Monday, November 30, 2009

Jobs and a future

We're making progress on our plan to install solar panels on 100 homes occupied by very low-income folks in South Dallas.  It appears that all of the players needed to make it happen are lining up!  More on that to follow.

Regarding new jobs and the new frontiers of energy technology, I found this piece by Bob Herbert encouraging.  Let me know what you think.

Signs of Hope
Published: November 23, 2009

I came to Detroit and its environs, the seat of America’s glorious industrial past, to see if I could get a glimpse of the future. Is the economic, social and physical deterioration that has caused so much misery in the Motor City a sign of what’s in store for larger and larger segments of the United States?

Or are there new industries waiting in the wings — some of them right here in the Detroit metropolitan area — with new jobs and bright new prospects for whole new generations of American dreamers?

I found real reason to hope when a gentleman named Stan Ovshinsky took me on a tour of a remarkably quiet and pristine manufacturing plant in Auburn Hills, which is about 30 miles north of Detroit and is home to Chrysler’s headquarters. What is being produced in the plant is potentially revolutionary. A machine about the length of a football field runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, turning out mile after mile after mile of thin, flexible solar energy material, from which solar panels can be sliced and shaped.

You want new industry in the United States, with astonishing technological advances, new mass production techniques and jobs, jobs, jobs? Try energy.

Read on here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"I Will Thank You"

Forgive me and indulge me.

My 7-year-old granddaughter, Gracie, shared this song with us on Thanksgiving Day.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Urban death, urban despair

Each year for the past 15, Central Dallas Ministries has assisted low-income families bury their dead.  While every situation is unique, all share in common a desperation and an anxiety impossible to describe.  I find nothing more unsettling or difficult as the challenge facing very poor families when they've lost a loved one.  On top of the natural grief, the burden of claiming the remains and finding a way to pay for burial often proves extremely difficult. 

My own experience with these awful times drew me to the report below about the city of Detroit and the difficulties facing its morgue.  The story reports on what may best be regarded as a symbol of urban despair in our nation's central cities.

Unburied bodies tell the tale of Detroit — a city in despairTim Reid in Detroit

The abandoned corpses, in white body bags with number tags tied to each toe, lie one above the other on steel racks inside a giant freezer in Detroit’s central mortuary, like discarded shoes in the back of a wardrobe.

Some have lain here for years, but in recent months the number of unclaimed bodies has reached a record high. For in this city that once symbolised the American Dream many cannot even afford to bury their dead.

“I have not seen this many unclaimed bodies in 13 years on the job,” said Albert Samuels, chief investigator at the mortuary. “It started happening when the economy went south last year. I have never seen this many people struggling to give people their last resting place.”

Unburied bodies piling up in the city mortuary — it reached 70 earlier this year — is the latest and perhaps most appalling indignity to be heaped on the people of Detroit. The motor city that once boasted the highest median income and home ownership rate in the US is today in the midst of a long and agonising death spiral.

To read the entire article click here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Break in. . .

The back door to our Resource Center warehouse includes a faulty locking mechanism.  As a result, a stiff slam or a hard kick can be necessary to engage the latch. 

On Wednesday evening I received a call that the alarm was sounding at the building.  I went to the building, disarmed and rearmed the security system and performed the obligatory slam to secure the door. 

As I drove away from the building, I noticed a person--at the time I thought it a woman--walking slowly up the street away from the corner bus stop.  I've experienced these kinds of after dark encounters countless times.  Normally I would have lowered my window and engaged in a bit of conversation.  But, it was Thanksgiving Eve, we had grandchildren at home.  I was in a hurry. 


About an hour after my first call, I received a second reporting that the front door of the building had been smashed and numerous items stolen from the upstairs office suite and kitchen.  The person who broke in had been apprehended, cuffed and given a seat in the back of a squad car.  When I caught a glimpse of his face, I realized the prisoner was none other than the person I had seen less than an hour before crossing the street as I left for home. 

As we fixed the door to secure the building, one of our guys commented, "Well, he probably didn't know where he was going to spend Thanksgiving, but now he does." 

Sad deal.

I wish I had talked to him.  Asked him what he needed, if anything.  Responded to him like I would like to be treated had I been all alone on the dark night.  I know.  I know.  He broke in.  He was the person responsible for the mess. 

But, still.   I wonder how much happens in the city simply because people like me just pass on by?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pegasus Thanksgiving Report: Hungry North Texans

This report appeared in Pegasus News, a Dallas on-line news service:

Traditional Thanksgiving dinner too costly for some North Texans

by Lena Dirbashi

A few Thanksgivings ago, Andre Alston worked as a permanent substitute teacher at Dallas ISD. For years, he taught English, math, science, and reading. But four years ago, the school district decided that his college degree, a two-year associates degree, wasn't enough and laid him off.

It didn't take him long to find another job -- but not without compromise. Alston's new job at Macy's department store was paying him a fraction of how much he got paid as a teacher. Soon, he found himself caught between paying the bills and buying food. "When you get to that point," he said. "You just feel really bad." With no immediate family close by and nobody to turn to, Alston felt weak, overwhelmed, and sad. One day, he was standing at the unemployment office and noticed a flier for the Central Dallas Ministries (CDM). He paid them a visit that changed everything. Alston was finally able to enjoy a happy Thanksgiving.

Central Dallas Ministries, one of more than 300 food pantries in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, is overwhelmed in the weeks leading up to the holidays. The average number of food recipients for 2009 was 4,575 individuals per month at the Ministries, and that number is expected to double during the holidays. The North Texas Food Bank (NTFB), which distributes food to the Ministries and 291 member agencies, doubled its staff and trucks to confront the drastic increase in need.

To read the entire story click here.
To learn more about Central Dallas Ministries go to

More on spread of hunger in USA

Thanksgiving 2010:  Now this disturbing report from The Washington Post:

America's economic pain brings hunger pangs

By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The nation's economic crisis has catapulted the number of Americans who lack enough food to the highest level since the government has been keeping track, according to a new federal report, which shows that nearly 50 million people -- including almost one child in four -- struggled last year to get enough to eat.

At a time when rising poverty, widespread unemployment and other effects of the recession have been well documented, the report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides the government's first detailed portrait of the toll that the faltering economy has taken on Americans' access to food.

The magnitude of the increase in food shortages -- and, in some cases, outright hunger -- identified in the report startled even the nation's leading anti-poverty advocates, who have grown accustomed to longer lines lately at food banks and soup kitchens. The findings also intensify pressure on the White House to fulfill a pledge to stamp out childhood hunger made by President Obama, who called the report "unsettling."

The data show that dependable access to adequate food has especially deteriorated among families with children. In 2008, nearly 17 million children, or 22.5 percent, lived in households in which food at times was scarce -- 4 million children more than the year before. And the number of youngsters who sometimes were outright hungry rose from nearly 700,000 to almost 1.1 million.

Among Americans of all ages, more than 16 percent -- or 49 million people -- sometimes ran short of nutritious food, compared with about 12 percent the year before. The deterioration in access to food during 2008 among both children and adults far eclipses that of any other single year in the report's history.

Read the full report here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

From the First Lady of the United States and President Obama

Tomorrow, many of us will gather around the table with family and friends to give thanks over a feast of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy -- and let’s not forget pumpkin pie!

But for some in this country, the feast will not be as bountiful. In fact, it won’t be much of a feast at all. Hunger is on the rise in America -- hitting its highest levels in nearly 15 years. A recent report released by the USDA reveals that in 2008 an estimated 1.1 million children were living in households that experienced hunger multiple times over the past year.

To combat hunger this winter, we’re launching, in coordination with the Corporation for National and Community Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the United We Serve: Feed a Neighbor initiative -- a program that empowers you with all the resources you need to mobilize against the hunger crisis in your community. Learn how you can get started today here.

Barack and I are committed to doing all we can to end hunger by making food programs more accessible to eligible families. But government can only do so much -- it will take all of us working together to put an end to hunger in America.

That’s why we’ve made it easy for you to get involved at Find local volunteer opportunities like delivering meals to homebound seniors, offering your professional skills at a food pantry, or planting a community garden and sharing produce with your neighbors. You can also create your own volunteer opportunity using our anti-hunger toolkit.

holiday season let’s recommit to serving our communities and working together to feed American families.

Get started giving back today.

Thank you,

First Lady Michelle Obama
The White House

Uninsured children

This from a recent Johns Hopkins' study:

Using more than 23 million hospital records from 37 states between 1988 and 2005, the Johns Hopkins investigators compared the risk of death in children with insurance and in those without. Other factors being equal, researchers found that uninsured children in the study were 60 percent more likely to die in the hospital than those with insurance. When comparing death rates by underlying disease, the uninsured appeared to have increased risk of dying independent regardless of their medical condition, the study found. The findings only capture deaths during hospitalization and do not reflect deaths after discharge from the hospital, nor do they count children who died without ever being hospitalized, the researchers say, which means the real death toll of non-insurance could be even higher.

"If you are a child without insurance, if you're seriously ill and end up in the hospital, you are 60 percent more likely to die than the sick child in the next room who has insurance," says lead investigator Fizan Abdullah, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric surgeon at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Read the full report here.

From my perspective in inner city Dallas, I vote that every single child be covered by adequate health insurance like CHIP.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

CityWalk@Akard. . .images

CityWalk@Akard. . .images

CityWalk@Akard. . .images

CityWalk@Akard. . .images

Friday at Central Dallas Ministries Resource Center

This is the scene that greeted us on Friday morning.

A line of neighbors over 100 strong strung out in the heavy rain.


Waiting to receive groceries, including fresh vegetables and fruit.

The need, the food insecurity, the hunger--it's all on the increase, and dramatically.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Medical ghetto"?

Even though I expect this post will set off a firestorm of comments, many or most of which will be very negative, I cannot find the words to properly express just how offensive I find the words of Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) during a speech he delivered in the current Senate health care debate.

Give him your attention.

In the first place, Medicaid represents the only health care option available to a portion, and only a portion, of the very poor in America. The major negative associated with Medicaid relates directly to the fact that so few physicians will accept patients covered by the otherwise very good plan.

As a result, my poorest neighbors must wait for care, and not only in long lines or in crowded clinic and ER waiting rooms, but for weeks at a time for scheduled treatment. This would be remedied if we had the benefit of a comprehensive, national health care plan.

But second, and even more offensive, if the good Senator feels that Medicaid is a "health care ghetto." doesn't he have a moral responsibility to improve it? Doesn't he have a fiscal responsibility to the nation to reform it, extend it and promote it? Hasn't he signed on as a national leader with the responsibilities that accompany such a decision? 

Never mind the obvious race baiting here. Let's talk quality, equity and health care justice, not to mention improving the nation's wellness and health outcomes across a broad array of health measures.

Senator, please!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Shane Claiborne

November 18, 2009, 9:05 AM

What If Jesus Meant All That Stuff?

This radical Christian's ministry for the poor, The Simple Way, has gotten him in some trouble with his fellow Evangelicals. We asked him to address those who don't believe.

By Shane Claiborne

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.

The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn's Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn't quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don't know Jesus.

Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin. All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, "God is not a monster." Maybe next time I will.

The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination.

Read the entire essay here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Remembering the wind

Recently, during an important strategy session at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, Dr. Paul Jargowsky, a professor of public policy in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, told a story from his own, recent experience.  It seems that last weekend the good professor took a long and vigorous bike ride.  At the half way point he felt really strong.  He was enjoying a great ride and workout.  He felt extremely alive, like he could have peddled on for a long, long time. 

Then, he turned around. 

At that point the strong, autumn Texas wind hit him squarely in the face. 

No wonder the first half of the ride felt so good.  He enjoyed the benefit of a 25 mile per hour wind at this back!  Peddling home proved much more difficult than and not nearly as exhilarating as the first half of the ride. 

He concluded that most of us don't realize that we've been riding through life with a strong wind at our backs, while lots of others ride directly into a tough gale.  Our peddling has been so much easier.  Our advantage so very clear.  Our understanding so unaffected by our privilege. 

As he told his parable, everyone in the room grew silent.  We knew he was spot on right. 

[Jargowsky, an expert in urban poverty and inner city communities, authored the important book, Poverty and Place: Ghettos, Barrios and the American City (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1997)--Winner of the 1999 Prize for the Best Book in Urban Affairs, Urban Affairs Association; Named "One of the Outstanding Academic Books of 1997" by Choice Magazine.]

Thursday, November 19, 2009

So, how much is enough?

Leo Tolstoy's little story, "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" offers a very helpful reading experience for the Thanksgiving season. 

The story forces me to ask myself, "How much _________ do I really need?"  My blank can be filled in with any number of items, concerns, aspirations.

Surrounded and, far too often, defined by material concerns, consumer anxieties and the never ending quest for accumulating more and more, Tolstoy calls me out.

After all, how much land does a man need?

Read the story here.

I'd love your reactions.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Be That Woman

The Washington Area Women's Foundation, in partnership with RP3 Agency, produced this video depicting the tough circumstances women confront far too often, especially in urban centers like Dallas.

But the story doesn't need to end there.

Investing in the lives of girls and women pays off big time!

Those of us who work in urban settings among low-income folks understand this truth. This creative little 2-minute video intends to encourage such investments in this specially placed and powerful human capital resource.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Two Men

One flying home in his blind rush,
Agendas whirling,
Time demanding,
Wheel in hand,
Thinking of lunch and after,
Work, football, family, obligations,
Weary with the constant press.

One limping along with one concern,
Eating something,
A next meal's hope
Balanced now atop a makeshift cart,
Once a baby carriage,
Piled high with cans,
Weary of the day-to-day nothing.

One glancing in a rearview mirror,
Then into tired, empty eyes,
Catches sight of the canner
With his limp and
His valiant struggle to right His load,
Considers their common burden.

One surprised by the car,
The lowered window, the offer,
"Mister, can I buy your cans?"
Of course, where should I put them?
A cash exchange, a brief moment of
Human contact to lift a burden,
A tear in the eye of each.

Two men,
A few words, smiles,
A small amount of cash,
Exchanged together with connection,
Without obligation;
Pure concern, pure gratitude,
Relief for both.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Unify South Dallas

The Dallas Morning News published an editorial opinion in Thursday's print editions of the paper supporting the Unify South Dallas movement. 

Central Dallas Ministries' VP of Public Policy, Rev. Gerald Britt has been instrumental in the formation and work of the group.  The growing influence of the community-based group is really encouraging to watch. 

Here's a taste of our major news daily's evaluation of Unify Dallas: 

South Dallas group creates its own action plan

Many Dallas residents might not think it remarkable for the mayor to show up in their neighborhood and answer questions. The fact that Unify South Dallas considered it a big victory just to get Mayor Tom Leppert into the building Tuesday says a lot about the level of past city neglect.

Unify South Dallas, formed just a few months ago, is fast becoming one of the most effective organizations at work in this part of town. It exists to help residents and other stakeholders become full partners in shaping the revitalization efforts designed to bring economic growth to their neighborhoods.
The driving force is IKOJA, a group of young professionals and entrepreneurs, supported by people with experience in this struggle. Together they have rallied neighborhood associations, places of worship, businessmen and women, community advocates and such groups as SouthFair CDC and Frazier Revitalization.

The Forest Heights Community Center was packed for Leppert's appearance, with more than 75 people showing up in the middle of the day. The community meeting was significant for several reasons:

•Leppert not only carved out time to attend (and stay longer than he planned), but he listened to each agenda item from the group and generally gave thoughtful, frank answers. City Manager Mary Suhm was also there, as were staffers representing U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and state Sen. Royce West.

•The group's action items, crafted through numerous grassroots meetings, are concrete policy proposals, rather than broadly stated desires. They include specific actions to create mixed-income neighborhoods, curb the havoc wrought by bars and liquor stores, and set aside jobs in city-subsidized commercial developments for South Dallas residents. (Leppert offered informed support for the first item, pointed out that the second is the responsibility of individual council members and largely rejected the third as unworkable.)

•The most immediate victory involves national developer McCormack Baron Salazar, hired to assess economic development opportunities in South Dallas. Leppert promised to have the developer brief the South Dallas community no later than it addressed the City Council's Economic Development Committee. (Of special interest to McCormack Baron Salazar is the Green Line through South Dallas.)

Although City Council member Carolyn Davis, who represents much of South Dallas, was in San Antonio on Tuesday for a weeklong National League of Cities conference, she's back in time to hold two town hall meetings today: 10 a.m. at the Exline Recreation Center and 6 p.m. on the sixth floor of Dallas City Hall.

We wouldn't be surprised if she fielded questions around the Unify South Dallas proposals. We certainly hope she does. South Dallas residents should hope that the ensuing dialogue starts a collaboration between their elected council member and an energetic, savvy new force.

Read the entire report, including other data in side bars here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Standing on the shoulders of a hero

The iphone photo quality leaves something to be desired, but I wouldn't take anything for the moment or the image. 

Rev. Dr. Zan Wesley Holmes has led the way for two, and likely now three, generations of Dallas folks concerned about pursuing a community ethic defined by a commitment to and a concern for justice. 

For years Dr. Holmes led the influential St. Luke's "Community" United Methodist Church here in Dallas.  From his days over 50 years ago at Perkins Theological Seminary until this past week at the Justice Revival, Dr. Holmes has demonstrated an unyielding commitment to seeing justice established in our community. 

Arguably the most influential voice in the Dallas Civil Rights Movement across five decades, Dr. Holmes has pointed the way, paid the price and prompted all of us to join in the fight. 

This photo, taken on the last evening of the Justice Revival Dallas, captured a wonderful moment that I shared with him. 

I remember years ago when I was considering a job change, Dr. Holmes was the first person that I called.  He gave me good advice.  More than that, it was very clear to me that he cared about my life, my work and my future. 

Just before this photo was taken, I told Dr. Holmes that my generation and those younger than me were indebted to him and his leadership, that we are "standing on your shoulders" as we pursue our work.  He responded with his trademark humility. 

Dr. Holmes provided the keynote address on the first night of the Justice Revival.  But he returned each of the two following nights to lend his support to the effort.  Typical Zan Holmes. 

I consider myself blessed to know him and to count him as a dear friend and a trusted, proven guide.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hal Samples and Willie Baronet: HOME

Picked this up from Front Burner, the DMagazine blog site.

Hal Samples has a studio next door to the Main Street offices of the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation.

Willie Baronet Exhibit at Hal Samples' Gallery from Cindy Chaffin on Vimeo.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Not knowing what to do with a radical Jesus

If you read the teachings of Jesus and observe what the Gospels claim that he actually did, you must conclude that he lived a radical life.  This conclusion appears especially evident when you stop to compare his lifestyle and expressed values with the ordinary, run of the mill U. S. Christian. 

Luke 4:16ff reports on an early speech that Jesus delivered in the synagogue in his hometown.  Many consider these words the basis of his first sermon.  During that address, Jesus outlined his understanding of his personal mission in life.  It is quite the litany, especially when compared to the apparent mission understandings of most churches and most church members these days. 

Here's the mission statement Jesus shared with the crowd who gathered in the Nazareth house of prayer:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

I've been pondering during the past few days how the church has rewritten that mission statement in America.  Here's what I believe is an accurate mission statement for many congregations in the mainstream church today and for typical members of such congregations:

"The requirements of common sense are forced upon me to bring a word of direction to the disaffected middle-class materialists among whom I live and with whom I identify so strongly.  God has sent me to proclaim release to those imprisoned in unsatisfying relationships and held captive by basic negative self-images; to unlock the chains of self-imposed limits and open every eye to the possibilities bound up in a life lived to the full, to set free slaves to unrestrained debt by means of creative 'work outs' and to proclaim the year of infinite possibilities, especially for our children."

I'm certain that there are other ways to rewrite the mission.  But this one will have to do for today. 

There is a reason why most churches don't act as if they share Jesus' concern for the poor, the impoverished, the economically distressed, as in "po folks." 

There is a reason why most churches don't reach out to the prisoners, those locked up in need of compassion, love, mercy and liberation.

There is a reason why the church is not positioned near the blind, and by implication the unhealthy, the uninsured and the cast offs of our culture.

There is a reason why most church members don't know what the "year of the Lord's favor" is all about; why they don't really know what the Year of Jubilee involved or why Jesus embraced it as his defining mandate for his entire life. 

It's all about mission and self-understanding; purpose and reason to exist. 

Of course, there are exceptions to my critique.  You easily can prove up the fact that your church falls into the exceptional category.  Just check this year's budget. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Permanent Supportive Housing 101 (Part 2)

National research and on-the-ground experience indicates that providing homeless persons with a permanent place in which to live with optional, supportive services available on location is by far the most effective intervention available. 

Go figure. 

The solution to homelessness?  

Ladies and gentlemen, we have it!

A place to call home. 

So simple it seems ridiculous, huh? 

So, what is permanent supportive housing (PSH)?

3.  Who lives in supportive housing?  Pretty much anyone who needs housing due to their homelessness.  People with mental illness, addictions, senior citizens, families with children, youth who "age out" of the foster care system, people with HIV/AIDS, the chronically homeless, the disabled--the list is almost as diverse as the full range of the human experience.

4.  What sort of services are available with PSH?  Almost whatever a tenant needs, requests or will utilize.  At Central Dallas Ministries we speak of our supportive housing service delivery team as our "Concierge Staff."  The list of services if almost endless and includes mental and physical health services, transportation, life skills, counseling, community interaction, legal services, entertainment, connection to churches, opera tickets!  A key factor in providing services is that the tenant must request them. 

5.  Is PSH more costly than allowing people to remain homeless?  No.  PSH reduces the use of some of a typical community's most expensive human services.  Included in the "services avoided" list are hospital emergency room visits, hospitalizations, psychiatric services, police and fire department, emergency medical response teams, countless non-profit programs and interventions. 

During the first year of CDM's PSH initiative we conducted a totally unscientific survey of just 7 of our tenants.  We asked each how many times they had been hospitalized in the year prior to entering our housing and how many times they had been in the hospital during the year since entering our program.  The results were stunning:  17 visits in the year prior to getting an apartment and just 2 vists during the first year in housing. 

Experts report that at the very worst the economic impact of providing and operating PSH compared to the costs associated with leaving people on the streets is a wash.  Most studies report a net cost savings when a community provides housing for its homeless population.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Awakened from my sleep while thinking out loud. . .

Please refer to yesterday's post.  Go ahead.  I'll wait for you.

Okay, now. 

Cost to keep a person locked up in Texas:  $140 per day or $51,100 per year.

Ready for this? 

Cost of one month of mental health care via Medicaid per patient:  $145 per month or $1,740 per year.

Anyone out there see any clue as to why we have a few problems in the Great State of Texas?

Anyone, just anyone at all awake in Austin? 

Hello, down there? 

Any preacher gotta sermon to preach?

Any voter a letter to write?

Any business owner a call to make?

Any neighborhood association a trip to organize? 

Come on, people, let me hear it for some better thinking! 

How on earth did we get here? 

Long way from "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thinking out loud. . .

Fact:  $140 per day to keep a person locked up in a Texas Department of Corrections prison facility. 

Annualized cost for this "service" per inmate:  $51,100.00.

Is it just me or, with these kinds of readily available resources, might there be a better way to respond to much of the prison population than the manner in which we currently work? 

Given the rippling, better, long term tidal wave affect of incarceration on families, neighborhoods and individuals, I know there is a better way to use these funds. 

Just thinking out loud.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Permanent Supportive Housing 101 (Part 1)

As a social challenge, homelessness feels familiar to most of us. 

What are not so familiar in our experience are real, workable solutions to the problem. 

For most of us, the word "homeless" conjures up all sorts of negative images of shelter beds, panhandlers, extremely poor individuals with nowhere to go or rest or stop from the daily parade around the city.  Homelessness is about cardboard box cities and hunger and addiction and mental illness and near complete instability. 

But, there is another side to the story or conversation, an exciting, encouraging, workable, revolutionary dimension that needs to be more fully introduced to our urban centers in the United States.  This alternative narrative is being shaped, crafted and created by a new, very encouraging reality or technology:  permanent supportive housing.

Over the next several days, I intend to raise questions and provide answers regarding this fascinating approach to actually ending or drastically altering the status of the chronic homeless among us.

1.  So, what is permanent supportive housing (PSH)?   PSH is permanent, affordable housing coupled with robust supportive services that are available on site to assist formerly homeless residents get what they need and desire to live independently with personal satisfaction and a sense of well-being.  In most cases tenants in PSH projects hold a lease to a dwelling, usually an apartment, which ensures their housing stability.  Rents do not exceed 1/3 of whatever the tenant's income may be and usually are subsidized.  Support services prove most effective when they are offered as an option, with the decision-making left to the tenant as to whether or not to  take advantage of available services and benefits.  Service providers who do this work best often operate their case management protocols much like concierge services in a fine hotel. 

2.  What does PSH look like?  Usually a great deal like the surrounding neighborhood.  Our PSH units are identical to all of the other housing units in their complexes.  The PSH units at, the Downtown building redeveloped by the Central Dallas CDC, look the same and the building will be operated in the same high-quality manner as other buildings in our central business district neighborhood.  As one source puts it, the goal is "to be either the nicest building on the block or 'invisible' to enhance desirability for neighbors and tenants. 

More on PSH to follow.

[Thanks to the Corporation for Supportive Housing for the information, framing and background for this post.]

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sittin' at the "welcome table"

Here's a new look at the old, oft forgotten faith that works itself out in the real world with high- powered impact.

We're gonna sit at the welcome table.

We're gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days.

Hallelujah!. . .

All God's children around that table. . .

No more fightin' or grabbin' at that table. . .

I'm gonna walk the streets of glory. . .

I'm gonna get my civil rights. . .

We're goanna sit at the table one of these days.

Out my front door. . .

The photos below aren't so clear--taken with my phone from across the street and from an upstairs window.  The first shot doesn't capture very well the long line of men, women and children extending down the sidewalk to the left from our front door all the way to the corner, but they are there.

I wanted to capture the scene and the moment without being obvious or intrusive on our friends and neighbors. 

Over 100 folks waiting outside our door when I arrived for work at about 8:00 a.m. on Friday. 

This is reality outside my door most every day. 

So far in 2009, over 1.5MM pounds of high-quality, mostly nutritious food products distributed to the community in an attempt to provide a helpful supplement to household resources, mostly on the decline. 

Much to do. 

Much to consider. 

Arguments about responses of people of faith pretty well evaporate for me when I see scenes like this one. 

Friday, November 06, 2009

Brick City

Have you checked out "Brick City"?

Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, provides new leadership for all interested in total urban renewal and community redevelopment.

For a taste of the Sundance Channel series have a look:

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Churches and support of urban development

At Central Dallas Ministries, as our revenue and budgets have grown, the percentage of income provided directly from churches has been on a steady decline for many years.  The decline concerns me.  I suppose my concern is rooted in how I understand the basic values of faith and the priorities of the faith community.

More recently, we've noted a real decline in funding provided, not only as a percentage measured against our budget, but in tems of real dollars sent our way. 

Our assumption regarding the more recent trend has been that the economic downturn has affected congregations in a negative manner. 

Then, I read a report from the Philanthropy News Digest. 

Here's a taste of the article: 

Most Congregations Saw Contributions Increase or Hold Steady in First Half of 2009, Report Finds

During the first half of 2009, and despite the deepening recession, more than two-thirds of congregations in the United States saw their fundraising results increase or remain the same on a year-over-year basis, a new report from the Alban Institute and the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University finds.

Based on a survey of more than 1,500 congregations — most of which are members of the Alban Institute — the 2009 Congregational Economic Impact Study (53 pages, PDF) found that nearly 37 percent of respondents reported a year-over-year increase in fundraising revenues over the period, 34 percent said their revenues were flat, and nearly 30 percent experienced a decline in revenues. Last year, about 22 percent of congregations reported a decline in revenues over the previous year.

In response, a third of respondents said they had cut their budgets in 2009. . . .

To read the entire report click here.

So, what do you think?  Why aren't congregations more involved in urban development and renewal efforts?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Time for a new ecumenical action?

In the late 1940s here in Dallas, an ecumenical impulse paved the way for the formation in 1950 of a collection of churches representing a number of different denominations.  Originally formed as the Dallas Council of Churches, the group gathered at East Dallas Christian Church to launch its important work.  Eventually known as the Greater Dallas Community of Churches (GDCC), the ecumenical association spoke to some of the community's most pressing social, cultural, political and religious issues and concerns. 

Chief among the early concerns facing and addressed by GDCC were matters of race and civil rights.  Much of the discussion and progressive work accomplished relative to race relations and civil rights in Dallas throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s took place among and was orchestrated by the group. 

Much more could be reported concerning the history of GDCC.  Ecumenical dialogue and understanding, interfaith understanding, children's issues, education, community health and wellness, peace and justice work, livable wage and the economy--these and other important matters concerned and occupied the time and attention of GDCC. 

At one point the organization boasted a membership of over 300 congregations. 

By the late 1990s, GDCC moved into the last phase of its organizational life.  A number of reasons stood behind the dissolution of the group in 2005.  But, we can hold that discussion for another time, possibly by some other blogger.

I bring this up simply to say, Dallas needs a new ecumenical expression today. 

That said, I'd hasten to add that our very different times call for a much different response on the ecumenical front. 

What's needed to day, in my view at least, is not so much think tank, focus group or endless conversation.  Rather, what Dallas needs from Christians of all varieties and traditions is faith-formed action

Dallas needs a new, energetic, ecumenical action

To be successful, action must define, energize and direct any new, organized, sustainable ecumenical movement.

I think the upcoming Dallas area Justice Revival (November 10-12, 2009 at Dallas Market Hall) offers Dallas the platform necessary for organizing a completely new ecumenical presence, an interdenominational movement defined by determined, continuing action. 

The Justice Revival brings to Dallas a call to action on behalf of area public schools and in support of new housing policies and development for our chronically homeless neighbors.  Combining a robust ecumenism with insistence on continued action, the Dallas Justice Revival (click for great commentary) could launch a new, relevant, organized movement of unity and purpose among Christians of all sorts. 

That's the intention. 

That's the hope. 

Look for me at the Justice Revival.  I'll be looking for you!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Green is now!

The New York Times published an extremely interesting story about non-profit organizations and the arriving "green" economy.  In many ways, non-profits are leading the charge with groundbreaking moves. 

Here's a taste of the story:

Nonprofit Groups Spin Off Green Ventures
by Sally Ryan
October 28, 2009

Sweet Beginnings, a line of urban honey and natural body care products, is part of a growing trend among small businesses: for-profit ventures spun off by nonprofit groups that teach skills for green jobs. Mario Casasnovas was on the green roof of the Bronx County Building a couple of weeks ago, remembering the flowers there in the summer and offering some tips about handling the sedum that is the main plant on the roof.

“The roots from the clover,” a weed, “tend to wrap around the roots of a sedum,” he said, nine floors above the Grand Concourse, near Yankee Stadium. “You’ve got to be careful not to pull out the sedum with the clover.”

Mr. Casasnovas, an employee of SmartRoofs L.L.C., was doing routine maintenance on the vegetative roof, which his company installed in June 2003. The company, based in the Bronx, is one of the few green roofers in the New York metropolitan area. But what makes SmartRoofs even more unusual is that it is part of a tiny but growing trend among small businesses: for-profit ventures spun off by nonprofit groups that teach the job skills necessary to join the nascent green economy.

SmartRoofs was developed by the nonprofit group Sustainable South Bronx, which also runs the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training, one of the country’s first efforts to train people for green-collar jobs. The program now trains more than 60 low-income workers each year, using funds from a variety of sources, mostly outside government.

Only a handful of these small businesses exist across the country. “These social enterprises are early adopters of green industry,” Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, chief executive of Green for All, a national organization working to create green economic opportunities in disadvantaged communities, said via e-mail. “These ventures are paving the way for mainstream business to integrate the concept of green jobs into everyday practices.”

Read the entire report by clicking here.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." 

Immanuel Kant
Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals (1785)