Friday, April 29, 2016

Lyrical Liberation

Humanizing persons is the first step in discovery of what we all share in common. People who have no homes are still human beings worthy of respect. There is no surprise here, not really.

People are amazing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


The "Tent City" nestled beneath the I-45 overpass here in South Dallas gives rise to all sorts of frustrations. 

The City of Dallas' humane decision to place portable toilets and trash dumpsters on the property triggered the explosive growth of the encampment.  As the community grew, rumors spread across town that case management into permanent housing happened quicker at Tent City.  So, predictably, the population grew.  And, it got organized:  streets, identified sections, an elected Mayor, at least one retail store selling basic snacks and sundries. 

But along with the normal human responses to an organized community of sorts came really negative realities:  ill-health, fights, other violence, including more than one murder, drug trafficking, prostitution, rape, theft and other compromises to public health and safety.

Here's where my litany of frustration begins:

1. The city had no real choice in the short term but to close the encampment.  And, the City is at work today doing just that.  Case workers, but not nearly enough of them, have been working for 5 or 6 weeks trying to arrange housing solutions for as many people as possible among the almost 500 who populated the encampment at its population apex.  Some people moved in with friends/family.  Some decided to go home to other cities (but very few fit that grouping).  Some opted for moving to other locations or encampments located across the city.  Some agreed to use the shelter services available.  Some found permanent supportive housing and/or single voucher assets.  Still, a large number of persons do not have a housing plan as they are forced to move from what was their community.

2.  The city does not have an adequate supply of permanent supportive housing to meet the obvious needs of the community. A large part of the problem is a lack of funds and political will to develop this much-needed housing stock.  Without the housing we are fighting a battle with one arm tied behind our collective back.

3. State funds from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) can be used only for developments located in "high opportunity" communities.  This means that new projects cannot be located in most parts of the community by the standards established in the recent U. S. Supreme Court decision regarding the disparate impact of siting housing efforts only in low-income or low opportunity areas.  In practical terms this means that new projects will need to be located in some of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city and/or in suburban or exurban communities.  The price of land and the organized resistance from such communities make it nearly impossible to use TDHCA tax credit funds as we've done in the past. 

4. Routinely, landlords and property owners refuse to accept housing vouchers and funds from our local Continuum of Care, both U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to pay rents.  "Source of payment" discrimination is normative. These days a very hot housing market allows property management more options for leasing, with the net result being that the very poor get kicked out and left out of housing in favor of a "better, less troubling clientele."

5. The basic duplicity of our community response is maddening.  On the one hand we all care about homelessness in general, right?  On the other, we resist its arrival if in our neighborhoods. We organize not in favor of its development, but to oppose it.

6. The silence of both communities of faith and of political groups in face of this pressing human tragedy remains as unsettling as it is frustrating. 

What will we do, Dallas, what will we do?

Monday, April 25, 2016

John Perkins to speak in our area!

While living in Dallas, Dr. and Mrs. John Perkins attended the Central Dallas Church, associated with CitySquare, then Central Dallas Ministries.

It will be so good to welcome John back to the Metroplex!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Battle vs predatory lenders. . .

How a Texas Church Drove Out the Predatory Loan Industry     
For one Garland pastor, living out the gospel means collective political action.
Payday lenders have been having a tough time in Garland, Texas.
Their storefronts have closed, their gaudy signs spray-painted over in black. In recent months, about a third have left the city of 230,000, situated 18 miles northeast of Dallas.
Nobody could be more delighted at their demise than Keith Stewart, senior pastor of Springcreek, Garland’s largest church. Springcreek will not tolerate what Stewart calls the “predatory loan business.” Stewart estimates something like a third of his congregation of 1,700 have been put through the wringer after they (or their family members) secured loans with interest rates easily within the range of 200 to 500 percent.
Read more here.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Extraordinarily creative!

When pondering how to keep low-level drug offenders out of jail, officials in Albany, New York, faced a challenge: How could they pay for a case manager to coax addicts onto the straight and narrow, sometimes by tracking them down on the streets?

The money turned up in a previously untapped source: President Barack Obama's health care law, which by expanding Medicaid in some states has made repeat drug offenders eligible for coverage, including many who are homeless on here.
Expand Medicaid, Governor Abbott!



Thursday, April 07, 2016

Stream of consciousness, random thoughts on deep poverty

Dallas' "Tent City" mushroomed over night because of two things:  trash dumpsters and port-o-potties.  Homeless people spend their days looking for food, a place to rest/sit, restroom facilities and a bed.  When the city provided a place to manage biological realities and a place to throw away trash, it didn't create new homeless persons.  It simply provided the solution to one major problem and it provided for trash management at the encampment that grew up nearby.  Tent City reminds me that homeless persons are just that, persons.  Persons who, like me, need a restroom every day, several times.  Remove that basic need and I'll camp out near the solution. 
Landlords and property owners contribute to the problems facing homeless persons because they routinely discriminate on the basis of "payer source," that is from what source a person pays the rent.  Housing dollars go unspent monthly--I estimate between 25-30% of what the local Continuum of Care has to spend on housing the homeless because those in charge of the housing units won't rent to our homeless neighbors with whom we work. Closing this gap would provide housing if not for all, for almost all who live in Tent City.  Something to think about:  is this a civil rights issue?  
Dallas definitely needs to include funding for permanent supportive housing development in the upcoming 2017 bond issue.  And that provision needs to be to the tune of $100 million. 
Homerless shelters need to become extremely aggressive "triage" centers with established goals to move people into permanent housing in no longer than 30 days.  This system change would turn 100 shelter beds into 1,200 over a year.  Prerequisite:  ample supply of permanent supportive housing that employs a Housing First strategy.
Apparently, the Texas Rangers Baseball club no longer advertises for payday lenders!  No signs on the outfield walls or anywhere else in the building.  Progress!
Downtown Dallas, Inc. could really help the homeless presence in the CBD by reinstating homeless outreach workers as a part of the strategy to care for the very poor and the very rich investors.  Just sayin'.
The more I am around Dallas City Council member Casey Thomas, the more I like him.
Living without a home is a genuine trauma crisis.

Monday, April 04, 2016

God or some other power?

Explaining suffering and the terrible things that happen to people in life presents a formidable, intellectual challenge. 

My mind goes to this dark place because I have the dubious privilege of speaking at Church at the Square on Sunday, May 1.  You see, that's just 3 days before the City of Dallas intends to close down Tent City, the large homeless encampment located just a block away from CitySquare's Opportunity Center where the church meets. 

Most members of the church have no place to call "home."  Many have been directly connected to the encampment in one way or another.  Many pitch their tents and live there. 

My mind moves toward Lamentations, as I consider the sermon six weeks from now. 

Reading this text unsettles me. 

Clearly, the writer subscribed to a robust "deuteronomic" understanding of God.  The formula behind the theology turns out to be rather useful when it comes to understanding human suffering and pain.  Simply put, this view of reality says that if a person obeys the rules, blessings will surely follow.  If on the other hand, a person defies the will of God and disobeys, then punishment follows in due course as an expected outcome of pursuing evil.  Here God assumes the role of both grantor of blessing and perpetrator of punishment.

The author and readers of Lamentations didn't give due credit to the machinations of a warrior culture that delivered conflict and death in a period of history when conquering, punishing armies vied for control of ancient kingdoms, not unlike today!  Somehow a perverse comfort emerged from blaming a very involved God who meted out punishment and suffering because of their own sinfulness and for God's own purposes.  At least purpose in the face of horrid pain and suffering might be discovered in such an understanding, no matter how damning or inadequate. 

So, all of the intense, gruesome suffering and death described in Lamentations is in fact the work of the God whom the people worship. 




And, inadequate for sure. 

I've found this theology at work under the bridge that I can see out my office window right now.  People praise God for "all their blessings."  People transform their very real pain into a praise chorus that seems shrill at times, as if prompted by unimaginable difficulties. 

Outside observers tend to believe that the suffering in Tent City is the result of the failure of its residents.  While not often uttered, many believe that the suffering to be observed here is punishment from God's hand, not blessing.  I suppose it all depends on your perspective and your housing status.


But buried in the middle of this curious little chapter of the Hebrew Bible, I have a feeling that I'll find my text here somewhere.

Try this relief from chapter 3:

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
    is wormwood and gall!
20 My soul continually thinks of it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,[g]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul that seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for one to bear
    the yoke in youth,
28 to sit alone in silence
    when the Lord has imposed it,
29 to put one’s mouth to the dust
    (there may yet be hope),
30 to give one’s cheek to the smiter,
    and be filled with insults.
31 For the Lord will not
    reject forever.
Or, try reading the version Eugene Peterson's The Message offers:
I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
    the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
    the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
    and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
22-24 God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
    He’s all I’ve got left.
25-27 God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
    to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
    quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
    to stick it out through the hard times.
28-30 When life is heavy and hard to take,
    go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
    Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
    The “worst” is never the worst.
31-33 Why? Because the Master won’t ever
    walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
    His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard,
    in throwing roadblocks in the way:
34-36 Stomping down hard
    on luckless prisoners,
Refusing justice to victims
    in the court of High God,
Tampering with evidence—
    the Master does not approve of such things.

Still struggling with the theodicy before us in Dallas.
For now, I'll commit to simply wait with my friends who will soon suffer more indignity. 

Is it God who strikes the poor? 

Or, could it just be God's people?

Mercy, Lord, mercy.

Sunday, April 03, 2016


Where Is God Now?

The SS hung two Jewish men and a boy before the assembled inhabitants of the camp. The men died quickly but the death struggle of the boy lasted half an hour. “Where is God? Where is he?” a man behind me asked. As the boy, after a long time, was still in agony on the rope, I heard the man cry again, “Where is God now?” And I heard a voice within me answer, “Here he is—he is hanging here on this gallows….”
Elie Wiesel
Source: Night