Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Bridge

I visited The Bridge last Wednesday night. Accompanying me were six other men who are my friends and who share a common commitment to seeing life improve for the homeless population here in Dallas.

Use the "Search" tool on this page or Google "The Bridge" to learn more about the new, city-owned facility. And, for full disclosure sake, you should know that I serve on the Board of Directors for the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, the organization responsible for its management and operations.

I wanted to go there at night. I wanted to be inside after the gates close. I wanted to see firsthand how things were going after about two months operation. While I had been there about once a week since it opened, I had never dropped in after dark.

Over 500 people were finding a place to sleep in the pavillion area that includes a covered shelter area with about 200 cots. The balance of the folk were sleeping on mats under the stars of the courtyard area. Another 100 were sheltered inside the transitional housing area of the facility.

As before when I've visited, I walked around for about an hour just talking to people--asking how they liked the place, how they were being treated, etc. Not surprisingly, most didn't want to be there. Most were eager to get out and off the streets.

There is no doubt that the facility has removed hundreds of people from the streets of Dallas, both at night and during the day. Driving down Young Street toward City Hall during the day, you can observe the noticeable disappearance of a large number of homeless persons, though a handfull persist in camping in their old familiar places. We're also told that "criminal activity" in the Downtown area has dropped significantly. Most of the eliminated offenses are acts of vagrancy that simply have to do with being human. Still, The Bridge provides a place of some respite, support and resources for those who are there.

In reality, the place is overwhelmed. Too many people in need, too little space, staff and resources to meet the demand.

I gave out lots of business cards and told people about our Destination Home effort that provides permanent, supportive housing to disabled individuals. Before I made it home, I had received two calls and the following day the phone rang steadily with calls from those who were interested.

While I could write much more about the experience, I came away with one fundamental understanding: as a community, we must develop, build, open hundreds of additional units of housing for the homeless. Additional housing resources will bring the numbers down at The Bridge. Permanent housing units will open the transitional function of The Bridge to the possibility of success.

Without more permanent, supportive housing, The Bridge will not be successful. Without housing resources that are easy to access, no matter how accomplished the management team, success will be impossible.

It is my firm belief that many, if not most, of the people I encountered during my most recent visit are currently ready for housing. That is not the question.

The real questions are these:

1. Does Dallas have the moral and political will to provide the resources to develop the housing that is needed? To meet the challenge and fulfill the need will take new dollars and new risk. But, every dollar invested will return a premium in terms of quality of life in our community for everyone.

2. And, can service providers come to understand that we aren't the secret to success in this endeavor? My experience teaches me that most people don't need me to improve their experience of life. Most need a fair opportunity and all need freedom to choose what services they will take advantage of. Housing first should become our mantra. Those who need special services can be assisted in finding them, but only AFTER they are housed.

We must find ways to break the logjam at The Bridge. To me, the solution is very clear: new determination coupled with a new vision for how we respond to the poorest among us.

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5 comments:

Daniel Gray said...

While it sounds like the Bridge is doing some great things, it sounds like a refugee camp. Surely we can do better.

Karen Shafer said...

Larry, you are right about all you said.

For some positive news, people can read my blog post today, "Successes at the Bridge," at

http://theintermittentvolunteer.wordpress.com/

I volunteer in the dining room at the Bridge most Friday nights, and have been getting to know Dallas street people at the camps, with the mobile feeders, and at the Day Resouce Center for about five years.

Karen Shafer

David Timothy said...

Larry

Thanks for your comments on The Bridge. You are correct that they have been overwhelmed with the crush of homeless people who have come to the center for shelter and food. Clearly The Bridge is not the final solution to the problem of homelessness in the Dallas area. It is just a piece of the puzzle. An important piece to be sure, but it will take the efforts of many service agencies working toward a common goal to tackle the problem.
Its important that people like Daniel know that The Bridge, (while not the final solution to homelessness), is a HUGE step up in services for the homeless in comparison to the old Day Resource Center. Sit down with any homeless person and ask them to compare The Bridge to the old Day Resource Center and virtually 100% of them will say The Bridge is a major step up in services. Again, not the final solution, but certainly a step in the right direction.
My prayer is that all the social agencies in Dallas will pull together in our efforts to 'help the least of these'.

p.s. Please see Karen Shafer's comments regarding some success's at The Bridge.

p.p.s. Kudos to Central Dallas Ministries for all its doing to make available housing units for the homeless.

Signed, David Timothy
a.k.a. The SoupMan
SoupMobile Inc.

Daniel Gray said...

David (and others),

I just wanted wanted to clarify, because I realized I may have sounded too negative in such a short comment. I read an article or two from the DMN, and The Bridge looks like a great place and should be a big step in the right direction for Dallas.

I was simply lamenting the fact that we are not doing enough on the permanent housing side and hope that the average Dallas citizens don't see the Bridge as solution for simply getting the homeless out of their sight.

Anyway, sorry if I was misunderstood and any offense was taken from my comment.

SoupMan said...

Hey Daniel

No offense taken. Its clear you have a real interest in the homeless issue and are very concerned about their welfare. We need more individuals out there like you who have a heart for their fellow man. God bless and have a wonderful day.
Signed, David Timothy,
a.k.a. The SoupMan
SoupMobile Inc.