As I noted last Friday, over the next several days I intend to share a message that I recently delivered to a group of people who wanted to talk about housing for our homeless neighbors. I will break it down into bite-sized pieces. And, as always, I invite conversation.
Efforts to end homelessness in Dallas face a number of obstacles, most of which appear in the form of what I call "unsatisfying half measures."
Here's one: Transitional housing or "We have a plan for your life!"
People who enjoy stable housing often believe that they know what's best for people who don't have stable housing.
Lots of us believe that homeless persons need to be made "housing ready" before being placed in a home.
Think about that for a moment.
If I'm homeless, what do you think that I think?
Would I consider myself "housing ready"?
What does that mean, after all?
One thing it means is that people with the resources believe that they need to put people through a prescribed plan before housing can be "awarded."
Two things here.
First, housing, in my view, is not an award, but a basic right that comes with being a human being.
Second, if someone else makes the plan for my life, what becomes of my plan or the expectation that I would even have one?
A couple of weeks ago, I visited with a man on the street just across from our new Opportunity Center. He asked me if we were going to have housing in the new development. I told him that we were not. He continued our conversation and asked if we placed people in housing.
"Well, that depends," I said. "What is your plan to get off of the street?"
"What is my plan to get off the street?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied. "What is your plan to get off of the street?"
He grew silent, as if he had never been asked that question before.
"I sure don't have a plan for your life," I informed him.
"No, man," he declared, "I don't really have a plan, but I do know I need a place to live."
"Well, in that case," I responded, "we may be able to help out because we do have some apartments and we would be glad to work with you."
About this same time, John Siburt (VP of Program Administration at CitySquare) encountered a gentleman named "Big Richard" during a street outreach at mid-night.
As they talked, John asked Richard if he stayed at the Bridge or in one of the downtown shelters.
"Naw, man," he replied, "I can't stay in the shelters, man."
John asked why that was the case.
"Man, in the shelters all they want to talk about is me going to 'a class,' man. They got a class for alcoholics and a class for drug addicts. Man, I don't need no class for that stuff. I don't use that stuff," he reported.
"Then, man, they want me to see a psychic doctor!" he shared with incredulity. "Man, I ain't crazy, I'm homeless!"
He went on, pointing down the street to another person, "Now that woman down there, she crazy!" he declared. "But, I'm not!"
Sensing that John really cared, he went on, "Then, man, I went to another shelter once and man, they had church every day, they had church, six days a week, church! Man, than's enough church to kill a horse!" he said.
Then, he summed up.
"Man, I don't need a class or a psych doctor or church. . . I need a place."
That's what all homeless people need: a place to call "home," a place to hang a picture.