Last Friday morning as I drove down Elm Street toward Downtown, I noticed my good friend, "Blue" picking up cans as he made this way up the street in my direction.
I pulled up, rolled my window down and said, "What are you doing, man?" "Pickin' up cans, Mr. James," he replied.
I pulled off the street and parked my Jeep.
We greeted each other with a hug and a handshake.
"How are you, Blue," I inquired.
"I'm blessed, blessed by the best!"somehow his answer beamed. "I want that job, Mr. James, that's what I want," he reminded me of the focus of several conversations we've had out at "the Corner" across from the Opportunity Center site. "All I want is the job," he repeated emphatically. "I hear you, Blue, and I know," I tried to assure him that I had not forgotten.
"Where were you Wednesday night during the storm?" I asked him.
"Outside, under Billy's canopy at the gas station," he informed me.
"I was thinking about you as the sirens sounded and the rain poured down," I told him, small comfort, really no comfort in that report, but I wanted him to at least know that he had not been forgotten, though I did nothing to relieve his situation.
Golden Rule failure, big time there.
"What do you get for the cans, Blue?" I asked changing the subject.
"Fifty cents a pound," he told me.
"How many pounds you got? I asked.
"About 5 or 6, I'd guess," he said.
"How long that take you to pick up?" I probed.
"'Bout an hour," he said.
So, I figured in my head, "Blue" scourers the streets of inner city Dallas, in my neighborhood, for discarded cans and earns no more than $3 an hour.
"I need that job, Mr. James, I need that job," he pressed.
"I know, Blue, I know. And, you need a place to live off these streets," I reminded him of the obvious. "Nothing really changes until we find you a home," I repeated, more for myself than for him. "That's right. But, Mr. James, I'm okay. Really I am," he noted in a thinly veiled effort to take care of me, patting his chest with his open hand.
"I'm blessed, Mr. James, I'm blessed. Just don't forget that job!" he stated one more time.
"I won't," I told him. "I won't."
As I drove away, I faced his simple request, and I wondered if we could connect the dots with my friend.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared the following comments in a sermon delivered in Memphis, Tennessee the evening prior to his death:
"We need all of you. . . and you know what's beautiful to me, is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It's a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and say, 'Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.' . . .
"It's alright to talk about 'long white robes over yonder,' in all its symbolism. But ultimately, people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It's alright to talk about 'streets flowing with milk and honey,' but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and [the] children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's alright to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God' preacher must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. That is what we have to do. . . .
"We aren't going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don't know what to do. I've seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham. . .when we were in the majestic struggle there [and] we would move out. . .by the hundreds. . . . And Bull Conner would tell them to send the dogs forth and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing. Bull Connor next would say, 'Turn the fire hoses on.' And, as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn't know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn't relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out."
Several weeks ago I met Charles on "the porch" where I sit on Thursday afternoons.
He impressed me then as a very smart, self-aware man.
"Today, Larry, I have a peaceful spirit. That has not always been the case, back when I tried to 'act like God,' I was very, very different" he informed me in that first meeting. Funny how deep folks seem to go immediately out there on the street. No time for wasted words or small talk. Tough reality only, please.
Last week when I saw him, he had a real problem. His bike, the only source of transportation that he had, had two flat tires. Charles picks up work wherever he can. He stays in a night shelter or under a bridge, rides his bike to work where he cleans things up and catches out on odd jobs. Or, at least he did until recently.
It was an easy thing to help him get his tires fixed.
During that process, I asked him what he did for work.
"I do anything I can find to do," he said. "But, it's gotten lots harder. Over in Deep Ellum they are telling us 'We can't hire people like you anymore.' I told them, I don't know what you mean. My name is Charles and I'm just here to work."
It seems the Deep Ellum Association doesn't want homeless persons in their area, even if they are there to work.
Just one more example of why housing is so important.
Lots of people think shelters provide "housing."
Funny though, business owners and employers don't consider shelters "housing." If they did, some of my homeless friends like Charles would be hired.
We've got to do better.
We've got to get people like my friend Charles into homes.
He has transportation.
Now he needs an address.
"If I had a home, Larry, I could get my little granddaughter out of foster care," he told me.
But, then, that's another story altogether. A story that breaks this granddad's heart.
The U. S. Senate Judiciary Committee leads the current discussion regarding immigration reform. To see a listing of the committee members click here.
The 18 members of this committee are considering possible amendments to the bipartisan “Border
Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” that was
introduced a few weeks ago. The amendment process is incredibly
important: it provides the opportunity to make improvements to the bill before
it goes to a vote, but it also provides an opportunity to introduce elements to
a carefully negotiated compromise bill that could cause bipartisan support to
be limited going forward. If one of your senators is a member of this committee, I urge you to contact him/her and express your support for comprehensive immigration reform, and ask that it be wrapped up this coming summer for the sake of the millions of people who are adversely affected by current policies. So many of our neighbors need the relief that strong reform would provide.
The video captures, in a very unprofessional manner, just a snippet of the most encouraging graduation exercises for CitySquare's most recent Build 4 Success class, a 14-week, 310 hour course in hard skills construction training.
This spring's class was a truly great one.
These graduates will be stepping up into living wage jobs thanks to the high-level training they received and of which they took full advantage!
What a great group!
And, again, forgive my crude video. I just had to give you a glimpse.
As we move forward, employment training will occupy more and more of our time and resources.
We have many goals for our AmeriCorps programs: help 3,000
children do better in school, provide 20,000 children with meals during the
summer, provide food for 5,000 families through our food pantry, and recruit
500 volunteers to help expand impact.
We have one unmeasured goal that in many
ways we view as our most important accomplishment: instill in AmeriCorps
members an ethic of service that extends beyond their short term with us.
Member surveys and comments to us suggest we do a pretty good job at this goal.
However, every now and then we are presented with broader proof that we are
reaching our goals.
Today a former member dropped by to let us know that she was
tasked with a class project in her “Psychology of Poverty” course. She
had the option to do research and write a paper or she could do an action
project. She choose an action project.
Drawing upon her tenure as a
summer AmeriCorps member, she decided that she wanted to do two things: raise
funds and recreational equipment to support the summer enrichment activities of
our Food on the Move program and also raise awareness of poverty and childhood
She enlisted the help of a few classmates and the management of SportsAuthority. She set up a table at a local Sports Authority, who supported
the project by donating 20% off coupons to be given out. Her only visuals
were a few 8 1/2 by 11 pieces of paper taped to the table and a homemade 3
sided cardboard sign – like the kind kids use for science projects.
Her team welcomed everyone as they entered the store and for
those that stopped, they talked about not just the need in Dallas, but also
about the solution. And she asked them to help with the solution by
donating funds or sports items like balls and jump ropes. Over the course
of two, four hour days this AmeriCorps Alum raised $900 in cash and received
another $100 in sports equipment.
We have a need for both in our summer program; and we will
put the funds to their intended use: buying more balls and jump ropes and
sidewalk chalk…and hula hoops. But our greatest need was met by her actions –
the need to have more citizens committed to a lifetime of service and
attachment to their community.
National leaders need to listen to the public about simple, common sense gun control.
Whatever the intention of the framers of the Second Amendment, I believe we can agree it did not include the right of mentally ill persons, violent criminals or people listed on a terrorist watch list to bear arms.
Why, none of those people could even join a "well-regulated militia"!
In keeping with that spirit, here's how the dollar bounces in the U. S. Senate.
Let me tell you, this behavior doesn't play well in the inner city where I live.
The Daily Beast reports some good news about national progress in ending homelessness for those trapped in the most extreme poverty. Very encouraging report that highlights the vital nature of permanent housing.
Have you noticed that homelessness isn't worse? Here we are, living through the most protracted joblessness crisis since the Great Depression -- and surprisingly, fewer people are living on the street.
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that the number of the chronically homeless declined by 30% between 2005 and 2007. You might have expected the numbers to spike again when the financial crisis hit but no. Since 2007, the number of chronic homeless has dropped another 19%.
A broader measure of the number of homeless counts the number of people living out of doors on one randomly chosen night. That broader measure has also improved through the economic crisis. Between January 2011 and January 2012, homelessness among veterans dropped by 7%.
To what or whom do we owe this good news?
In very large part, we owe it to the president whose library opened in Dallas last week: George W. Bush.
For three decades, we have debated what causes homelessness and how to deal with it. Is homelessness a mental health problem? A substance abuse problem? A problem caused by gentrification and urban redevelopment? Or something else again?
The Bush administration substituted a much simpler idea -- an idea that happened to work. Whatever the cause of homelessness, the solution is ... a home.
So, what if everyone in the nation enrolled in Medicare? How would that work?
Typically, when someone asks a question like that, immediately naysayers begin to push back, calling the idea absurd and/or cost prohibitive. Or, people laugh and walk away. Data flies around. Conversations turn tense.
Today, I'm wondering why.
The nation faces a health care crisis both in terms of cost and public health outcomes.
Growing numbers of people believe the solution is not that complex to imagine.
The problem revolves around the existing self-interests of powerful groups. This reality produced the compromise response that is the unwieldy Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as "Obama Care."
But, honestly, there is a better way. A way to further curb expenses, as well as a way toward much improved public health results.
Got to say that I'm waiting for the day I can watch a presentation like the one below that envisions radical investment in South Dallas Fair Park.
Maybe I won't live that long, but there is no reason the quality of the presentation and the vision of the final product for the benefit of people and community couldn't match this one that sets out a major reinvestment plan for the old Valley View Center in, where else, North Dallas.
Why couldn't something like this happen in Fair Park, our city's most neglected treasure?
Recently, I received the message below from Leigh Allen, our practice administrator at CitySquare's Community Health Services. The good news continues to pour in on the quality of the services we offer our neighbors who are also our patients. We strive to create a user-friendly medical home for everyone who comes through our doors. It turns out that the "family atmosphere" we offer is an important part of the healing work we do. Enjoy!
Practically the only tax that could rise was
the one that hurt the poor the most: the sales tax. And rise it did, throughout
the Deep South in the late 19th century, then spreading into the Carolinas,
Georgia, Florida and the rest of the region in the 1960s and 1970s. Even
liberal politicians weren’t able to buck the tide — just ask Bill Clinton, who
as governor of Arkansas urgently sought new revenue to improve his state’s
ailing schools and found the sales tax was the only politically viable option.
If this were just a history lesson, we could
set it aside. It isn’t. In the last 30 years, these trends have only gotten
worse. Southern states have steadily increased the tax burden on their poorest
citizens by shifting the support of the public sector to sales taxes and fees
for public services. After California voters passed Proposition 13, which
capped property-tax increases, in 1978, Western states began to move in a
similar direction. Sales taxes on clothing and school supplies and fees for bus
fare and car registration take up, of course, a far bigger slice of a poor
household’s budget than they do from the rich.
To get an important historical perspective on tax policy at the state level, as well as essential understanding as to just how our tax system hurts the weakest among us in Dallas, click hereand read the entire report.
Larry's new book, now available from Amazon.com! Also, now in Kindle format! To place your order visit Amazon.com today! Also, available at Barnes and Noble bookstores and on the web. Click on the image above to order!
Larry James' Urban Daily
A repository of ideas, resources, commentary and opinions concerning the issues facing low-income residents of the inner cities of the United States and how mainstream America largely forgets or, worse, ignores the day-to-day realities of urban life for the so-called "poor." Written and edited by the President & CEO of CitySquare. Please visit CitySquare.
Today and throughout 2013, we need your support to continue our life-changing work in inner-city Dallas. Every day hundreds of our wonderful neighbors arrive at our doors seeking our assistance, offering their help and prepared to pursue a better life. Frankly, the folks we "serve" make essential contributions to the scope, nature and soul of the work we attempt. At CitySquare we honor and recognize the amazing value and richness of our low-income neighbors. During 2012, almost 55,000 different people received the benefit of our wide-ranging services designed to assist in the process of building better lives. We need your help TODAY as we continue to respond to the needs of our community. Even more, we need you to become our PARTNER in the work of compassion and community renewal--work that continues day after day at CitySquare.