Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Permanent Housing: Cost benefit clear

Set aside the moral and humanitarian aspects of developing permanent housing for the homeless.

Go to the bottom line. That is an approach everyone in Dallas will understand!

Denver can teach us. As a matter of fact, we could go to school on a number of cities in the United States in this regard.

But, let's just stick with Denver for now.

A recent study of Denver's "housing first" program reveals some very interesting results.

The program is now two years old.

The strategy is clear and determined. The most hard-core homeless persons have been placed in permanent housing and steered toward treatment for mental illness and addictive behaviors.

During the two years prior to entering the program, these men and women cost the city $43,239 each in city services provided, including trips to hospital emergency rooms, inpatient treatment in a city hospital, trips to detox centers and nights in jail. In addition to this, prior to obtaining housing of their own, participants spent an average of 274 nights in the city's homeless shelters at a cost of $25 per night, per person.

During the two year period after they received housing of their own, the tab billed to the city per person fell to $11,694.

The per person cost of the Housing First program to the city came in at $13,800 and included both housing and treatment/social services expenses.

City officials project a net cost savings of $3.4 million over a two year period if all of the hard-core, chronically homeless in Denver were enrolled in Housing First.

Study after study from across the nation report similar findings.

Philip Mangano, Executive Director of the U. S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, reports that, ". . .we're learning the cost of housing the chronically homeless and providing services are less expensive than letting these folks remain homeless and ricochet through services." Mr. Mangano said basically the same thing yesterday here in Dallas when he spoke during groundbreaking ceremonies for our city's new Homeless Assistance Center.

Mangano noted that a study out of San Diego reported that 18 chronically homeless persons cost the city $3 million over a 18 month period.

"They could have rented ocean-side condos with sweeping views and provided them with concierge services for that amount of money," he concluded.

Cities like Dallas need to work smarter.

Permanent housing doesn't cost as much as on-going, intensive social and community services.

Housing is a sound community investment.

Housing is what we need. And we need it now.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Friday Night Lights. . .casting call!

Always dream of a career in the movies or television?

This could be your big break!

We have been contacted by a casting agency for Friday Night Lights, the hit television series on NBC about a fictional high school football team in West Texas. The program is based on the H. G. Bissinger book and movie by the same title that tells the story of legendary Odessa Permian High School football.

The show needs cast!

So, here's the deal: an episode will be shot at Texas Stadium on Friday, March 9th and Saturday, March 10th.
Extras are needed to play the fans in the stands! The only limitation is that children cannot be under 10.

Okay, so it's not a leading role. But, you have to start somewhere, right?

Participants can attend Friday or Saturday or both.

If you sign up to participate you will be expected to stay for the duration of filming (4 – 10 hours). Exact start times are still to be determined, but all filming will be during daylight hours.

Snacks and beverages will be provided for everyone throughout the day and, if filming extends past six hours, lunch with be provided. Also during the day there will be raffles and giveaways.

Now for the payoff!

For each person attending as a representative of Central Dallas Ministries a donation will be made to CDM at the following rate:

10-30 attendees $15 per person

31-2,500 attendees $20 per person

If all of you sign up and show up, CDM will benefit greatly and you'll have an experience you'll not soon forget.

Important information if you want to take part: contact Lisa Goolsby no later than this Thursday, March 1 by email ( or by phone (214.823.8710 ext 138).

Should be interesting and fun!

U. S. Housing: A crisis of affordability

With so much attention of media and business journalism focused on the current, and very fragile, housing value “bubble,” it is easy to miss another extremely important national housing story.

The United States faces a growing shortage in affordable housing. The shortage is reaching crisis proportions as it continues to grow.

Fourteen million American households now spend more than 50% of their income to cover housing costs or they live in substandard housing conditions. For some households it is both.

In 70% of the nation’s 200 largest metropolitan areas, middle class workers (nurses, teachers, janitors, retail clerks, firemen and police officers) don’t earn enough to qualify to purchase even a modest home.

In Dallas, Texas, one of the nation’s wealthiest areas, only 42% of the households occupy homes that they own.

Over the past ten years, the U. S. lost 2,000,000 affordable rental homes because of soaring markets, the decline of federal housing subsidies, owner divestment and age and deterioration.

Hard fact of life in the USA: For every new affordable unit built, two are razed, abandoned or redeveloped as high cost rentals.

The affordable housing crisis connects to a host of other urban challenges. Housing and community environment are crucial factors for success and vigor when it comes to public education, economic development, public safety, employment, transportation and health/wellness.

Current public policy regarding housing steps away from citizens at the bottom of the economic ladder in favor of homeowners at the upper reaches of the economy. The continuation of such an approach will only deepen and broaden the severity of a range of pressing urban problems confronting inner city neighborhoods.

We need a new vision and many new voices.

[Facts informing this post were found at In Focus—MacArthur Foundation, “Deepening Our Knowledge about How Housing Matters”]

Monday, February 26, 2007

Freedom and respect

When you were a kid, did you ever go to summer camp?

Or, as an adult, have you ever participated in a retreat where you shared a bunkhouse with a group of other people?

Across the years I've done my share of "retreating" and I've bunked with lots of guys in camp settings.

If you've been there, you know the drill.

Everything responds to the schedule.

Lights out at a certain time.

Breakfast, if you intend to eat it, is at the crack of dawn!
Every meal involves waiting in line.
Every meal soon begins to taste the same.

The routine for the days is clearly spelled out--sometimes in triplicate, depending on the mental health of those in charge.

In almost every case there is a good bit of sitting and listening to others talk or teach or tell you what to do or think.

Once you're in the camp, you have to abide by the rules, the process and the "mission" of the week or the weekend.

I have to confess, at around day two I've usually had about enough of such experiences!

I like to go to bed, in my own bed, whenever I choose. I like to get up early, have a cup of coffee, read the paper, meditate a bit or whatever I decide I need to do on a particular day.

Hey, I'm into freedom and choice and self-directed living. How about you?

For some reason my summer camp and adult retreat experiences came rushing back to me last week as I thought about what I should say to a local conference on homelessness. I had been asked to speak to the group about "community" and the challenges of homelessness in Dallas.

People wring their hands a lot in this city about why homeless men and women are so "shelter resistant."

My camping, bunkhouse experience tells me the answer to that question is not rocket science!

Homeless shelters are no more an answer to the housing crisis facing our homeless brothers and sisters than are summer camps or adult retreats an answer to the daily challenges facing me as I live my middle class life!
Both have their place for very short periods of time--you know, in an emergency or for some special reason.

But no one wants to live on someone else's agenda or schedule. No one.
No one can actually consider a bunk bed or a cot "home."

Check me on this, but my favorite time at summer camp or during retreat settings was always "free time." I've never read a retreat or camping evaluation that didn't say something like, "Next year build in more free time!"

Don't ever wonder why people prefer camp grounds under bridges, park benches or down in urban creek beds to shelters. It's all about freedom and maintaining a sense of control over one's life.
Everyone desires freedom and respect.

Any proposed "solution" to the problem of homelessness that does not major on those indispensable values will fail.

This is why we must build more permanent housing.

The answer to the challenges presented by homelessness is not more shelters, social workers or case management, as important all these resources can be.
The answer to homelessness is more homes.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Waging Peace

Reading for today--for this Sunday, but more, for this challenging time. . .

Matthew 5:38-48

Love Your Enemies

38-42"Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

43-47"You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

48"In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you."

[The Message Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson]

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Day Dreams. . .Great Memories

If I don't manage to get to a river at least once every 12 to 15 months, I feel as if I am cheating myself out of the kind of renewal and pure joy that can fuel my soul for an entire year of hard work in the city.

When I was a college student living in central Arkansas, I spent lots of time wading the Little Red River fishing for Rainbow Trout.

I remember almost always packing my skillet for a meal on the riverbank.

Nothing tastes better than fresh trout cooked up over a camp fire out in the woods after a few hours of "hard work" fishing up and down a section of fast-flowing water. I can still taste those meals!

It was always great being with a buddy or family fishing that special stretch of stream. We had lots of fun and plenty of laughs!

But, I also found it very satisfying being there alone in the beauty. The leaves, the water, the breeze and the challenge of the pesky Rainbows--it all added up to great times that I'll never forget. Fall days on the river were particularly satisfying.

I expect those memories, as much as anything else, continue to drive me toward rivers in other parts of the country.

There's nothing like fly fishing for trout in a swift river.

When you day dream, what fills your mind and heart?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Inner city youth now in college. . .

Janet Morrison, Ed. D., serves as our Director of Children's Education here at Central Dallas Ministries.

For over a decade now Janet has been working with children to provide them high-quality, experiential educational opportunities. Combining exposure to all sorts of learning situations with a determined leadership and personal development strategy, Janet's program has produced results.

In addition to the program side of her work, Janet has lived in one of our target neighborhoods since she arrived in Dallas in 1995. Her natural influence in the neighborhood has been fun to watch.

And then there is the Central Dallas Church where Janet has been working with and helping shape children and teens over the same period.

Janet's reach and that of CDM has been constant. Along with many disappointments, lots of really wonderful and amazing things have resulted in the lives of children and youth.

Last week I asked Janet how many of the children we have touched and worked with across the years are now in college. She sent me a list of 23 students!

That may not sound like a very large number, but take it from me, it is an amazing number when you take into consideration the household incomes, the neighborhoods and other facts of daily life for these great students and their families.

I feel the need to list their names and where they are studying today--it's about honoring them and Janet for the hard work and for the persistent team effort.

So, here's our current list:

Tiffany Johnson, Junior, Baylor
Whitney Haywood, Fresh, El Centro
Albert Ross, Fresh, El Centro
Adrian Williams, Fresh, El Centro
Johnas McKinny, Fresh, El Centro
Ronyell Byers, Fresh, El Centro
Britney Brown, Fresh, trade school @ El Centro
Nicholas Donald, Fresh, Richland
Erika Lopez, Soph, Eastfield
Anabeli Ibarra, Soph, Eastfield
Jessica Orogbu, Soph, TAMU-Commerce
Bridgette Miles, Soph, TAMU-Commerce
Terrance Johnson, Soph, TAMU-Commerce
Keith Davis, Soph, TAMU-Commerce
Lamanda Brookins, Soph, TAMU-Commerce
Kieva Moore, Senior, Stephen F. Austin
Oscar Aparicio, Fresh, UT-Austin
Kim Aparicio, Graduate entering med school
Britney Hay, soph, Navarro
Ernest Wheeler, Soph, Navarro
Fredrick Williams, Soph, Lamar University
Veronica White, Soph, Tougaloo University
Danielle Owens, Fresh, Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, Arizona

I am so proud of these young people! I am so grateful we've enjoyed the opportunity to work with them. They have given back so much to CDM, to their families and to our larger community. And, of course in that regard, the best is yet to come!

I am also grateful for Janet Morrison. What a difference she has made and is making!

Bravo, Dr. J!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

My dear friend, "Anonymous"

Back on Thursday, February 15, 2007, I quoted Antonio Gramsci's description of the impact of World War I on Russian peasants and subsequent Russian political life.

Gramsci happened to have been a disciple of Karl Marx.

As I often manage to do, I ruffled the feathers of my good, good friend, "Anonymous."

Here's what "Anonymous" posted in my comment box in response to my decision to quote a Marxist philosopher:

"At 8:48 PM, Anonymous said...
Larry, it would be nice if you would quote some of our founding fathers rather than the founder of the Communist Party of Italy."

You gotta love "Anonymous."

At least he or she took the time to respond, got involved, mixed it up, expressed a thought, shared a point of view, cared enough to give me a piece of his/her mind!

I love that! It's a big part of why I blog--that and my obvious need for therapy--stay close to the phone Dr. Parsons!

Every time I get a message from Old "Anonymous" though, I find myself wishing that he would come out into the light just a step or two farther.

You know.

Provide us with her name!

Identity is important for authentic conversation, at least it seems so to me.

I'm about ready to start a national campaign. You know, something along the lines of:

"Anonymouses of the world unite! Declare your names so all will know!"

Wonder if it would do any good?

Whatever, I just want to go on record again to say that I hope "Anonymous" will keep posting, even if I never get a name to go with the comments.

Which brings me back to the post "Anonymous" left me.

I believe "Anonymous" deserves to be taken seriously.

So, here's a quote from one of our most famous founding fathers about a subject related to my original, and for "Anonymous" objectionable, post:

"I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just"--Thomas Jefferson.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

South Dallas: Bexar Street Theatre, 1949

The photographs of Dallas photographer, Marion Butts are priceless.

This one is important to me. Shot in December 1949, it signals the tough legacy of a community destined for decline.

The historic Lincoln Theatre is located at 5414 Bexar Street, at the edge of the Ideal Neighborhood, just north of Highway 175 and not far from the Rochester Park neighborhood where Central Dallas Ministries offers our After School Academy inside the Turner Courts Housing Development.

Pictured here is S. R. Tankersley, with the Negro Moving Picture Machine Operators Union, protesting in front of the theater.

The theater was patronized solely by African Americans, but employed a white projectionist. Owners of the theater sued and won an injunction against the union to prevent them from using the word "Negro" on the pickets.

Today the old movie house sits in almost complete ruin. Restoration seems most unlikely in view of its condition.

The theater symbolizes what occurred in the surrounding community.

The racism that controlled the operation of the theater also limited the folks who lived around it.
Even in the late 1940s much of the housing stock in the area was rental in nature, with few home owners living in the community.

As the Civil Rights Movement spread across the United States and as jobs and opportunities opened up for black citizens, those who could, moved out, leaving behind those who had fewer options.

The percentage of rental housing stock continued to increase. Jobs and retail departed the area. Even the theater closed.

With the exit of the more successful former residents and with average incomes going down relative to the rest of the city, the tax base, code enforcement, city services and police protection declined as well.

The accommodation of an influential group of black pastors to the demands of the white power brokers didn't help either. White leaders were worried that the racial tension and unrest that was sweeping the nation would also come to Dallas. Deals were made, the pressure to protest was squelched and the quality of life for blacks in Dallas didn't improve as it should have, especially in neighborhoods like this one.

Today the area is in need of complete reclamation.

The City of Dallas has appropriated funds for infrastructure improvements along the section of Bexar Street pictured by Mr. Butts. Plans are in the works for single-family homes for sale.

Will it be possible to turn this neighborhood? Time will tell.

One thing seems certain to me. Without the infusion of fairly massive amounts of public investment in this community, the decay and the decline will continue.

Let's hope the public commitment comes through. This neighborhood should be reclaimed for its people and all of us who love Dallas.

[See the photographs of Marion Butts at:]

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Social capital, collective action and health. . .

People who give up don't do well.

People who feel as if they have no options, no power, no hope for progress, improvement or relief don't enjoy the same level of health and wellness as others who feel like they have more control over their lives.

There is clear, empirically verifiable evidence that having choices and a sense of power over one's circumstances results in better health outcomes. The absence of a sense of personal power and control likely explains, at least in part, the health outcome disparities between white and black Americans of the same socio-economic status in the United States.

Bottom line: community organizing, activism and collective social action are prerequisites for any viable plan for neighborhood and individual advancement. This fact is why charity alone is not only an insufficient response, it is an inappropriate response in any long-term strategy for rediscovering health and hope in depressed communities.

Doing for others typically produces negative results in the lives of those we seek to "help."

Doing with others often results in a growing sense of the value and authenticity of collective efficacy and social control.

Years ago I was involved in a church's outreach to a very poor and neglected area of South Oak Cliff here in Dallas. We partnered with a neighborhood church in this very depressed area to host a giant Vacation Bible School for the children who lived nearby.

One of our volunteers during the week was a retired dentist who had never participated in anything in a neighborhood like this one. As we worked together with the community and as he observed how things actually worked in this poor part of the city, he became incensed to say the least.

"Why, these folks can't even get the city to pick up their trash on a timely and regular basis," he complained to me during one of our preparation trips to the neighborhood. I told him that he was correct in his observation and that we "weren't in North Dallas anymore!"

The facts spurred him on.

He called the City of Dallas, both the Sanitation and Code Enforcement Departments. In just a few hours the trucks were rolling through the community picking up the trash. My friend felt good, and well he should have.

The problem though was that the people who lived there permanently had not felt as if they could affect such changes with a phone call or two. He obviously possessed a power they did not enjoy.

In reflecting on our week, I have often thought that we might have made better use of our time by meeting and talking with neighbors about their sense of social control and how they could organize with us to take on-going, sustained, collective action. The outcomes would have been better and improved health outcomes would have resulted as success was achieved over a longer period of time.

Attempting to "do good" can be dangerous and even harmful affair. I am learning that the best response to people caught in poverty is to apply the "Golden Rule," remembering to treat them like I would want to be treated if I were in the same situation.

Respect, mutual action, listening and organizing to change things out of a commitment to justice is the way to proceed. And, of course, a good dose of common sense is always helpful.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Branding great housing. . .

WinshipPhillips helps Central Dallas Ministries and Central Dallas Community Development Corporation with media, communications, graphics and branding.

Great company!

Great partners!

If you need a crack graphics firm, contact me and I will put you in touch with Ken and Becky Phillips, the principals.

But, here's the deal today.

I have posted several logos they have developed for our CityWalk @Akard project in Downtown Dallas.

CityWalk @Akard will be developed into 209 apartment units, 200 of which will be affordable, with 50 set aside for formerly homeless persons. Nine of the units will be market rate.

CDM will also occupy the third floor with our administrative offices, LAW Center and CDC.

The first two floors will be occupied by our tenant services/concierge group, a leasing office, light retail and office space for outside companies wishing to office Downtown. I'm happy to report that negotiations are underway presently with several companies interested in moving into our retail and office space.

What I'd like to know right now is which logo do you like best? The color schemes could change, so don't worry about that, just the design.

Please take a moment and cast your vote! Review the logos with the one at the top being #1 and descending through #4 at the bottom. I would love to hear from as many of you as possible on this one!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Journey. . .mission. . .walk

Keep walking, though there's no place to get to.

Don't try to see through the distances. That's not for human beings.

Move within, but don't move the way fear makes you move.


[Lifted from, the on-line service of Sojourners magazine and community.]

Saturday, February 17, 2007

City depths

Urban areas present daunting challenges.

Deep, sometimes frightening "holes" open up before us, with no apparent way to get across or over.

People everywhere.

It is easy to see people as the problem.

In reality, among the poor and the distressed, people provide hope and potential solutions.

The real challenge is getting people together to decide that hope is something we create in concert with one another, no matter how deep the holes or how daunting the fears.

We are in this together.

It is in this realization and commitment that we find our way across, and sometimes down to reclaim another friend.

[Photo taken from atop The Prince George hotel, a Common Ground Development property in New York City.]

Friday, February 16, 2007

Responding to people with class

During our recent trip to Common Ground Development in New York City, we toured three properties the organization has restored to use as single room occupancy apartments for low-income and formerly homeless persons.

Their work is stellar.

The buildings are all emaculate. The restorations exquisite.

Most importantly, the residents are enjoying great and encouraging living environments.

During our trip, we witnessed no problems with loitering, drunkenness or any sort of disturbance caused by any of the over 1,200 tenants leasing apartments from Common Ground.

The environments are key to the success they are experiencing.

The environments establish an expectation among the residents. No one could reside in such great places and be a "bum."

One of the features I appreciated, even in the bitter cold, was the rooftop patios and gardens. We were told that the tenants really took advantage of these spaces, especially in the springtime. [Forgive the quality of these photos. I captured them with my cell phone.]

The vision of Common Ground is amazing. The results are phenomenal.

What a model.

Talk about taking people seriously and responding to everyone with class, grace and quality!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Organizing for change. . .

Antonio Gramsci, writing after World War I, describes the effects of the war on Russia and its people.

"Selfish, individual instincts were blunted; a common, united spirit was fashioned; feelings were universalized; the habit of social discipline was formed. The peasants came to see the state in all its complex grandeur, it measureless power, its intricate construction. They came to see the world no longer as something infinitely vast like the universe and as circumscribed and small as the village bell-tower, but as a concrete reality consisting of states and peoples, social strengths and weaknesses, armies and machines, wealth and poverty. Links of solidarity were forged which would have taken decades of historical experience and intermittent struggles to form. Within four years, in the mud and blood of the trenches, a spiritual world emerged that was avid to form itself into permanent and dynamic social structures and institutions." (A Gramsci Reader, page 115)

Gramsci's description of the impact of the trauma of a world war on poor workers and farmers in Russia helps explain how the people managed to come together quickly to form an entirely new political worldview and social framework for such a vast nation. The exploitation and violence of the oppressive regimes of Lenin and Stalin intervened to thwart what might have been created had it been allowed to go forward in more equitable and just ways.

The interesting point here for me is the effect of shared pain on human communities, especially on communities of common interest and experience. Clearly, the pain caused by the war and the preceding stark realities of deep poverty, extreme class disparities, disease and death created a social movement among common, very poor people.

My grandfather once told me that "you can't organize farmers." I expect he should have known. He and my dad were West Texas cotton farmers for decades. The promise and/or availability of continuing credit, no matter how bad the terms, combined with the prospects of a "better crop on the place next year," almost always blocked efforts at collective action or marketing among independent producers.

The same sort of dynamic seems to hold true here in Dallas and across the nation among poor folks, though in an even more hopeless context. It is very hard to organize people at the very bottom of the economic ladder for any sort of collective effort to bring about change or social improvement.

So much energy is expended on simply "getting by" that very few have time or resources to spare on getting together to promote change, reform or better opportunities for themselves as a group.

Mix in healthy doses of a religious fervor that continually points people away from the harsh realities of this world and on toward the next and you take away even more motivation to come together to demand changes and reform for the here and now.

Others turn to narcotics, alcohol or other abusive addictions, including unchecked sexual avarice, to deal with the pain and discouragement associated with poverty and economic failure. The "quick fix" options often crowd out the longer term requirements of community activism and organizing.

Then, there is the extremely resilient power of the persistent social and cultural notion that boasts "anyone who will work hard and follow the rules can make it in this country." Like my grandfather's friends, this takes us back to the power of the motivated individual rather than the promise of the organized group. This social myth leads people to act, vote and behave in ways that often work against their own best self-interest.

Still, Gramsci teaches me that if the pain is severe enough and the crisis deep enough, people will come together to work for better lives for everyone who shares in and understands the difficulties of poverty and the consequences following from the absence of real, widespread opportunities.

Call me naive, but I find at least a glimmer of hope in this promise. Maybe things will have to get worse in our inner cities before they actually get much better.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Churches, Poverty and the Inner City

Church leaders often remark to me, "What can we do to really be involved in the work you are doing? We don't want to just write a check."

I understand and appreciate the sentiment behind the question, at least I think I do.

Of course, there are some clear facts to consider in this discussion.

First, churches don't write many checks to support our work here in Dallas. We project, based on past experience, that contributions by churches to Central Dallas Ministries during 2007 will total a good bit less than 5% of our operations budget. So, you will understand that from our perspective, in view of the needs and opportunities we face every day, it is not a bad thing for a church to simply write us a check, or better yet, a check a month!

Second, getting churches involved in inner city neighborhoods can be a little tricky. For one thing, lots of church folks want to lavish lots of stuff on poor people. This can be useful at times, if we are talking about the right stuff, delivered in the proper manner. But for the most part, free stuff is not what is needed or even best for our communities.

For example, putting low-income persons in a position to control the process of, say, hunger relief or clothing distribution, may be much better than having church folks from outside the community deliver the goods directly to the poor.

If your goal is community and human development, you look for ways to avoid the creation of dependence or a neo-colonial approach to relief and compassion efforts. If the community senses that it is being assisted by its own members, things seem to work better and lead somewhere beyond the venue and limitations of charity. Churches that are mature enough to entrust resources to inner city leaders and community organizers without the demand to be involved in the delivery process usually are doing much more than they realize to promote health in distressed communities.

Third, churches from outside the inner city can make a big difference if they are willing to simply work on developing authentic friendships. Churches may want to "adopt" a neighborhood, not to shower it with material gifts, but to come to know it, the environment, the challenges and its residents. As relationships form around various projects and meetings, friendship will lead naturally to joint action.

Such an approach takes time and commitment that includes and goes beyond check writing.

One of our best supporting churches is in the process of adopting the community formed by one of our apartment complexes. Church members have spent weekends painting and repairing apartments. They have had picnics and they have erected a much-needed fence around the front yard to protect the children who play outside from their rather busy street. I know his group plans to stay with it and get to know the people who live there.

Such an approach is key to really being involved in a way that goes beyond checks to friendships and community connections. The benefits are mutual and reciprocal. Both groups benefit from one another. This is key.

If an action does not result in reciprocal benefit for both groups and everyone involved, it likely should be reconsidered or redesigned. Including neighborhood folks in any planning for such activities will be a step in the right direction from the get-go.

Not every church is ready for such a commitment. That's okay.

Checks placed in the hands of community and ministry leaders are crucial to our continued progress. If more follows on from the financial commitment, well and good.

Please though, don't underestimate the importance and power of simply writing a check!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A New Mayor's "Prayer List"

There's a joke making the rounds in Dallas today that asks who is running for Mayor in May?

The punch line serving several variations on this theme goes something like this, "It would be a heck of a lot easier to list who isn't running!"

The last count I saw listed 20 candidates for the job.

Yesterday was the beginning of the filing period for candidates to get their names on the official ballot. By this time tomorrow no telling how many folks will be in the race!

The field was opened up when Mayor Laura Miller announced that she would not to seek another term. Ms. Miller has decided to step away from the chaos of running Dallas to spend more time with her family. Who could blame her?

As the field began filling up shortly after the Mayor's surprise announcement, we started wondering. . .

Who, if anyone, among the candidates had a vision for our low-income, inner-city neighborhoods?

Who among those hoping to guide our city for the next four years has a plan for attacking the challenges presented by persistent, almost intractable poverty here in Dallas?

Who has a valid vision for the Southern Sector in our city?

Is there anyone?

We decided to find out.

We will do so at our 12th Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, April 26 at the Hilton Anatole Hotel. Our meeting will begin at 7:15 a.m. Our program for the morning will be the top 7-8 mayoral candidates vying for the top position in Dallas city government. We have invited the top contenders. All have agreed to be present.

Each candidate will be given an opportunity to respond to prompts like these:

"When I pray for poor people in Dallas, my list includes. . . ."

"My vision for improving life for the residents of our lowest income neighborhoods includes. . . ."

"When it comes to the Southern Sector here in Dallas, I plan to. . . ."

After hearing from each candidate, we will open the meeting to questions from the floor.

It should be a great and informative morning.

We just felt like the campaign should not conclude without someone asking hard questions about the issues that matter most to us and our inner city neighbors.

If you are anywhere near Dallas on this special morning, I hope you'll join us. Information about tickets, tables and sponsorships will be up on our website in the near future (

Monday, February 12, 2007

Public Schools and "Turning" Neighborhoods

I mentioned last week that I got to hear Richard Baron, Chairman and CEO with McCormack Baron Salazar, speak to the annual Real Estate Council breakfast.

Baron has been re-developing housing and community in some of America’s toughest urban centers, including Boston, Pittsburgh and Atlanta. He and his firm seem to go where no one else much wants to play. Good for him!

The first line of his very informative and inspiring presentation was stunning: public schools are the key to renewing inner city neighborhoods and communities.

In short, according to Baron, if you can’t capture, reform and make effective the local public schools, forget your plans to revitalize failing urban communities.

He went on to describe the work he and his firm have been doing, not only in housing and retail development, but in working directly with public school districts at a very high level to insure needed change.

Baron is the first to admit the importance of after school programming and other human development services. But, he also insists that such programs will never be enough.

What is needed is strategic alignment of inner city developers and public school leaders and planners. Until both groups learn to trust each other and sit down and plan together, nothing very significant will change in our urban centers. He went on to talk about how some districts where he has worked built new, highly effective schools in conjunction with the housing development he was leading.

He also noted that public schools must be re-engineered to operate much more effectively and efficiently than is currently the case in urban districts like Dallas, Texas.

As he spoke, I thought of the groundbreaking work being done here by Don Williams and the Foundation for Community Empowerment via the Dallas Achieves initiative.

What’s needed now is a similar commitment to revamp our public schools, and thus, our neighborhoods, from home builders and economic development folks, including the City of Dallas.

Our problems are much too large to work in isolation from one another for even one more day.

Why don’t we all get together and talk?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Love, Courage, Wisdom. . .

"Love without courage and wisdom is sentimentality, as with the ordinary church member. Courage without love and wisdom is foolhardiness, as with the ordinary soldier. Wisdom without love and courage is cowardice, as with the ordinary intellectual. But the one who has love, courage and wisdom moves the world."

--Ammon Hennacy (Catholic activist, 1893-1970) as quoted in Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (Zondervan, 2006)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Les Miserables

“There is always more misery among the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher.”

Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

[Quoted on the cover of the program of the play presented by the School of Performing Arts at Garland High School, Garland, Texas February 7-10, 2007]

Friday, February 09, 2007

The War

I know that it won't matter, what I say, I mean.

Sometimes though, a person just needs to go ahead, lead with the chin and get things of the heart out in the open.

So, here goes.

To date the war in Iraq has cost the nation $365,000,000,000--and that is a conservative estimate. Earlier this week the President asked Congress for $237,000,000,000 in additional funds for the next year.

Sums of money this large more than boggle my very limited mind.

The funds and their use cut at my heart and move my soul deeply for many reasons, all related to life, priorities, purpose, outcomes, peace, justice and hope.

For today I will stick to brief observations about alternatives.

The National Priorities Project provides a running--"rushing" would be better--tabulation of the cost of the war. Take a moment and check the site out at:

Just as striking are its estimates of the completely different outcomes that could have been realized with the application of funds at these same levels. What might the nation have been able to achieve had these same funds been applied to other pressing national issues?

For example. . .
  • 48,000,000 children could have been enrolled in the pre-school programs of Head Start
  • 218,000,000 children could have been fully insured
  • 6,000,000 new public school teachers could have been recruited and hired
  • 3,000,000 new units of housing could have been built
  • 18,000,000 four-year, full scholarships to public universities could have been awarded

The possibilities are endless. Pick an area. Consider the weight of the assets involved. Dream a little.

Sadly, today our nation finds itself in a very difficult position as our leaders consider what to do next in Iraq. One thing is certain. The funding meter is still whirling.

Even sadder is the realization that this comparison is actually a cruel fantasy.

Can you imagine us deciding to actually appropriate and spend our national treasure on such matters as these I've listed as "alternatives"?

Like I say, I know this won't matter. But, I do feel better having expressed myself.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Mental Health and Dallas Jails

In Dallas County our public hospital system, Parkland Health and Hospital System, provides medical services for the County Jails.

Recently, I participated in a panel discussion at the Dallas County Commissioners Court regarding housing and homelessness.

One aspect of the presentation shocked me.

Dallas County operates the 7th largest jail system in the United States.

Currently, our jails “house” 1,270 inmates who have been diagnosed with mental illness.

Of these folks, 272 have been determined to be homeless.

Sixty-four of these persons take psychotropic medications, or they should, to manage their illness.

One hundred-twenty-seven are addicted to some sort of drug.

Is it just me, or doesn’t it seem logical and much more humane that these men and women might do better if they were placed in an environment other than jail?

Of course, Texas ranks 48th and 49th respectively in mental health and addiction treatment services. I guess with so little funding available, we've just decided as a community that jail is as good a place as any for the “throwaways” in our population.

But, we are compassionate here, please don’t lose sight of that fact!

Maybe this is something we could pray about this weekend in church, temple and mosque.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Common Ground Community

Spending 24 hours in Manhattan can renew your faith in the human enterprise.

At least that was my experience yesterday when four of my partners and I devoted a day to touring and attempting to understand the amazing work of Common Ground Community, one of the most successful and edgy community development corporations in the world.

Rosanne Haggerty runs the outfit from her office as President. She oversees the creative and diligent work of 200 professionals who are devoted to developing, delivering and managing high-quality housing opportunities for some of the poorest of the poor who reside in New York City.

About half of their almost 1,200 units are now home to formerly, chronically homeless men and women who lived on the streets of our nation's largest city.

So, what did I bring home from the trip?

1. Low-income working people and formerly chronic homeless persons can live together successfully in high density developments. None of this mixing of market rate units in the Common Ground developments.

All of their major projects are filled with low-income tenants. The Times Square Hotel, their first major project, offers over 600 units to low-income and formerly homeless. We visited the Prince George Hotel (over 400 units) and The Christopher (200 plus units, including about 40 youth who aged out of state foster care services). Each development is a stunning success. Turn over rates are extremely low in all of the properties Common Ground owns. Waiting lists are long.

Common Ground proves that the “housing first” philosophy works and works well. The notion that people need to earn their way into permanent housing is a foolish, paternalistic idea. By placing people in decent housing first and then surrounding them with relationships and friendship, Common Ground is proving that life can change for even hard core poor and homeless persons.

2. Cities, like Dallas, must change their priorities if they truly desire to see homeless eradicated and sufficient workforce housing developed in their communities.

The City of New York mandates that their housing preservation dollars be spent primarily on chronically homeless individuals. They back up that commitment with money.

Dallas should go to school on New York City.

Enough of our excuses.

It is time for the city to adequately fund a real housing strategy. The next mayor needs to be on board with such a plan. Every mayoral candidate needs to declare a position on housing and homelessness, the sooner the better.

3. The key to success resides in how we regard low-income people.

Common Ground believes in people. It’s that simple for them.

Everyone we met exhibited a positive attitude about their relationship with the tenants. Haggerty told us that her Tenant Services staff shares more in common with cruise directors than professional case managers or traditional social workers. The refreshment that flows from that attitude cannot be over emphasized. Haggerty spoke eloquently of the “normalizing” factor such an attitude brings to the living environment.

The key question asked again and again by the Tenant Services team members is, “What does my friend [insert first name here] need?”

4. Common Ground seeks to meet the housing needs of very poor people by sharing their experiences and their intelligence freely with whoever is interested in joining in the battle. We were amazed and encouraged by just how transparent the entire team was with us. We left determined to be more attentive to groups wanting to meet with us and share learning here in Dallas.

Our CityWalk@Akard development can become a major asset to the city of Dallas, not only in terms of its immediate impact on the housing inventory available to the very poor, but also as a model for future projects.

Confession: I have found that if you stay in Dallas for long, unbroken periods of time, you begin to believe our “community lie” that the poor are simply a major, distracting aggravation and that the homeless are hopeless. Such poison can seep into your soul and sap your energy and kill your heart and passion.

Getting away for just a day to be among people who are getting the job done in a city that is determined to get it done, is invaluable.

As we flew home, I realized that we really aren’t such fools after all. We just need to stay at our work and we need to persuade others to join us.

5. Big projects are much better than small ones. Why waste time and energy dreaming small? Large projects enjoy efficiencies and advantages of scale that make them the best option. I saw it in New York City all day long with Common Ground.

Dallas needs to think bigger.

Neighborhoods need to step up and people need to grow up.

It is time our city actually worked on becoming world class. We’ve talked a good game. But now the time has come to put up or shut up.

Thanks, Common Ground! I needed exactly what you provided.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Extreme Cold. . .Brrrrr!

Five of us made the trip to New York City last night. Today we tour properties developed by Common Ground, one of the most innovative and successful community development corporations in the country.

It was the story of Common Ground's Times Square Hotel development that influenced us to purchase a building for re-development in Downtown Dallas. The "60 Minutes" report on the project here in Manhattan is still etched in my mind.

This morning the temperature stands just above 0! The windchill makes it feel somewhere between 0 and 15 below! Cold for a Texas boy.

Looking forward to what we can discover together for the sake of our city and folks who deserve a quality space for living.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Immigration: Practical and Complicated Considerations

Last Tuesday, I attended The Real Estate Council's annual breakfast at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Dallas Love Field. The theme for the morning: "Rebuilding Neighborhoods in Central Cities."

Richard Baron, Co-founder and Chairman and CEO with McCormack Baron Salazar based in St. Louis, has been developing innovative, mixed-income, mixed-use housing projects in inner cities all over the United States. He and his firm are not afraid to tackle tough neighborhoods with depressing histories. From what I saw, Baron has a great track record that combines risk-taking with sound business and development practices.

I loved what he shared with us in words and photos. But, this morning I am remembering one of his "throw away" lines related, not to development, but to immigration.

"And speaking of plans to secure our southern border, who the $#&*@ is gonna build the wall?"

Good question, don't you think?

Consider these facts about immigration:
  • Of 31 million total immigrants, 12 million are undocumented with 1.4 to 1.6 million in Texas (5% of the state's population)
  • 43% of Dallas area Hispanics are immigrants and only 19% are citizens
  • Dallas Federal Reserve reports that around 30% of U. S. immigrants are undocumented
  • DFW International reports that in Dallas almost 1/2 of the "foreign born" residents have no documentation or 10% of the city's population
  • 50% of these immigrants live in poverty and have no health insurance
  • Dallas County gained 175,000 Hispanic residents between 2000-2005
  • Exit polls during last November's General Election reported that 2/3 of voters listed immigration concerns as "extremely" or "very important" and 50% said undocumented residents should be given a chance to gain legal status, while 1/3 were in favor of deportation
  • Entering the country without proper documentation is a civil matter, not a misdemeanor or felony
  • In 2006, approximately 70% of workers sent $24 billion home to Mexico--an annual increase of 25%, representing 2.5% of Mexico's GDP
  • Every 10% increase in remittances sent home to Mexico result in a 3.5% reduction in Mexican poverty levels
  • In Texas, Latin American immigrants contribute $52.8 billion to local economies
  • Undocumented Texas workers contributed $1.58 billion to state coffers in 2005
  • If all undocumented Texas workers suddenly disappeared, the gross state product would drop by $17.7 billion in revenues
  • Jobs follow market needs: a skilled carpenter in Mexico earns $125 per month; the same laborer can earn $2,299 in the U. S. where food costs are also lower
  • Sixty families in Mexico control 40% of the wealth
  • Unemployment rates in Dallas-Ft Worth stand at about 5%--the result is a labor shortage
  • 70% of the Dallas construction workforce is immigrant and largely undocumented
  • Texas Workforce Commission reports that Texas will need almost 125,000 additional restaurant workers and over 35,000 truck drivers
  • A language other than English is spoken in 43.9% of Dallas homes, as compared to 19.4% nationally
  • High School graduation rates for Hispanics in the DISD is 32%--graduation rates for undocumented are even lower
  • Over 2/3 of all DISD students are Hispanic
  • The City of McKinney spent $138,000 to build a labor center for immigrant day laborers to "catch out" for work in an orderly manner--Plano and Garland also have such centers supported by public funds
  • Parkland Health and Hospital System, the public hospital in Dallas County, wrote off $7.6 million in unpaid medical bills from patients residing in adjoining Collin County which has no public hospital

(D Magazine, "Mexican Invasion," by Rod Davis, February 2007, pages 42ff)

If you are really interested in the whole question of American jobs taken by immigrants, you may want to take a look at the article in yesterday's Dallas Morning News by Daniel Gross ("Reeled In," Sunday, February 4, 2007, Points section):

Sunday, February 04, 2007

More Gutierrez

"In the first place, liberation expresses the aspirations of oppressed peoples and social classes, emphasizing the conflictual aspect of the economic, social, and political process which puts them at odds with wealthy nations and oppressive classes. In contrast, the word development, and above all the policies characterized as developmentalist. . ., appear somewhat aseptic, giving a false picture of a tragic and conflictual reality. The issue of development does in fact find its true place in the more universal, profound, and radical perspective of liberation. It is only within this framework that development finds its true meaning and possibilities of accomplishing something worthwhile.

"At a deeper level, liberation can be applied to an understanding of history. Humankind is seen as assuming conscious responsibility for its own destiny. This understanding provides a dynamic context and broadens the horizons of the desired social changes. In this perspective the unfolding of all the dimensions of humanness is demanded--persons who make themselves throughout their life and throughout history. The gradual conquest of true freedom leads to the creation of a new humankind and a qualitatively different society. This vision provides, therefore, a better understanding of what in fact is at stake in our times.

"Finally, the word development to a certain extent limits and obscures the theological problems implied in the process designated by this term. On the contrary, the word liberation allows for another approach leading to the Biblical sources which inspire the presence and action of humankind in history. In the Bible, Christ is presented as the one who brings us liberation. Christ the Savior liberates from sin, which is the ultimate root of all disruption of friendship and of all injustice and oppression. Christ makes humankind truly free, that is to say, enables us to live in communion with him; and this is the basis for all human fellowship.

". . . .In this way two pitfalls will be avoided: first, idealist or spiritualist approaches, which are nothing but ways of evading a harsh and demanding reality, and second, shallow analyses and programs of short-term effect initiated under the pretext of meeting immediate needs."

(Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, pages 24-25.)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Embracing poverty. . .

Whenever I am looking for inspiration and grounding to "stay at it," I turn to Gustavo Gutierrez. His classic, first published in 1971 as Teologia de la liberacion, Perspectivas, is where I usually begin. Of course, I read the English version, A Theology of Liberation (Orbis Books, 1973).

Gutierrez has inspired millions and shaped a major theological interpretative movement through his writing and teaching. Not everyone buys his "liberation theology," but for a boy reared to take the Bible seriously and, at the same time, disillusioned by the typical and traditional responses of organized religion to the pain and suffering of the world, Gutierrez provides a haven for escape and reflection.

From my perspective anyone who seeks to provide leadership from a faith perspective to people or organizations seeking both to relieve communities from the burdens and barriers created by poverty and oppression and to revitalize such communities, his words are must reading.

From the paragraph that follows, consider his definition of "poverty" and his insights as to what will be involved in embracing it.

Gutierrez redefines "sin" in such a way that we can no longer ignore poverty, its causes or its consequences and still make a credible claim to be the people of God. Gutierrez forces us to face the fact that we are called to do much, much more than simply "help the poor." We are called in the Gospel to do battle with all the forces that keep people poor and that create poverty and oppression.

Poverty is an act of love and liberation. It has redemptive value. If the ultimate cause of human exploitation and alienation is selfishness, the deepest reason for voluntary poverty is love of neighbor. Christian poverty has meaning only as a commitment of solidarity with the poor, with those who suffer misery and injustice. The commitment is to witness to the evil which has resulted from sin and is a breach of communion. It is not a question of idealizing poverty, but rather of taking it on as it is--an evil--to protest against it and to struggle to abolish it. As Ricoeur says, you cannot really be with the poor unless you are struggling against poverty. Because of this solidarity--which must manifest itself in specific action, a style of life, a break with one's social class--one can also help the poor and exploited to become aware of their exploitation and seek liberation from it. Christian poverty, an expression of love, is solidarity with the poor and is a protest against poverty. This is the concrete, contemporary meaning of the witness of poverty. It is a poverty lived not for its own sake, but rather as an authentic imitation of Christ; it is a poverty which means taking on the sinful human condition to liberate humankind from sin and all its consequences (Page 172).

Friday, February 02, 2007

Joe Biden and a "clean" African American candidate

The United States has never enjoyed the leadership of an African American President, not because there have been no qualified African Americans, but because of our society's prevailing racist assumptions.

On the very day that he was kicking off his own run for the White House, Senator Joseph Biden, Jr. (D-Delaware) stumbled badly. Speaking of Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) and his potential candidacy for President and his prospects of being the first African American to hold the office, Biden told reporters that Obama was, "the first mainstream, African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice looking guy."

I have no idea what Mr. Biden meant. I do know where he was coming from, and that scene is not all goodness and light.

It is true that Senator Obama, elected by a wide cross section of Illinois voters to the U. S. Senate with a large majority, rises from the mainstream of the American political process. Thankfully, his emergence is a sign of improving racial attitudes in the nation. Previous African American Presidential candidates have stepped forward from the margins of our political process. (Although, Jesse Jackson won my precinct caucus vote in the 1984 Democratic Primary when we lived in Richardson, Texas!)

Where Biden slipped up, and actually revealed an insight into the struggling soul of the nation, was in the remainder of his statement.




Nice looking.

Did he mean or imply that no candidate before Obama possessed any of these characteristics? In his apologies that went on the rest of the day on Wednesday, he seemed to deny that he meant his words to be taken in that way. I have no doubt that he didn't mean for us to take his statement this way, but what informed his observation in the first place?:

Actually, Biden may have done us all a great service. In fact, Senator Obama's almost instant popularity may be a reflection of the same beliefs and ideas that Senator Biden expressed yesterday without much thought.

Over the course of our history, countless African Americans have possessed the qualities necessary to serve as effective leaders of this nation. Unfortunately, the expressed and unexpressed biases of our national community have stood squarely in the way.

As we move toward the 2008 election, it seems more than realistic to think that we may finally elect a black President.

Ironically, if we do, for many people like Mr. Biden it may be because this particular African American is "acceptable" as judged by traditional, and largely mythical, white standards and categories.

Race matters in this nation. Race and racism are still very large issues.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Pigment Matters, And Pays

Vanderbilt University law and economics professor, Joni Hersch recently completed research on the impact of skin color on earning power among immigrants to the United States ("Study of Immigrants Links Lighter Skin And Higher Income," The New York Times, Sunday, January 28, 2007, A19).

Her findings are compelling and concerning.

In short, light-skinned persons earn more money on average than those with darker complexions.

The reason?

Simple discrimination on that basis.

Professor Hersch studied government surveys for 2,084 legal immigrants to the U. S. from around the world. She discovered that those with the lightest skin earned on average 8 to 15% more than similar immigrants who were born with darker skin.

"On average," Dr. Hersch said, "being one shade lighter has about the same effect as having an additional year of education."

Interestingly, the study considered other factors in the analysis such as English language proficiency, education, occupation, and racial or national background. Even after controlling for race, it was clear that skin color mattered.

For example, for two immigrants from Bangladesh with the same abilities, occupations and backgrounds, the lighter-skinned person would make more money than the darker-skinned individual.

The last paragraph of the article seems telling:

"Although many cultures show a bias toward lighter skin, she [Dr. Hersch] said her analysis showed that the skin-color advantage was not based on preferential treatment for light-skinned people in their country of origin. The bias, she said, occurs in the United States."