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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Dallas and Our Unique Challenges for the Homeless

Dallas is tough on the homeless. Actually, life on our streets can be brutal, inhuman and deadly.

Of course, this could be said of life for the homeless in any American city.

But, what about the unique challenges facing the men, women and children who call our streets home on a daily basis? I think Dallas does present the homeless several very unusual challenges as a city.

Here’s a beginning list of what makes Dallas so uniquely tough to manage if you have no place to call home.

1) The heat. From December to March, with some very cold exceptions, the climate can be a plus, I suppose. But somehow the thought of August cancels whatever advantage our relatively mild winters provide.

The past several days I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to stay outside all of the time. Talk about draining energy, initiative and strength!

How do you get from the blazing heat into a job interview? How do you clean up? Where do you go for refreshment? How do you sleep in the sweltering humidity?

2) The combination of our sprawl and our “transportation system.” Don’t get me wrong. We are making progress in Dallas on public transportation. DART is great and getting better all the time. We just aren’t there yet. But how could we be, given the amazing manner in which the community has fanned out to the ends of the earth?

Many jobs available to very low-income persons are outside the central city where most of these neighbors of ours "reside." The jobs and the more affordable housing are miles away from the home turf of the homeless.

There are plenty of other obstructions to employment beyond how to get to it (see number 1 above). But this one expresses itself in a unique, Dallas way as compared to many other cities.

3) Texas style Calvinism. While I don’t much agree with his theology, I really have nothing against the Protestant Reformation leader from Geneva! I’m sure he was a fine chap. It is just that his followers in North America, and especially here in Dallas, seem to have figured out the difficult issue of “election” in a way that affects poor people.

Calvin was big on the idea of "the elect" people of God. You know, the ones who are predestined and chosen. It’s a great class to be a member of if you can manage to attain it! I mean how do you do better than being tagged “chosen”?

But how do I know if I am a member of this elect delegation? What is the mark or the sign of election? Simply put, it’s money. That’s right, wealth for many of the faithful in Dallas is the proof of God’s favor, the elusive mark of the saved.

This may sound strange, even crazy, but consider the paradigm as you observe our city.

If this is true, then the converse applies as well. If you are poor, well, you know where that leaves you. It is an easy step from this point to the conclusion that the poor are cursed because of their sins and their “un-elect” status. Talk about a tough category in which to make yourself a life! (For more on this intriguing idea see the classic by Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.)

4) Central or core city employment issues. Unlike many cities, jobs located downtown and open to unskilled or “re-entry” workers are few and far between.

Here we confront the unique “chicken or egg” dilemma of Dallas.

If the core city is to be renewed to become a vital center of activity and commerce, it will need an unskilled workforce. That is right, an unskilled workforce to take on the service-sector jobs necessary to support any comprehensive rebound.

Adding to our problem is the rhetoric and the philosophy voiced often by business and community leaders expressing the desire to rid the city’s central business district of the very poor and the homeless.

Vital central cities elsewhere capitalize on the presence of low-wage workers to support their determined revitalization efforts. Somehow Dallas can’t see the benefit.

Put yourself on the street tonight.

Consider these issues.

Make your own list.

Please, just don’t forget.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than a rich person to enter the gates of heaven . . . then perhaps Calvin is right, but his followers have it wrong . . .