Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Will he find a home?

Possibly you've seen the news reports out of North Carolina regarding Timothy P. Schmalz's stunning sculpture, Homeless Jesus.  If not, take a moment to view the report below.

So, I'm wondering: will this Jesus find a place in Dallas?

I have a donor who has pledged to fund the cost of bringing this work of art to Dallas.

Where might this piece be placed?

Where might he find a home?

Let me know your thoughts.

Easter faith

Easter 2014.

The streamers will fly!

The music will rise to amazing crescendos!

The litany will inspire to tears.

The faith will be confessed again.

The children will laugh!

The pews will swell!

The preachers will preach an ancient message of surprising hope.

The Christian year ascends to its highest point before a time of more waiting.

Easter 2014.

How did we get here again, and so quickly?

Today should be a time to remember and reflect.  The cross, the place of death, signaled the results of an extremely radical message, a word from heaven directed to earth. 

Easter teaches us:

Defend widows. . .

Receive without exception children who are poor. . .

Challenge unjust, oppressive authority. . .

Resist injustice. . .

Shine a spotlight on wealth and its dangers. . .

Question religion. . .

Eat with the poor as buds. . .

Embrace sinners. . .

Accept "Samaritans". . .

Touch the "unclean". . .

Champion the homeless as fellow residents of the streets. . .

Welcome women as leaders/contributors. . .

Call for a new Kingdom emerging from within everyone. . .

Dare to announce forgiveness to thieves. . .

Befriend enemies. . .

Welcome the world to your party. . .

Prefer the poor and the weak. . .

Indeed, these are the sure, certain steps to a cross, yet giving birth to individual acts of resurrection upon which to build a life that blesses all.

An empty tomb must lead to emptied lives.

Easter 2014!

Now what?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

More than you can know

A key learning from two years on the street, almost every Thursday afternoon:  human touch, affirmation and sincere appreciation bring people back from the dead.

As I've talked to my friends who have no place to call home, other than a makeshift campground under an interstate highway bridge--ironically, highways built to take most people home after work--I've learned the importance of touch and human expressions of kindness and love.  In fact, it's clear to me that the one thing we all desire is to be genuinely loved.  That love involves respect, expressions of friendship and affection, and simple appreciation.

The street has taught me that "a pat on the back" is much more than an English idiom.  Touching a friend on the shoulder or back in a greeting or a farewell usually elicits such positive reactions as to be surprising to people like me who take that sort of non-verbal communication for granted. 

Love raises people from graves of hopelessness, depression, oppression and despair.

So, for me, over the past several months the thought has come again and again to bring the ultimate expression of affirmation to my friends on the street.

I did that a couple of weeks ago when I served Communion on the side of a street where I've been hanging out for almost two years. 

Reactions were mixed and taught me other lessons that I'll unpack here in time. 

But claiming and declaring the love of God for and to my homeless friends turned out to be an amazing experience for me and a number of them.

As hard as our mean streets are, they aren't hard enough to shake off our need for acceptance. 

Lent gives way to Easter just as love opens doors to new life, often unexpected new life.

I've seen it again and again on the street.

 I observed it again, even more powerfully, when I asked the simple question of those who passed by, "Friend, would you like to receive the Lord's Supper?  God loves you more than you can know."

Monday, April 07, 2014

Seth Godin: Smart Bidness!

The smart CEO's guide to social justice

It seems as though profit-maximizing business people ought to be speaking up loudly and often for three changes in our culture, changes that while making life better also have a dramatically positive impact on their organizations.
Minimum Wage: Three things worth noting:
  1. Most minimum wage jobs in the US can't easily be exported to lower wage places, because they're inherently local in nature.
  2. The percentage of the final price of a good or service due to minimum wage inputs is pretty low.
  3. Many businesses sell to consumers, and when they have more money, there's more demand for what they sell.
Given that for even the biggest organizations there are more potential customers than employees, the math of raising the minimum wage works in their favor. More confident and more stable markets mean more sales. Workers struggling to make ends meet are a tax on the economy.  (Consider the brilliant strategic move Henry Ford made in doubling the pay of thousands of his workers in 1914. The assembly line was so efficient that it created profits—but only when it was running, and high turnover made that difficult. By radically raising pay, Ford put pressure on all of his competitors (and on every industry that hired the sort of men he was hiring) at the same time that he created a gateway to the middle class, a middle class that could, of course, buy his cars, whether or not they happened to work for him). Also, consider this point of view...

Climate Change: The shift in our atmosphere causes countless taxes on organizations. Any business that struggled this winter due to storms understands that this a very real cost, a tax that goes nowhere useful and one that creates countless uncertainties. As sea levels rise, entire cities will be threatened, another tax that makes it less likely that people will be able to buy from you.

The climate upredictability tax is large, and it's going to get bigger, in erratic and unpredictable ways.
Decreasing carbon outputs and increasing energy efficiency are long-term investments in global wealth, wealth that translates into more revenue and more profit

Anti-corruption movements: The only players who benefit from corruption in government are the actors willing to race to the bottom--the most corrupt organizations. Everyone else is forced to play along, but is unlikely to win. As a result, for most of us, efforts to create transparency and fairness in transactions are another step toward efficient and profitable engagements.

Historically, when cultures clean up their acts, get more efficient and take care of their people, businesses thrive. It's not an accident, one causes the other. 

In all three cases, there's no political or left/right argument being made--instead, it's the basic economics of a stable business environment with a more secure, higher-income workforce where technological innovation leads to lower energy costs and higher efficiency. 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Disruption no more?

Worn Smooth

Like a jagged rock thrown into a flowing stream, the church once “troubled the waters.” Now, however, it seems as if the church has slowly, often imperceptibly been worn so smooth by the culture that it no longer creates any disturbance at all.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Anniversary of Dr. King's terrible death

Alone or One?

No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood…. Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood, and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Where's the ministry?

Preach the Gospel

Arise—go! Sell all you possess. Give it directly, personally, to the poor. Take up my cross (their cross) and follow Me, going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me. Little—be always little. Be simple, poor, childlike. Preach the gospel with your life.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

One Crisis Away on KERA tomorrow evening. . .

Here's a notice about what will air Thursday evening, March 27 on KERA TV 13 here in Dallas.

Data: Extreme poverty

Last week an unsettling report came across my desk.

Prepared by one of our Neighbor Support Services team members who engages directly with the thousands of people who come to us for assistance of one kind or another at our Resource Center on Haskell Avenue, the report noted that 64.17% of our neighbors who receive case management services learn less than $10,000 annually.

An additional, small group, (6.84%) earns between $10,001 and $20,000 annually.  An even smaller additional group (4.23%) earns between $20,001 and $30,000 each year.

Almost 80% of the people we touch live in Dallas County.

We work with the poorest of the poor, and the vast, vast majority are not homeless; they are the working poor who understand the toxic stress of the constant pressure of extreme poverty.

Ignoring this challenging reality will not serve us or our community well.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Breakfast in Bed: 19th Annual Community Prayer Breakfast--at your house!

Reactions to my call for community engagement

Last week The Dallas Morning News published an essay that I wrote on "asset poverty" and "asset wealth."  You can read it here.

As a change of pace, I thought I'd share readers' responses to my column.  Here they are:

I read with concern your article about asset poverty as it is the second article I’ve read In the newspaper recently about asset poverty, and I’m guessing that is the new term to push these days.  I’m glad you defined it for me, as I wasn’t sure what the term means.  But according to your definition, asset poverty has been around since the beginning of humans and I don’t think it will end regardless of what the asset-rich folks do.
To understand where I’m coming from, my grandparents (both sides) were poor and never had any cash reserves, much less 3 months’ worth. This was at a time when there were no welfare, Medicare and Medicaid, social security benefits.   Neither of my parents were high school graduates, and they each worked two jobs to send four of us to Baylor.  They never had any cash reserves.  If the hot water heater broke, we did without hot water for several months until the money could be found to pay for the repair.  But they felt they had a much better life than their parents, and they wanted us to have a better life than they had.  To me, that’s the key to surviving and having a decent life in  this country…working to better yourself and your children, no matter if you have to live paycheck to paycheck.  We all worked to get an education, and it paid off.  There were no scholarships for women, no government student loans, no nothing.  My parents borrowed money and paid it back—borrowed money and paid it back.  They did without a lot of things to do this—and they had no one or no government to help them do it.
For years after my husband and I got married (and we were both university graduates), we never had cash reserves…I guess we were living in asset poverty.  We made such low salaries as a high school teacher and a high school track coach that we had to live month to month for years—especially after our two sons were born.  If either of us had lost our job, we would have had a hard time—BUT we worked hard, continued to get more education (which we paid for—and borrowed the money to pay for it if we didn’t have it).    Our assets were our house and our cars, but we didn’t own them for decades.
The housekeeper who worked for me when I returned to teaching, worked for me 47 years and I paid her social security and paid her an above-average salary.  She is retired and her social security isn’t enough for her to live comfortably, so I pay her a monthly sum to help, and she gets free medical care and food stamps.  People like her deserve to be helped because she worked all those years and was an honest, hard worker.  My mother always told us that we (and the government) should help those who cannot help themselves and those who temporarily need help, but she was not in favor of taking money from workers and giving it to those who won’t work.  I believe a lot of people who live in poverty today won’t work, or they have come here illegally and can’t speak English, or they have low-paying jobs because they are undereducated as a result of choosing to drop out of school.  They get government aid in several forms, but that’s not enough to have 3 month’s cash on hand.
Now that I’m 79 and my husband is 80, we have assets.  I taught 39 years and he has been coaching 57 years and is still coaching.  We have lived within our means all of lives.  We are where we are because we had parents who taught us the value of education and hard work.  A lot of people in poverty didn’t or don’t have parents like that, and they drop out of school, have numerous children (many times without the benefit of marriage), and they want to have the same standards of living as people who have gotten an education and a job.  And many people like you seem to think that those living in asset poverty will be okay if they just have 3 months’ cash on hand.  How long do you think that cash would remain in savings?  Are we who have worked for our assets to continually give to these people so they can have cash on hand?  It seems to me that it’s not a matter of giving people money but of trying to help them make wise decisions even if they didn’t have parents who did.  Otherwise, we are just enabling these people to continue generation after generation in poverty when there are opportunities in this country for them to get an education and to provide for themselves and their families.
We support our church and  numerous charities every year because as Christians we feel concern for the less fortunate.  If you are encouraging people to give about 2 years’ salaries to the less fortunate, we’ve done that if you give us credit for all the years we have contributed.  And we have many relatives and friends who have done the same thing—BUT, as you say, we still have people who are living in asset poverty.
How do you know what the asset-rich families are contributing and that they need to do more?  How do you know the percentage of the asset-rich families who aren’t acting responsibly, and—for heaven’s sake-- what are “scalable” solutions you mention?  You mentioned more philanthropy and the coordinating function of public policy reform-- is this supposed to explain what you recommend?  I know what more philanthropy is (and I think more of us could give more) but I’m vague on the coordinating function of public policy reform.  By public policy, do you mean laws, regulations—or what?  You barely mention that asset-poor families need to do their part?  What is their part, as you envision it?  Do they stay in school and get a job?  Do they have only the number of children they can afford?  Do they live responsibly, within their means and spend their money wisely?  If they do, then I’m in favor of helping them out of asset-poverty.  But how do we get them to do these things?  I don’t think it’s by giving them money that other people worked to earn.
You probably think I am hard-hearted, but I think I am a realist.  I think some of the people in poverty are bettering themselves, but I think the irresponsible, lazy, takers will always take from the responsible workers if they can, and will even expect it’s their right to take it.  I think many people today are creating even more problems by suggesting that people who work should support those who won’t work and to make those of us who live responsibly and contribute to society feel guilty because we now have (after many years of struggling) assets that some people don’t.  When you come up with a way to get people who live in poverty to pull themselves up, with help then please write another column with how to do it.


     I appreciated your column.  My modest property tax was about $2800.00 last year.  Could I pay one percent more?  $28.00?  Of course I could.  Even ten percent more, $280.00 would't hurt us.  We would never miss it.  I don't understand why people complain that they can't afford small  tax increases.  My wife and I are not great income/financial managers, mainly because of our children, however even WE can afford to pay a few cents more on the dollar in taxes.
     I have thought for a long time that we needed a half penny,  penny more in Medicare, Social Security taxes,  whatever is needed to balance the cost of those excellent and necessary programs.  Perhaps it is the well-to-do who need life style counseling?

Asset rich families already do their part in helping those less fortunate by paying taxes.  And then paying more taxes.  And then actually being philanthropic. 
I wonder if you have ever actually owned a business in a predominately minority part of town and seen live the effects of your money being siphoned off by lousy government, crooked officials and thieving neighbors. 
In your liberal mind the successful method of dealing with poverty in America is to blame the successful people that work for a living and to dream up new ways to tax those people out of their money while you hand it to those that have never accomplished anything except learning how to vote and signing up for entitlements.
Personal responsibility goes a long way but you claim that only the successful should shoulder the blame.
I have owned businesses in Oak Cliff, I served in the Marines, I even spent a brief  time as a police officer.  The one constant I found is that people like you don't have a clue in the world except to confiscate my money. 
America is collapsing under the weight of the federal debt and really bad government.  You are part and parcel of that collapse.

Your suppositions about the wealthy having to provide more in order to balance the scales of opportunity and poverty to wealth is purely analytical and fails to consider the people that have those assets and the promise they were asked to keep 60 years ago.
The leaders of this country asked us to save and invest for our retirement and to take responsibility for securing our families future. That was our first responsiubility.
We were told we could retire and live our lives in luxury.
Many of us, using some luck and with disciplined saving and investment and occasional risk taking, actually made it. That is quite evident by the fact that over 60% of all personal wealth is in the hands of those 60 years of age and older.
We paid the majority of taxes in to support our government, at least if you accept that the government actually followed the guidance of their accounting offices and actually kept our taxes at rates that were needed to support the programs that enrich us even further in our retirement, (which they did not).
Sure we are well above those poverty figures, but are still (most of us) in a mode where we want a big comfort zone so that we can fulfill our greatest fear of asset preservation looking at never being a burden upon our children.
We do all of this while trying to be of service in our communities, and trying to help at the food banks, and ETC.
You are asking those that face potential 7-8000 a month in old age living costs to potentially give that earned income over to whom.
The same government that put their SS fund and spent it while putting IOUs in the fund, the same government that did not adequately fund their Medicare health system, the same government that rushed off hell bent for leather to avenge the deaths of 3000 of its citizens against not a government but against a loosely knit widespread theocratic band of extremists, created a health plan to cover 30m uninsured in this country that through 6 months covers only 1m that were previously uninsured.
We planned for our future and earned every dollar we have and with what we see from the way our government has responded feel pretty lucky to actually have succeeded to the point where our reliance on those programs and that government in general will not destroy us they eventually scale back on the promises they failed   to keep up with.

just read your article on the asset rich doing their part.  I completely agree that we are all in this together, but I struggle every time I hear someone say that the answer lies in taking more from those who have earned more.  Our tax system is a progressive one that does that already.  We now have an government insurance program that will do the same.  Some say it is Socialism, I call it Robinhoodism.  Absolute redistribution of wealth.  I tell my children that much of what we have is due to hard work, education and taking advantage of opportunities.  However, we also have had our share of “luck”.  Some say you make your own luck, but I also believe we get some opportunities that are just plain “luck” - be it good or bad.  Thus,  I do feel I have a responsibility to help those less fortunate than me.  However, where does it stop?   There is a difference between “helping” and “subsidizing”.   The “asset rich”  do DO their part.  Would if be enough if they gave 75% of their income to the state?  That is how Texas “helps” those districts that are less fortunate.  The “property rich” districts send an “unfair” ratio of money to the “poor” districts so they can have awesome football stadiums.  This approach doesn’t seem to have done much for improving the quality of Texas education K-12.  I don’t really view 46 out of 50 as a very good report card.   We need to focus on setting up programs & processes that help people help themselves.  This “entitlement” mentality is growing and not changing behavior.    We, as a whole, need to take responsibility for our decisions and actions.  Not everyone is the same.  We should be promised to have the same opportunities - not the same of everything. Thanks

Thanks for the article in this morning DMN. .  

My agenda, as it were, is to get you to change your appeal from an ethical argument, to one based on fundamental roles of government proposed by Thomas Hobbes in the Leviathan, (Chapter 30: Of the Office of the Sovereign Representative).
1) Take care of those that cannot take care of themselves
2) Provide work for all those that can work
3) Provide Law and Order. 
While Hobbes designed these roles that some call Contractualism, to avoid the evils of civil war, John Locke went further and argued that the denial of liberty would be sufficient cause to bring down the government.  Since, without liberty society can't advance.   
Our government therefore has the obligation to assure "liberty and justice for all" which incidentally we often pledge our allegiance.  Liberty, by definition has two components: freedom of arbitrary authority, and having the means to exercise free will.   
I understand that CitySquare serves many that do not have jobs or cannot take care of themselves and therefore do not have the means to exercise free will.  I believe it is the privilege and obligations of both those that have liberty as well as those that have been denied, to remove from government those that restrict government in performing these fundamental duties and divert public resources to the false goal of growing private economic gains. 
I would very much like to discuss this further with you over lunch or coffee.  As I am retired from an engineering career, with pensions from Raytheon and Lockheed I hope we can work together to realize this common agenda.

  I wanted to thank you for your article of March 18 and thank you for your work on the Poverty Task Force.  I retired just over 10 years ago and realized that I had the time to "give back" and possibly be able to make at least a small positive difference in my community.  One of the things I did was to become a volunteer in Big Brothers/Big Sisters.  After just a couple of years I noticed a pattern that existed with the kids I mentored; they were poor, lived with their mom and a couple of siblings, their dad was in prison, and their mom was a teenager when they were born.  Plus, I discovered that their grandmother was a teen when their mom was born.  This set me off doing some serious research on the problem of teen pregnancies and I learned, among other things, that the U.S. has the highest teen birth rate of all the 28 developed nations in the world and Texas leads the nation in teen births. 

  Most teen moms never finish high school, only 3 percent get a college degree by the time they are 30.  Their offspring are 9 times more likely to live in poverty, are twice as likely to go to prison and are most likely to become teen parents themselves.  Being a teen mom leads to depression and a high percentage tend to use drugs and abuse their children.  Teen births are clearly a root cause of poverty in Texas and Dallas specifically.

  There is a way to reduce our teen birth rate. Other states with similar demographics to Texas have done it.  We can do it too!  We as a society, particularly here
in Texas, concentrate more on the consequences of poverty rather than dealing with the causes, we need to change that.

  If there is anything I can do to help, let me know.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Death penalty should go. . .

Here is an interesting clip from a speech by Bob Ray Sanders delivered at this year's meeting of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP).  

We really should abolish capital punishment in Texas.

Way too costly--119 counties have never executed anyone, largely due to expense involved..

Way too risky--too many ways to arrive at unjust or erroneous verdicts.

Way to inhumane--how can I tolerate something that I could not personally do?.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Garland adopts strong payday lending regs

(Earlier this week the Garland City Council adopted Dallas' "Model Ordinance" to regulate payday lending in that city.  This makes the 16th city to provide protection to its citizens.  Below you will read the rationale behind the ordinance.  Thanks to CitySquare's Public Policy efforts led by Rev. Gerald Britt and supported by Keilah Jacques.)


These are the key messages we, as a coalition, will use to advocate consistently for the Model City Ordinance.  Please utilize these key messaging points to ensure we all stay on message and deliver a powerful, consistent message to City Council.

Key Messages for City Council Visits:

Ø  Garland’s citizens deserve the same protections as other major Texas cities, including Dallas, Austin, Houston, El Paso, and San Antonio (now totaling 14 statewide).  I am here today to ask for your support of a strong ordinance modeling other major cities in Texas ordinances on payday and auto title lending.
o   In 2005, Garland had 18 payday and auto title lending storefronts and it has grown by around 40% to a total of 32 storefronts in 2014.
Ø  Adding Garland to the list of cities with strong payday and auto title ordinances will add to the push for statewide reform.  
Ø  High cost payday and auto title loans damage our city and citizens by:
  • exacerbating already desperate financial circumstances of the borrowers.  Payday and auto title loans often lead to further financial distress for borrowers—statewide 35,000 cars were repossessed in 2012 due to auto title loans. Loss of transportation for Texans can mean loss of employment further compounding a desperate situation.
  • having a payday loan increases borrowers’ risk of having their bank account involuntarily closed and nearly doubles borrowers’ chances of having to file for bankruptcy.
  • draining nonprofit resources and undermine investments in family financial stability.  A 2012 Texas survey found 32% of nonprofit clients seeking financial assistance were in trouble with a payday or auto title loan.
  • diverting critical business tax revenue away from our city. It is estimated that Garland loses approximately $1.2 million in sales tax revenue each year.  Currently, payday and auto title lenders are draining approximately $14.1 million a year from our local economy in fees alone.  This is on top of the actual loan amount! 
Ø  Payday and auto title lenders take advantage of unfair market competition.  While they are not regulated at all, less expensive options available to consumers are regulated.  Why should payday and auto title lenders be exempt from any time of regulation or oversight?
Ø  Local advocates stand united with advocates across the state on passing the Model Payday Ordinance.   Listed below are its main provisions, for reference, if needed.
1.      Require Credit Access Businesses to obtain a valid certificate of registration from the City of Houston annually.
2.      Limit payday loans to 20 percent of the borrower's gross monthly income.
3.      Limit auto title loans to the lesser of 3 percent of the borrower's gross annual income or 70 percent of the vehicle value.
4.      Limit loans to no more than four installments or three rollovers or renewals (a rollover or renewal is defined as an extension of consumer credit made within seven days of the previous extension of credit).
5.      Require the proceeds from each installment or renewal to reduce the loan principal by 25 percent.
6.      Require that every contract be written in a language the borrower can understand, or be read in its entirety to any borrower who cannot read.
7.      Require the lender to provide to the borrower a form created by the City which references non-profit agencies that provide financial education and agencies with cash assistance programs and contains general information regarding extensions of consumer credit.
Ø  We urge your support for the Model Payday Ordinance so that:
  • We can limit the costs to the City through lost sales tax revenue and unfair market competition
  • We can limit the costs to our families through high cost, predatory products providing protections against predatory practices.
  • Garland can join other cities as a united front in sending a strong signal to state legislators that predatory practices must stop.
 Potential Questions and Answers:  These are potential questions and positions you may hear when discussing the Garland ordinance. 
  1. I don’t want a Lawsuit.
If the ordinance is going to be meaningful and contain strong consumer protections, you will be sued by the industry.  Enshrining the status quo only sanctions predatory practices and allows more borrowers to be trapped in a cycle of debt.  In addition, Dallas defended the suit in house and has temporarily won the lawsuit. 
  1. I believe in a Free Market
  • We also believe in a free market and do not wish to push the industry out of business.  However, as things stand currently:  Banks, credit unions, credit card advances, pawn shops and finance companies are lenders that follow state rate and fee caps for consumer lending and serve sub-prime customers.[1]   These alternative products are regulated, unlike Payday and Auto Title lenders.  This sets up unfair market competition.
  1. The city does not have the budget for enforcement.
  • Enforcement is a tricky issue and we suggest that you turn for advice and suggestions from other cities that have passed ordinances.  A suggestion is to work in enforcement and its issues into the ordinance.
  1. There aren’t enough votes on City Council.
  • We are here to assist you in working with your fellow council members.  We have many advocates from the business community, over faith leaders, and non-profits all willing to assist you in this effort.
  1. Businesses will just move outside of Garland.
  • We agree, but we need to begin somewhere.  We are also willing to assist our outlying communities with education and ordinance language to broaden the scope and impact of a strong consumer ordinance.  Garland itself is becoming a haven for lenders due to the restrictions in Dallas—that is why it is up to cities like Garland to form a unified front in helping economically vulnerable citizens.  Garland passing the Model Payday Ordinance is key; if Garland goes a down a different path from the other cities, we will weaken our position during the next legislative session, leaving room for the industry to pass weak regulation that will pre-empt all of the cities’ stronger ordinances.
  1. Aren’t these the only option for people that just need a small loan?
  • No, they are not.  Less expensive options include finance companies, pawn shops, credit card cash advances, credit unions and banks.  However, each of these alternatives is regulated, including pawn shops.  Why should all of these options be regulated, while payday and auto title lenders do business without any regulation?
  1. Won’t this ordinance cause these lenders to go out of business?
  • No.  Lenders still have flexibility and can charge the same fees (along with the interest that goes to the third party lender).  We are just asking that borrowers have the ability to pay off the loan within a reasonable time frame. 
  1.  Why can’t we just wait for the Texas Legislature to provide regulations?
  • To pass meaningful regulation, the Legislature needs political will—something that is provided when cities unite in passing a uniform ordinance regulating payday and auto title lenders.  The next legislative session is a year away and even given real reform, in the meantime, many Garland residents will become trapped in the cycle of debt.  An ordinance with real reforms to these predatory products can help borrowers sooner. 

[1] Texas Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner list of 342 E and F lenders, October 2012.  Texas Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner list of licensed pawn shops, August 2013.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Low wage workers and raising the minimum wage

In 2013, CitySquare worked alongside over 50,000 different individuals.  The vast majority of these neighbors, who worked, earned less that the amount needed to make life work--or as we say, "make ends meet."

A large part of the challenge relates to wage levels.  Unskilled workers must settle for minimum wage pay ($7.25 an hour).  That's just not enough.

Currently, a national discussion is underway again about the pros and cons of raising the national minimum wage to $10.15 an hour.  That would help lift a large number of "sinking ships."

Of course, whenever the issue of increasing the minimum wage standard comes up, critics emerge warning that raising the wage level would force people out of employment, curtail job creation and hurt business, especially small businesses.  In spite of the fact that every serious study over the years debunks and discredits these notions, the argument persists.

The experience of Washington State and of Seattle provides a refreshing backdrop for understanding the economic impact associated with raising the minimum wage.

Check this out!

Reactions encouraged.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Access to opportunity and choice

What you see here relates to life in the American ghetto.


Fair health care

Health disparities that break along racial lines should concern us all. I found a recent article in The New York Times most troubling. Here's just a sample of what's reported.

A troubling racial divide in breast cancer mortality continues to widen in most major cities around the country, suggesting that advances in diagnosis and treatment continue to bypass African-American women, according to new research.

Read the entire report here

Cause for real concern, wouldn't you say? 

At CitySquare we continue to think in terms of "hot spot" interventions in which we know we can play a useful part. Those who support our community clinic will play a huge role in helping us engage even more effectively in the future than we have in the past. 

More later. . .I believe.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Beyond understanding "asset poverty"

Recent studies of the Dallas community indicate that between 30 and 39 percent of the population live in "asset poverty."

"Asset poverty" exists when a person or a family doesn't possess cash reserves adequate to sustain them for 3 months at the current, nationally defined poverty line.  For a family of four that line stands at $23,550 in annual income.  These statistics demonstrate the fragility of our economy at the street level. 

After participating in the "One Crisis Away" public forum week before last, sponsored by the Communities Foundation of Texas, KERA, the Thompson Family Foundation and other underwriters, I came away with a familiar feeling.  I've been invited to weigh in, as a panelist on "asset poverty" more than once.  My role is always to report and reflect on the status of folks even lower down the economic ladder

At times my presence in the middle of these discussions feels like a big disconnect. 

With 10% of the Dallas population living at one half the poverty level (that is $23,550 divided by 2 for a family of four), my concerns and focus usually come off being somewhere else. I don't always, actually I seldom provide satisfying answers to the predictable questions.

Of course, I recognize that the economic realities of our entire community are welded together. 

Truly, we're all in this together.  It's just that if I am face down at the very bottom of the economy with virtually no assets, the canons and proposed solutions that are truly helpful for folks up the ladder don't really resonant. 

After the engaging forum last week I started thinking (normally a really scary development!). 

Maybe what we need is a study of "asset wealth."  The "asset poverty" analysis provided a scorecard type summary of the reality facing families on the precipice of falling deeper into poverty. 

But, what would "asset wealth" look like when faced with similar, cataclysmic events?

For the sake of illustrative comparison, how would a family of four fare who enjoyed a liquid asset base of $1,000,000? 

How long could such a family survive at the poverty line?  Some would quickly say that such a family couldn't survive at all due to past experiences!  But, for the sake of the illustration we seek, how long could an asset rich family survive at this benchmark? 

509.5 months.

Or, almost 43 years

These startling numbers set me to thinking, again already! (Sorry!)

What can, could or would wealthy families be able to do to assist their neighboring families who live in "asset poverty"? 

I mean, if I have nearly 43 years with which to work, couldn't I share a year or two with families who work hard and play by the rules? 

I mean, wouldn't I want to share from my abundance for the sake of the health and well-being of my entire community?  Especially in view of the almost certain fact that my current position will allow me to continue earning and adding to my net wealth even if I do nothing but spend the principal of my wealth?

Aren't we in this together? 

For certain, asset poor families need to do their part.  And, there was much talk in the forum about the responsibilities of the "asset poor."

But the scale of our problem leads me to believe systemic forces are at work here.  Asset rich families need to do their part as well, and that means they need to do more, act more responsibly and support new, scalable solutions. 

Part of that response should involve more aggressive philanthropy. 

But a larger, more sustainable part must come from the coordinating function of public policy reform. This is how a truly free and noble society is intended to work.

There is just no other way to really change this undeniably worsening reality. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Heard in church yesterday. . .

Rev. Dr. Andy Stoker, Senior Minister at First United Methodist Church, Dallas, read this great Maya Angelou poem during his Lenten sermon yesterday.  I was ill at home, but caught the message via streaming media!   Ironically, I was alone as I listened.


Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can't use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They've got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.