to your company’s decision maker and try to get me an appointment. I would love to discuss this program and what we are doing to help our clients become tax paying citizens who are happy about what they are doing and once employed can lock a door behind them at night for the very first time in a long time.
With the assistance of a vocational rehabilitative consultant we designed a 90-day program to address the issues that were causing Stewpot clients to lose their jobs. The curriculum is designed for behavioral modification through inter/intra personal growth. We have learned that the # 1 reason persons have lost jobs was related to confrontations with superiors and co-workers. Our classes focus on how to turn that around – how to resolve conflicts. Persons who have fallen between the cracks, to the extent that they have become chronically homeless, are all the more benefited by this approach to emotional stability and pursuit of employment. This makes S.T.E.P. very unique in the employment assistance field. The subjects covered are:
Rational Beliefs: 10 Common Irrational Beliefs
Thinking Errors: 10 Ways to Untwist Your Thinking
Common Self-Defeating Behaviors: Self-Talk Correction
Using “I” Statements Correctly: Dealing With Difficult People
5 Secrets of Effective Communication: Developing Your Skills Language
Using Your Transferable Skills: Job Interview Tips
Communication is Key to Working With Supervisors
Surviving On Your New Job
You’ve heard it said,
“The homeless wouldn’t be homeless if they just got a job”
Here is your chance to help them get a job so they can help themselves!
Please contact Larry Sykes
Director Community Voice Mail & STEP Jobs Coordinator
214-746-2785, ext. 248, email@example.com