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Monday, January 21, 2013

Dallas News Column: Recalling the values of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The following Op-Ed piece appeared just after Christmas in The Dallas Morning News:

Larry James: Cold rain’s clear message about our homeless

On Christmas Eve, more than 500 homeless men, women and children spent the night downtown in the Omni Dallas Hotel. The annual event, sponsored by David Timothy and the SoupMobile, extends joy and a sense of community to everyone involved, both hosts and guests.

The next morning brought rain — hard, cold rain. Like the story of Cinderella, the magical dream-come-true evening gave way to reality, with no glass slipper left behind. With gratitude for the night’s lodging still intact, these fellow citizens of ours rode buses back to their meager living conditions. Some returned to the Bridge, our community’s homeless assistance center. Others sought warmth and safety in one of the homeless shelters meant to be emergency — not permanent — solutions for homelessness.

Over the past five years, Dallas has made great progress in addressing the problem of chronic homelessness, and the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance reports that the data is moving in the right direction. But there is much work to do.

On Christmas morning, as I listened to the rain falling on my rooftop, as I considered the amazing gift of a dry, warm home, as I pondered how to keep the dog dry, I heard a challenge, a call, a charge: House your homeless brothers and sisters!

It was almost as if the rain pounded out the lyric “No room in the inn!”

House them. That is, provide each homeless person a place to live, a home to call his or her own.

I didn’t hear in the rain a plan for night-by-night, emergency short-term solutions. The rain was beating out a different, seemingly impossible song: Find a way, in the ultimate can-do city, to place every last man, woman and child into permanent housing, and do it before next Christmas!

Impossible?

That depends on us.

What if we began by working with the leaders of the various emergency night shelters to provide housing for every one of their customers before Christmas 2013? What would that take? Simply put, the community will and political insistence to support such an endeavor. We need a determined, patient policy and the funding commitment to get it done.

If we target the first 2,000 homeless people, we could place all in housing for the year and surround each person with high-touch care with a budget of less than $25 million. Once housed, these friends of ours could receive orderly case management. One short-term outcome would be the discovery that a number of the chronically disabled homeless currently receive some public benefit, a part of which could go back into underwriting rent and services. The scale of our effort would drive costs down.

Read entire article here

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