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Monday, April 09, 2012

A new "Gathering"

Following our recently completed registry project as a part of the national 100,000 Homes Campaign, I began thinking about what my on-going response should be to what I observed/experienced among some of the most "shelter resistant" of our neighbors. 

As I mulled my question over, an image began to emerge.  I know that credit for my new idea must go in part to my friend in Waco, Texas, Jimmy Dorrell.  This year marks the 20th anniversary for "Church Under the Bridge."  Jimmy's congregation is exactly what it sounds like:  his church meets under the I-35 freeway that runs through his town. 

My time with the registry project took me under a stretch of the I-45 overpass near Downtown Dallas.  What came to me was a vision of a new gathering of folks in or near that same location.  My idea was to simply show up for a couple of hours each week at the same time, at the same place.  There would be no agenda.  The commitment would be to meet folks, to listen to their ideas/struggles/reports and to see where a growing relationship might lead us all. 

So, last Wednesday we began.  We showed up with ice cold bottled water and time marked out to spend on and with whoever crossed the common space. 

It turned out that the location was just across the street from the location of our new Opportunity Center at Malcolm X and I-30.  We discovered a "corridor" of sorts running from the Austin Street Centre back under the overpasses of the highway system that forms a latticework of concrete and rushing vehicles just above what is "home" for far too many people. 

What follows are simple notes I entered in my journal after the first two hours spent at this forgotten spot in our city:
  • Movement among the trees on the west end of the property where a plan is working to build 50 single-family homes for the poorest homeless persons among us. . .
  • A woman far away in the bushes likely relieving herself thanks to the absence of any accessible rest room facilities. . .
  • During the first few minutes, provided water for half-a-dozen folks (Ben, my friend from MetroCare had advised that we bring water!)  "A cup of cold water given in my name" came to mind; now I realize that those words were not intended to be literary, but simply practical for the poor.
  • Dallas police stopped by to check out what we were up to. . .had pleasant visit before watching squad car equipped with bull horn roust people out and away from a fence row where they were trying to enjoy a fast food meal. . ."Keep on moving!" was the order. . .
  • . . . "Where will we eat?" is a far different question for these people than for me and my friends!
  • A man and a woman with a dog on a bright pink leash walked by and accepted the offer of water; the dog wore a shirt!
  • Cocaine sales transpire on far side of the property. . .prostitutes walked the area. . .
  • Amazing number of private jets flew over as we talked to the homeless--bright white, trimmed in mainly blue; speeding toward or away from Love Field, coming or going on some adventure or another, oblivious to what played out below.
  • Moved up to an old, abandoned house by the one business in this part of town, an old filling station.  Visited with several people who sat on the porch, passing out more water.
  • Joe, just out of prison two days; still wearing prison shoes and clothes, needing to get to family in Ft. Worth. . .asking for a hug. . .
  • Holy week. . .
  • Ran into Jeff, an old friend from East Dallas and the Food Pantry--asked about lots of people we both knew--big cities can be broken down into very small segments, neighborhoods, friendships. . .
  • Talked to several people about Opportunity Center and work--one man called me the next day to follow up, may land a job on the construction site. . . wanted "reference". . .
  • Every time I've been to this corner long enough to have a conversation, every time, the subject of "finding a job" comes up. . .
  • Some people chose not to engage. . .
  • Lots of folks were clean, "together" and ordinary, if anyone can be simply that. . .
Next week:  same place, Thursday afternoon from 2:00-4:00 p.m. No agenda.  Just hanging out for a visit. 

A new "Gathering" in S. Dallas/Fair Park.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

The part about Joe just out of prison two days, still in prison clothes doesn't sound right. I don't think anyone is released in prison clothes and aren't they given a small amount of money and a bus ticket? Then there are half-way houses.

Larry James said...

They were clearly prison shoes. The pants were non-descript. Half-way houses are over crowded and folks are let out ill-informed and w/o resources.

Anonymous said...

Good post. Thoughtful. I was particularly struck by the statement: "'Where will we eat?' is a far different question for these people than for me and my friends!" Kind of puts my "problems" in perspective.

Anonymous said...

My husband, a volunteer chaplin in the Texas prison system for many years, said the following.

Most prisoners who are released get out on parole. They have to have a parole plan. They have to report to their parole officer within 2 days after release. They are given a set of clothes, if the family does not provide them. That includes everything including underware and shoes. They are given a bus ticket and $50.00. When they report to their parole officer, they are given another $50.00. If your guy is under a bridge within two days he likely is violating his parole and could be arrested for parole violation. They are well informed as to the rules and their expected behavior. If they do not have a place to go, they are sent to a transitional facility. They are NEVER dumped out without a plan. If you want to do a little research on it, go to the Salvation Army Halfway House on Harry Hines Blvd.in Dallas.

Anonymous said...

We owe prisoners a great start on life: new shoes, a suit, a life-time supply of happy meals, and, of course, permanent housing. We owe them for doing their time.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:11:

Even putting aside any issues about compassion, we could fully support prisoners getting out of prison for half the cost of keeping them incarcerated. If they knew they had a year to get their lives back together, many more of them would make it. It would cost the taxpayers half of another year in prison. And if they did not go back, they would end up productive, maybe even taxpayers. Better, cheaper outcome. Not to mention more humane.