Thursday, March 25, 2010

Class bias, misplaced fear and permanent housing for the homeless

When Central Dallas Ministries and the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation moved into developing permanent housing for formerly homeless people most people applauded our efforts and our decision.  All of the national research indicated that providing a permanent place for homeless persons to live had dramatic impact on the success and personal stabilzation of the individuals involved.

As I say, most everyone supported our efforts. 

Most, but not all. 

The CityWalk@ Akard project was our first. 

[BTW--The grand opening will be this evening from 4:30 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.  Even though the building is not quite finished, it will be a grand party.  Mayor Tom Leppert will speak.  Our district's Council Member Angela Hunt will speak.  Other city leaders and supporters of the project will join us.  If you are in Dallas, come on down!]

And not everyone was happy about our plans to develop housing for low-income and formerly homeless tenants. 

Some business leaders expressed concerns.  Everyone maintained their civility, but many discussed the project with us in rather foreboding terms. 

Among those expressing reservations, and in some cases downright fear, were parents and leaders at a nearby private school. 

We worked closely with the school group, even including one of their leaders on our community advisory board.  As we worked through the project, the group's initial opposition waned. 

Of course, in the beginning the group expressed concerns for the safety of the children attending the school because of the presence of low-income and formerly homeless residents in our building. 

While, as a parent and grandparent, I understand those feelings, beneath these concerns lurks a real bias, an ill-informed bias and a fear that in the vast majority of cases is totally misplaced. 

Then, earlier this week I received a copy of the following AP report from my dear friend and pastor, Dr. John Fiedler.  John stood with us in his church (First United Methodist) just around the corner from City Walk and spoke boldly for our project.  He repeated his statement of support before the entire City Council. 

John sent this news report to point up where the real danger may be today when it comes to school children and the extremely poor. 

Read it and let me know what you think.

2 Philly kids face charges in random-attack game
Mar 23 02:35 PM US/Eastern

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Two preteens assaulted a woman walking home through a playground as part of a violent game called "Catch and Wreck," in which children identify targets they think are homeless and then beat and rob them for fun, police said Tuesday.

An 11-year-old boy was arrested Monday night and charged with aggravated assault, conspiracy and robbery, Philadelphia police Lt. John Walker said.

A 12-year-old girl was charged shortly after the Friday night attack in southwest Philadelphia. The victim was surrounded by children, then punched and hit with sticks, police said. She suffered minor injuries to her knee and head and delayed seeking medical attention to help police with the investigation.

Police also plan to charge the boy in an attack on a 73-year-old man who was beaten and robbed in the same area on March 13, Walker said. The victim in that assault, Vincent Poppa, suffered a heart attack and remains hospitalized.

A spokeswoman for District Attorney Seth Williams said both children were being charged as juveniles. Their names have not been released.

Investigators believe the assaults are part of a game called "Catch and Wreck," which children in the neighborhood described to them after Friday's attack.

Children told police the game involves pinpointing passers-by they think are homeless and then beating and robbing them for fun, Walker said. The woman who was attacked, however, said she is not homeless.

"We're just hoping it's isolated and that (these arrests) will quickly bring it to a halt," he said.

Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross, who oversees all field operations for the department, said the recent reports of "Catch and Wreck" were the first the department had gotten.


Anonymous said...

I have a question. Do you provide housing for the mentally challenged and if so how is this handled? It seems to me that so many of the homeless I see are either battling substance abuse or mental problems. They need help as much or more than anyone.

Richard Corum

Larry James said...

RC, we have folks in our housing with mental health issues and we address these needs through our supportive services staff. The power of "housing first" in a permanent supportive housing development is that the experience of assured housing goes a long way toward intervening on lives that have previously been on the edge largely due to long or even short term street experience. The more deeply troubled folks receive more assistance. We are currently working on a project to house 50 of the most expensive and hardest to house homeless persons in Dallas. More will be breaking about this exciting project in just a few days here in Dallas.

Daniel said...

The agency I work for in St. Louis deals almost exclusively with this hard-to-reach population. It's not easy, and there are bumps in the road, but we find that using permanent housing as a necessity, rather than a goal, often leads to better and quicker recovery, though the process is often frustrating. Some of the approaches seem counterintuitive, but they are often successful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the answer. I wonder if in the long run it might actually be cheaper to house a person in permanent housing than to depend on shelters and emergency rooms?

R. Corum

Daniel Gray said...

Yes, it is much cheaper. New York City has done several studies. Kansas City also made a video a few years back documenting the city's cost differential between PSH and the effects on non-action on city departments -- EMS, police, etc.

Larry James said...

In Dallas, a conservative estimate of the cost to maintain the status quo with our homeless population is over $50MM annually. PHS is much more cost effective, esp on a going forward basis.