Monday, March 17, 2008

Mayor Tom Leppert Challenges Us

Last Thursday morning, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert provided the keynote address during Central Dallas Ministries' 13th Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast. Over 1,100 guests filled the hall at the Hilton Anatole Hotel to hear the Mayor and to pray for our city.

The Mayor challenged us all to engage more actively in the battle to overcome poverty and to craft a high quality of life for every resident of Dallas.

I expect that his speech will be streaming on our website soon. For now, your can read about the event in The Dallas Morning News' report from last Friday morning (March 14, 2008) right here: Dallas mayor urges businesses to fight homelessness .



Karen Shafer said...

I bought a ticket to the Prayer Breakfast, but regret that I was ill and couldn’t attend. I heard it was a very nice event.

I agree with much, but not all, of what is said here and in the DMN article about the homeless and Mayor Leppert. I’ve come to know him and his son, Ryan, since an evening during the election when they met me and other volunteers at the Day Resource Center to meet, greet and feed our homeless friends. They are both fine, caring people, and personally served over 400 meals to the our homeless friends that cold, rainy night -- without press in tow.

On the subject of panhandling and the Lend a Hand program, however, I disagree with him and I support advocates who are critical of the program. (The program advocates giving money to drop boxes placed downtown rather than to the homeless themselves. The money then is funneled to established organizations.) Consider these statements from a recent Dallas Morning News article:

"People who are asking for money may have some very legitimate reasons for asking," said Tulin Ozdeger, civil rights director for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. "I'm not sure this policy [Lend a Hand] is productive. Hiring more outreach workers – that's a productive way of helping people, while addressing concerns about disruptive behavior."

"It's a little self-serving for an agency to say 'Give us the money, not the person on the street who may really need it.' People have a right to beg, and the general public has a right to give to or refuse someone," said Michael Stoops, acting executive director for the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless.

People on the street have to survive. Many of them currently are not able to get the help they need through ‘organizations dedicated to helping the homeless.’ And ticketing them for panhandling only complicates and exacerbates an already untenable life situation.

One should also note, begging is an accepted tradition in many cultures.

Nobody’s opinions are perfect, and, although I very much admire him, that includes the mayor’s. I would tell him this myself, and have. The good thing about Tom Leppert’s leadership: he has been willing to adjust and change his opinions about the homeless over the time of his tenure by listening to many opinions, and I trust that he will always do so.

Larry James said...

Appreciate your post and opinion, Karen. And, for the most part I agree with what you are saying here. My high opinion of the Mayor has to do with his commitment to seeing permanent supportive housing units developed at a scale that we could acutally "solve" this challenge. For a city to argue over begging takes our eyes off of the ball in my view. The folks who are forced to beg wouldn't need to if we became more serious about real solutions.

Karen Shafer said...

I understand your viewpoint, Larry, but we all have our roles. Perhaps part of mine is to keep my eye on the 'little picture' of the impact of the city's policies on the homeless in the here and now.

I've always advocated holding off on zero tolerance with panhandling and other issues until The Bridge is open and we can see how that shakes down at the street level. To continue to ticket people for asking for money I see as very much complicating the issues of daily life on the streets, of taking police time needed elsewhere, etc.

From my post, you will see that I have a high opinion of the mayor, too. But I am not going to agree with him when I think he's wrong. You and I see things from a different perspective because of the experiences we've had with poverty. Yours is at a community level, and mine is at the street level. The populations overlap, but they are also different in many ways.

I respect the work you do. I don't criticize it, minimalize it, or dismiss it. But, as important as it is, it is still one piece of the big picture.

'For a city to argue over begging takes our eyes off of the ball in my view.' We will have to agree to disagree on this one. It's a matter of perspective.

The problems of the street are not going away when The Bridge is built. We need to decide now how we are going to deal with these issues after it opens, and our policies now reflect what our attitudes and practicies then will be.

With respect.