Sunday, March 12, 2006

Shelter and Hope

What follows appeared as the lead editorial in yesterday's Dallas Morning News.

Our team of housing developers here at Central Dallas Ministries appreciates the support we are receiving from our major local newspaper, as well as from the Dallas City Council and our mayor, Laura Miller.

It seemed appropriate to post the editorial in its entirety.

The next two weeks will be a critical period to the success of our endeavor to bring high quality, affordable housing to downtown Dallas.
_________________________________

Shelter and Hope
Tower for homeless holds great promise

12:00 AM CST on Saturday, March 11, 2006

Not to insult anyone's intelligence, but the problem with the homeless is that they don't have places to live. We're talking here about the problems they cause for the rest of us – primarily making us uncomfortable by loitering, panhandling and doing things in public that should be done in private.

Undoubtedly, many other problems contribute to their plight, chiefly mental illness and addictions. Those also must be dealt with if their numbers are ever to shrink. But No. 1, as far as solving our problem with the homeless, is creating places where they can live until and while those other issues are addressed.

That's why Central Dallas Ministries' plan to turn a 10-years-vacant office tower into affordable units for homeless and low-income people is potentially very good for downtown Dallas.

Like everything else in life, it must be done well to have real value. Shoddy work produces shoddy results. But in principle, Central Dallas Ministries has hit the nail squarely on the head.

The City Council has already endorsed this strategy by including money for such projects in the bond proposition that will fund the new homeless assistance center (which is designed to provide the services homeless people need). Central Dallas Ministries is requesting $1.75 million of that money for its project at 511 Akard, which would include 209 residential units as well as ground-floor retail and two floors of offices for the agency itself.

Look at it another way: If the city can spend $70 million to redo the Mercantile complex and nearby buildings as residences for affluent people, why can't it spend $1.75 million on residences for people who desperately need the help?

Some will say: Yes, but let's house the homeless somewhere besides downtown. The editorial board is willing to bet that City Hall's doors would be open if those voices showed up with their own proposal to raise $17 million from other sources (as Central Dallas Ministries is attempting to do) and build the same number of units away from downtown.

If fact, here's a thought: Go for it.

7 comments:

Paul said...

Well done!

Anonymous said...

This past weekend I made this project a topic of discussion with two different groups.

The first was with relative strangers, all professionals, attending a full day, commercial real estate seminar. During lunch I sat with 7 people I never met before and asked if they knew about the project. Since only about half did (and incorrectly at that, esp. about the cost), I provided a quick summary. I asked what they thought.

Three expressed strong support, for business reasons alone. One said Dallas is "hypocritical about social justice, unless it includes economic gain ... maybe this'll deliver both." Two said it was a good idea "but not in that location... it's too close to the Museums." One then went on to describe his "ideal city", with segregated areas for various socio-economic groups and activities. (Dallas perhaps?) Another said it should be located near the Stewpot, Library and City Hall, which he referred to as the "the blindest poverty row he's ever seen." (marvelous phrase; sad commentary) The seventh person just listened. All but one said they hate to come downtown (described as "someplace other than the DMA area or Fair Park") because of the number of homeless people; one person said he stopped going to the main library for this very reason.

The second group was an after-church-lunch-bunch. Every one of them (ten in all) was aware of the project and in favor of it. They also understood all manner of opposition, and what one person described as Dallas' "wrestling match with God and mammon." (I couldn't help but picture Jacob and that nasty hip accident). All of them said they seldom go downtown, unless it's to an event or to do volunteer work. Their reasons? "Don't need it", and besides, "it's too confusing..I always get lost" and then there's "too many homeless people..."

As I listened, I saw how narrow the gap was between those who get this project (and why) and those who still have a way to go. I also experienced, yet again, the wide variety of attitudes about money and power and our place in the world.

I believe this project will fly, given the opportunity to make the case and with the continued institutional support of the DMN and Mayor's Office. My hope is that it inspires a genuine sea change for Dallas. Something that gives true meaning to the words The winds of grace are blowing all the time; all we have to do is raise our sails." Ahoy and amen.

Anonymous said...

Read in its entirely, this editorial appears to both endorse the CWA project and challenge others to come up with an alternative.

(The last few lines of this editorial, omitted from your post, are included below, in bold.)

"Look at it another way: If the city can spend $70 million to redo the Mercantile complex and nearby buildings as residences for affluent people, why can't it spend $1.75 million on residences for people who desperately need the help?

Some will say: Yes, but let's house the homeless somewhere besides downtown. The editorial board is willing to bet that City Hall's doors would be open if those voices showed up with their own proposal to raise $17 million from other sources (as Central Dallas Ministries is attempting to do) and build the same number of units away from downtown.

If fact, here's a thought: Go for it.

Larry James said...

Anonymous, thanks for pointing the omission out to me. I have updated the post--not sure why the copy/paste routine didn't work my first try!

I am leaving this up as lead post for two days because of its importance to CDM and to Dallas.

Anonymous said...

Dallas has a real opportunity to do something that most large cities don't - begin to create a truly diverse downtown community - one that would blur ethnic, cultural, age and economic lines. Wouldn't it be great if we led the way and became a case study for other cities - large and small?

What can we do to help support this effort? Does it help even if we live outside of Dallas proper to voice our support? - Linda Stanley

Larry James said...

Anonymous, every voice helps! Of course, the closer to our project, the better. If you know of people who live or work near our location, encourage them to speak out for us. Write a letter to the Dallas Morning News in our favor. Call the Mayor and the Council members.

Anonymous said...

I work in the building directly across the street from 511 N. Akard Street. Several years ago, I parked in the small lot behind that building. Every work morning, I passed homeless men sleeping in the alcove on the side of the building. The stinch was so strong from urine and body odor that I often gagged. Many times in the summer, I would cross the street and then across back again to avoid the smell. In the evenings after work, it became more uncomfortable for me to walk to my car. Four or five homeless men would be sitting on the back steps of the building (right next to where I parked). They often asked for money. Although I ususally had little or none to give, it made be fearful as to what they might do if I kept saying no to them. Finally, I asked my boss if the company would pay the extra charges to allow me to park in a covered parking garage. I agree that the homeless need help; I also pray that this project doesn't set my work neighborhood back to the deplorable conditions that I described above. If this project goes through, I would hope the streets are kept clean, the people around the builing are monitored and some real effort is made to help these residents improve their standing in our society. Let's teach them to fish, not just give a hand out.