Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Another success story to celebrate!

OcelDonaldson was first introduced and referred to CitySquare by another agency and accessed services through the Resource Center with Neighbor Support Services case management.  He originally came to CitySquare in need of financial assistance, employment, transportation and food assistance.

      In January 2011, at intake, Ocell was unemployed and at risk of homelessness.  He received a notice to vacate from his apartment complex, was about to get evicted, and in desperate need of financial rental assistance and assistance with meeting his other basic needs.

      CitySquare's Neighbor Support Services provided Ocell with:  medium term rental assistance (for 9 months),
Intensive Case Management--working on setting and completing goals, provided hygiene and toiletries, bus passes, clothing vouchers to the CitySquare Thrift Store, money management/life skills and employment workshop classes.  He also received food from the pantry and community resources. 

      Today, Ocell Donaldson is stably housed and able to pay his rent each month.  Ocell is also employed full time at DART and has maintained employment at DART for the last 7 months and now receives full benefits. 
      Ocell was referred to CitySquare by West Dallas Multipurpose Center when they could no longer provide Ocell with rental assistance.  CitySquare at that time had Homeless Prevention Rapid-Re-Housing (HPRP) funding, which allowed CitySquare to provide rental assistance to neighbors for up to 18 months, if needed. This funding was designed to provide assistance for a longer period of time, thus allowing a neighbor to get back on their feet, prevent homelessness, and have neighbors keep and maintain their housing by achieving housing stably.  Ocell is the perfect example of what HPRP funding was designed to do. When I first met Ocell in January 2011, he reported that he had been laid off his job in Feb. 2009 and had been struggling to find employment ever since.  Ocell’s unemployment had ran out in Oct. 2010.  

      Unable to find employment Ocell had not been able to pay the rent on his 2-bedroom room apartment.  Ocell is an honest, hard-working neighbor and has even had a poem he wrote published.  He currently is working on writing an entire book of poetry.  

      During the time he received case management through Neighbor Support services, CitySquare was able to provide Ocell with financial assistance with rent and utilities.  We were able to get his landlord to move him into a one-bedroom apartment lowering his rent.  Ocell was dedicated to find employment and provided job search logs, indicating he was willing to do whatever it took to get employed and he was willing to work anywhere.  

       I mailed Ocell a daily bus pass every week so he could attend life skills/employment and money management classes and every week he showed up.  

       During intake, Ocell stated he couldn’t get food stamps and assistance with food.  I referred Ocell to the food stamp representatives downstairs at CitySquare’s food pantry and Ocell began receiving food stamps (SNAP) benefits shortly after.  He also shopped in CitySquare’s pantry to meet his additional food needs.  

      During this time, Ocell had met goals and gained employment, however, he had also experienced set-backs by getting laid off again by his new employer.   When the HPRP grant ended, Ocell had gained employment again allowing him to pay his rent when CitySquare no longer could.  Ocell came in my office a couple of weeks ago and reported that he no longer had that job but has been employed at DART for the last 7 months and receives full benefits, and access to transportation (courtesy of DART).  Ocell is stably housed and pays his rent on time every month.  Ocell is able to meet all his basic needs and more without assistance.  He will frequently stop by CitySquare to say hi and to thank CitySquare for our partnership with him.  During his most recent visit earlier this week, he informed me that his daughter is now enrolled and attending college.
Krystal Lotspeich
Social worker at CitySquare

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mindless giving

Those Who Give
There are those who give little of the much which they have–
and they give it for recognition.
Their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life,
and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy,
and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain,
and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving,
nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes
its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these God speaks,
and from behind their eyes God smiles upon the earth.
Kahlil Gibran
from On Giving

Friday, October 18, 2013

An interview with Steve Blow

Yesterday, Dallas Morning News columnist, Steve Blow published comments on a conversation that he and I enjoyed last Tuesday.

 The subject:  income inequality and "the poor" in general.

Read it here!

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Saving and Losing Our Lives

Those who, in the biblical phrase, would save their lives—that is, those who want to get along, who don’t want commitments, who don’t want to get into problems, who want to stay outside of a situation that demands the involvement of all of us—they will lose their lives. What a terrible thing to have lived quite comfortably, with no suffering, not getting involved in problems, quite tranquil, quite settled, with good connections politically, economically, socially—lacking nothing, having everything. To what good? They will lose their lives.

from Inward/Outward

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Blue, my friend and theological partner

Last Thursday at "the Corner," I noticed my dear friend, Blue seated on the steps that rise from the sidewalk onto the pathway leading to the old, abandoned house on whose porch I was sitting.

Blue was reading a book.

After a few minutes of conversation with several other people, I approached my friend to ask how he was doing.

He opened the book he had been reading and pointed me to a particular paragraph and told me to read it.  The content involved a moving analysis of faith and the mystical position of the believer in the life of Christ.

After reading the paragraph out loud, I turned to the cover to discover whose words I had read.

As seen in the photo here, Blue was reading the work of Thomas Merton.

Here's a portion of what Wikipedia has to say about Merton:

an Anglo-American Catholic writer and mystic. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion. In 1949, he was ordained to the priesthood and given the name Father Louis.

Merton wrote more than 70 books, mostly on spirituality, social justice and a quiet pacifism, as well as scores of essays and reviews, including his best-selling autobiography, The Seven Stormy Mountain (1948), which sent scores of World War II veterans, students, and even teenagers flocking to monasteries across the US, and was also featured in National Review's list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century. Merton was a keen proponent of interfaith understanding. He pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, the Japanese writer D.T. Suzuki, and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Merton has also been the subject of several biographies.

"Larry, if I'm sleeping on Billy's driveway," he said, pointing over toward the old service station next door where he beds down most nights, "I'm 'in Christ.'  And if I'm under a tree, I'm 'in Christ.' And if you put me in a house, I'm 'in Christ.'"

He concluded, "I'm just Blue, 'in Christ.'"

Blue, my good buddy, sitting on a South Dallas sidewalk, reading Merton, lecturing me about the mystery of solitude and solidarity.  

Reflecting on this amazing experience, it occurred to me that lots of people ask me if I share faith with the poor.  

Share faith with the likes of Blue?  Certainly, with most of the benefit coming back my way.

I live for the day that someone asks me if I ever share faith with bankers and venture capitalists.  

When it comes to faith, I'm enrolled in a class taught by my friend, Blue. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Texas Rangers and Community

OK, OK, I'm a die-hard fan. I admit it! But, I couldn't resist sharing this message from the home team!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Homelessness, a personal response. . .

When it comes to relating to and moving alongside a person or persons who are homeless, what can be done practically?  People frequently ask me this question in one form or another.

"What should I do when a person on the street asks me for money?"

"How should I respond to a homeless person when I pass them on the sidewalk or encounter them begging at a stoplight?"

"How can I get to know a person who deals with a poverty so deep that they have no place to live?"

Good questions!

As I've noted several times over the last few days, 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." 

At a very personal level, how do we move beyond "halfway" responses?

Let me offer an idea or two.

First, find a way to truly befriend a homeless person without rushing ahead to "fix" everything or to change the person's life or situation, as if that is your responsibility.  It is likely unrealistic that this can be done using a "fly-by" strategy.  It won't happen that you will become friends with a person by just seeing them a time or two on the street or corner.  What can be done is to stop, slow the frames down dramatically and just be human with another person.  Stop and talk.  Introduce yourself to the other person.  Plan to come back to the area where the person lives.  Realize that you likely won't find each other every time you try to, but keep coming back.  Join me on "the Corner" of Malcolm X and I-30 on Thursday afternoons at 2 p.m. and get accustomed to the approach.  Or volunteer at one of our housing sites on a regular basis.  I can hook you up!

Second, value every person you meet no matter how poor, ragged, rugged, dirty or injured they are when you encounter them.  We convey value to another by the way we respond and by how we refuse to be put off by their circumstances.  Work on creating relationships that are defined by reciprocity--relationships in which everyone gives and everyone receives.

Third, develop a new understanding of how enlightened self-interest serves the entire community. The fact is when everyone does better in a city, everyone benefits!  Begin to regard the real, pressing needs of your poor friends as opportunities for you and your community to invest in solutions.  These solutions will benefit the poor, but they will also benefit you and everyone else.  Better health, better housing, better diet, better work skills, better mental health--these are not expenses to be avoided, but investments to be made that enrich the quality of life for us all.

Finally, if you are a person of faith, begin to "re-read" the story of your faith with new eyes for compassion, justice, the city and the poor.  Decide to spend time reading the words of Jesus from the perspective of your new friends who happen to be poor and cast aside.

While I cannot answer all of the "how to" questions, I do know that what I have in mind can be done.  And, in the doing we discover real answers and make new, very satisfying friendships.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Housing and the "shutdown"

For your information (From the Texas Homeless Network’s Newsletter):

Effects of Shutdown on HUD
On the morning of October 1, federal employees were required to show up for work to implement steps to close down federal activities. HUD’s shutdown contingency plan left fewer than 400 employees “excepted” from the shutdown to ensure that basic activities occur. The criteria for an activity to be excepted is “where the failure to address issues result in a threat to safety of life and protection of property.” Excepted activities include most functions of homeless assistance programs, the distribution of HUD block grants, and FHA insurance programs.

HUD’s largest rental assistance programs (tenant-based rental assistance, public housing, and project-based rental assistance) appear to have previously-obligated funding or advance appropriations funding to continue normal operations through October and, for the project-based program, “into November,” according to an October 2 update of HUD’s Contingency Plan. HUD also says in the October 2 update that it will continue to process project-based contract renewals during the shutdown to the extent there is available funding into November.

An October 4 memo from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states that since funding for the public housing and housing choice voucher programs are made for calendar years, Congress has already appropriated these resources. It is now a matter of whether or not HUD will have sufficient staff due to the shutdown to administer these funds. The administration of funds may fall under HUD’s plan to deploy staff excepted from the shutdown to prevent imminent threats to the safety of human life or the protection of property.

For tenant-based rental assistance, HUD has disbursed October housing assistance payments and administrative fees, but there are no payments beyond October scheduled at this time. HUD is not processing requests for tenant protection vouchers for public housing or multifamily actions.

HUD’s contingency plan predicts that most of the country’s 3,300 public housing agencies (PHAs) have the necessary funds to continue providing public housing assistance for the remainder of the month. Funding beyond October will depend in part upon the resources of individual PHAs.

Homeless Assistance activities that “protect against imminent threats to the safety of human life” are continuing, including housing for people with AIDS and supportive housing for veterans.

HUD will disburse HOME Investment Partnerships program, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and other block grants for which funds have already been appropriated.

View HUD’s contingency plan for additional details on agency functions that will continue or have already halted at:

View the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ October 4 Memo on the shutdown’s impact on housing programs at:
Paula Maroney
Director - Continuum of Care
Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA)

2816 Swiss Avenue, Dallas, TX 75204

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Housing First. . .and Human Rights (Part IV)

As promised, I've been sharing, in bits and pieces, a message that I recently delivered to a group of people who wanted to talk about housing for our homeless neighbors.  What follows is the next "bite-sized piece" of that conversation.    And, as always, I invite comments.  

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 another of those:

When it comes to homelessness and solutions, we continue to go out "on the cheap."

Oh, we talk about all that we're doing, all that we've done, all that we plan to do.  We populate endless PowerPoint presentations with full-color photos and lots of number-laden charts and graphs, supposedly mapping our "progress."

The fact is we need more money, hard cash to really cut into the problems we face in overcoming homelessness in Dallas.

We need more funding for the development of much-needed, additional permanent supportive housing units--new construction and creative renovations.

We need additional funding for leasing existing apartments out in the private housing market of our community.

We need funding for adequate case management.  On this one, I believe if we employ Housing First models that include focused case management services (read "concierge" just here) we can have great impact with fewer workers than some social work professionals believe. Our problem is we haven't really given this approach a fair chance as a community.  

We need funding to beef up our city's housing department.  Virtually all of the revenue currently received for our housing department comes to us from Washington, DC.  Our city's annual, general revenue budget contains almost nothing for housing development and services, certainly not enough to really attack homelessness at scale.

We need funding to communicate the challenges to our entire community.  And, we need funds to authorize a modest amount of research to demonstrate the amazing impact of permanent supportive housing on the overall crisis and relief of homelessness.

On the funding side in terms of sources, I believe we need to include funding for the city's Housing Trust Fund in our next bond issue/election.  Before the "crash of 2008," Mayor Leppert was thinking in terms of a $50 million bond fund for this purpose.  That would have been a good start.  The idea is smart.

We need advocates from our city to press on the state of Texas to begin to develop special new, tax credit financial "products" for developers wanting the deliver permanent housing units to cities like Dallas. Permanent supportive housing units for homeless persons should not be lumped together with other affordable housing finance decisions, but deserve a special, new category all their own.

Finally, when it comes to innovation, I've thought for a long time that real estate closing transactions across the state should include a $.50 or $1.00 filing fee that could fund a state housing trust fund for developers of permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless persons. Real estate folks don't like the idea, seeing it as a "slippery slope" to more and more fees for causes.  But the legislation could be styled to restrict such fund development policy to only this purpose.

In general, what's called for is a new community commitment.

People should not be living on our streets or in emergency shelters for years.

We can solve this problem.

But to do so, we must give up on "unsatisfying half measures."

Monday, October 07, 2013

Housing First. . .and Human Rights (Part III)

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 another of those:

In Dallas, and in a  number of other American cities, one may observe a growing, strident, mean-spirited legal bias working against the homeless poor.  This emerging, swelling bias makes the state of living without the benefits of a home illegal.  Many of the practical problems and choices facing homeless persons lead to "criminal acts," as defined by those with the bias problem.  Criminalizing homelessness and poverty is an aggressive half measure that gets us no where in terms of solving the housing crisis facing the poorest among us. 

Here is a list of typical "criminal infractions" committed by persons who live on the streets:

  • Loitering
  • Panhandling or begging
  • Sleeping outside on public or private property
  • Relieving oneself out doors
  • Trespassing to access a place to sit down, lie down or simply rest
  • Vagrancy
  • Sitting on benches in front of or in proximity to private office buildings downtown. 
A friend of mine, who has been homeless for a long time, once told me that his life was like "an endless parade."  Up early, he hit the streets walking basically the same daily circuit.  Every day he had three fundamental objectives.  First, to find something to eat.  Second, to find somewhere to use a restroom. Third, locating a safe place to rest.  On a daily basis, these three objectives defined his life mission.  

It is very difficult from a "life platform" like his to find the traction needed to escape the "parade."  

Our bias is killing the poorest among us.  

Permanent, supportive housing reduces crime, saves public funds and responds to a huge problem with humanity and moral soundness. 

Friday, October 04, 2013

CitySquare has been involved from the start: Health and Wellness Alliance for Children

The Health & Wellness Alliance for Children (the Alliance) is a coalition with the goal that “Every child achieves their fullest health, well-being, and potential.”

·        The Alliance plans to use a “collective impact” approach to work across sectors, including health, education, government, the faith community, nonprofit service providers, and others, to form and implement a common agenda for change in children’s health.
·         The initial clinical focus will be children’s asthma, though over time the Alliance plans to tackle children’s health across issues.
·         The initial geographic focus will be on Dallas County, though the Alliance is working with partners throughout North Texas.
Why asthma?
·         While there are many health issues that demand our community’s attention, it is important to focus on one area in order to have a measurable impact.
·         Addressing asthma allows us to focus on several areas that are crucial to children’s health overall: improving financial and physical access to care, improving quality of health care delivery, equipping children and families with tools for wellness, creating asthma-healthy physical environments.
·         The Alliance can use its experience with asthma to expand focus to other areas in the near future.
·         Asthma and other pulmonary illnesses are the top causes for admission to the emergency department at Children’s Medical Center, indicating a real community need.
·         Other communities around the country have had great success in using a coalition approach to improve child asthma.
Who is involved in this effort?
·      The Steering Committee and Working Groups include representatives from many organizations across North Texas, including hospitals, physicians, school administrators, school nurses, the faith community, family health and wellness service providers, urban planners, city and state government, and others.
·         Children’s Medical Center (Children’s) has committed to catalyzing this effort. However, the Alliance is comprised of and led by a cross-section of Dallas community stakeholders committed to children’s health. The effort is and will be driven by the community, not just one organization or sector. 
·     Children and their families have been involved since the start in interviews and workshops to better understand the challenges they face and potential solutions.
 Dallas County Asthma Data
Asthma outcomes
·         Approximately 60,000 children in Dallas have asthma, 9% of all Dallas children[i]
·         In Texas, 54% of children with asthma missed at least one school day per year due to their condition[ii]
·         In 2012, nearly 1500 children in Dallas County visited an emergency room or were admitted to a hospital due to asthma[iii]
·         The hospitalization rate for African-American children is 3.8 times the rate of white children in Dallas (2010)[iv]
·       Annual economic costs to Dallas including cost to families and to medical care facilities across the community is estimated to be a staggering $60M[v]
Potential contributing conditions
·        18% of Dallas children don’t have health insurance; this exceeds the 15% fraction across TX, which is the highest percentage of uninsured children of any US state (2010)[vi]
·         While 46% of Dallas children are covered by Medicaid and CHIP, it is estimated that 76% percent of Dallas physicians would not accept new Medicaid or CHIP patients[vii]
·         Children with asthma are especially susceptible to the effects of ozone pollution, and Dallas’s ozone levels exceed the EPA’s legal standard[viii]
·         Child poverty in Dallas: 29% of Dallas kids live in poverty; 28% have inadequate food and nutrition; 35% live in a single-parent home[ix]

[i] Harrison, Whitney (MPH, Epidemiologist), Texas Asthma Control Program, Dept. of State Health Services. “Asthma Morbidity and Mortality in Texas and Health Region 3.” October 17, 2011.
[ii] Harrison, 2011.
[iii] Dallas Fort Worth Hospital Council Foundation, 2013.
[iv] Texas Health Care Information Collection (THCIC), Inpatient Hospital Discharge Public Use Data File, 2010.
[v] The cost estimate per child based on: Li Yan Wang et. al; “Direct and Indirect Cost of Asthma in School age Children”.  Preventing Chronic Disease (January 2005).  This number is multiplied by the number of children with asthma in Dallas.
[vi] Harris, J., Hogan, J., and the Beyond ABC Advisory Board, ed. Beyond ABC:  Assessing Children’s Health in Dallas County, 2011.
[vii] “Texas State Health Facts”. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. ; Harris, J., Hogan, J., and the Beyond ABC Advisory Board, ed. Beyond ABC:  Assessing Children’s Health in Dallas County, 2011.
[viii] “Dallas-Fort Worth: Current Attainment Status”. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. <>.
[ix] Harrison, 2011.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Assumptions. . .about ownership


Because the tea shop was crowded, a man took the other chair at her table and ordered tea. The woman [already seated there] was prepared for a leisurely time, so she began to read her paper. As she did so, she took a cookie from the package on the table, and noticed that the man across from her also took a cookie from the same package. This upset her greatly, but she ignored it and kept reading. After a while she took another cookie. And so did he! This unnerved her and she glared at the man.

While she glared, he reached for the fifth and last cookie, smiled and offered her half of it. She was indignant. She paid her money and left in a great hurry, enraged at such a presumptuous man. She hurried to her bus stop just outside. She opened her purse to get her fare. And then she saw, much to her distress, that in her purse was her own package of cookies unopened.

Told by Walter Brueggemann
Source: Voices of the Night

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Health Care Policy from Faith Perspective


V) Right to Health Care--Health is a condition of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being. John 10:10b says, "I came so that they could have life--indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest."  Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person to whom health has been entrusted.  Creating the personal, environmental, and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility--public and private.  We encourage individuals to pursue a healthy lifestyle and affirm the importance of preventive heath care, health education, environmental and occupational safety, good nutrition, and secure housing in achieving health.  Health care is a basic human right.

Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all,  a responsibility government ignores at its peril.  In Ezekiel 34:4a, God points out the failures of the leadership of Israel to care for the weak:  "You don't strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost."  As a result all suffer.  Like police and fire protection, health care is best funded through the government's ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities. 

We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care. 

We encourage hospitals, physicians, and medical clinics to provide access to primary health care to all people regardless of their health-care coverage or ability to pay for treatment. 

The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (2012)
pages 126-127