Monday, April 30, 2012

Robert, a new friend who knows homelessness. . .

On a weekly basis we're sitting out on the steps of an adbandoned house at Dawson and Malcolm X talking to increasing numbers of really interesting people, people with dreams/aspirations, but no place to call "home." Meet Robert, one of my newest friends!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Worship that moves God

Isaiah 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practised righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A family no longer homeless. . .and much more!

Marquita's story moved me.  Watching this bright, young mother and her  little girl do well in their new home provided by CitySquare and the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation has been and continues to be a pure delight!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

ESA--check it out!

Evangelicals for Social Action provide great resources and a wonderfully informed network of folks who practice faith-based, community development and justice work

Check them out! 

After you do, I'd love to hear reactions.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Election Rhetoric: Picking on the poor

When In Need Of Political Distraction, Bash The Poor

April 21st, 2012 12:00 am Cynthia Tucker

Poor people are useful during political season.

Politicians offer up the impoverished to distract from the myriad problems for which their platforms propose no workable solutions: Is the treasury awash in red ink? Are there too many demands on a shrinking government purse? Then let’s tighten up on largesse for the very poor.

Never mind that traditional welfare programs barely make a dent in federal spending. Middle-class voters are eager to hear plans that aim the budget-cutting ax away from the entitlement programs, such as Medicare, which have a large constituency among the well-heeled.

After all, voters, like political candidates, find it useful to point the finger at the less fortunate. The impoverished serve to remind the rest of us of our obvious moral superiority, of our wise choices, of our supreme good judgment in not being born poor.

That’s why the current season has brought another round of the faddish insistence on mandatory drug tests for beneficiaries of welfare. Nathan Deal, Georgia’s Republican governor, has become the latest political leader to get in on the mischief-making, signing a bill passed by the GOP-dominated Legislature that would require drug tests for recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.
In places where conservative policymakers tend to gather — such as meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council — proposals such as this are offered up in lieu of legislation that might actually reduce spending or boost government efficiency or improve the lives of the poor.

Mitt Romney, the likely GOP nominee for president, has endorsed the idea. In February, congressional Republicans refused to pass an extension of unemployment benefits until the legislation allowed states to require drug tests for the jobless.

You might have thought that conservative ideologues — those who insist that the U.S. Constitution guides their every brainwave and that an overweening government is the greatest threat to the survival of the republic — would hesitate to pass a law that so clearly violates principles laid out in the Bill of Rights. You’d be wrong.

Indeed, Georgia proceeded with imposing mandatory drug tests even though a federal judge has blocked a similar law in Florida.

To read the entire report click here

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Immorality writ large. . .

[We see it on a daily basis.  Men and women who are discharged after serving prison sentences typically for drug abuse, people in need of treatment, education and a fair chance at a life out of poverty.  Upon re-entry, these good people find it near impossible to find a job or a place to live.  These limitations set many up for continued frustration and failure.  On top of this failed policy, close study of the system simply shouts "racism"!  I call it immoral.  Read the report below and let me hear what you think.]

The cost of a nation of incarceration

(CBS News) Is it fair to call the United States the "incarceration nation"? That's what some experts say. And even some veteran law enforcement and correction officials think something's gone wrong. Our Cover Story is reported now by Martha Teichner:
At the Gadsden County Jail near Tallahassee, Fla., there are bunks, and mattresses on the floor.

The jail has a capacity of about 150 inmates, but there are presently 230 inmates in the facility right now.
Walter McNeil, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, sees the same story everywhere he goes in the U.S.

In one "pod" of Gadsen jail, in which there are 24 bunks, there are 28 inmates - and by the time the weekend comes, there will be five or six more inmates.

That's nothing compared to California. Overcrowding was so bad there, the U.S. Supreme Court called it "cruel and unusual punishment," and last May ordered the state to cut its prison population by more than 30,000.

Nationwide, the numbers are staggering: Nearly 2.4 million people behind bars, even though over the last 20 years the crime rate has actually dropped by more than 40 percent.

"The United States has about 5 percent of the world's population, but we have 25 percent of the world's prisoners - we incarcerate a greater percentage of our population than any country on Earth," said Michael Jacobson, director of the non-partisan Vera Institute of Justice. He also ran New York City's jail and probation systems in the 1990s.

A report by the organization, "The Price of Prisons," states that the cost of incarcerating one inmate in Fiscal 2010 was $47,421 per year. "In states like Connecticut, Washington state, New York, it's anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000," he said.
Yes - $60,000 a year. That's a teacher's salary, or a firefighter's. Our epidemic of incarceration costs us taxpayers $63.4 billion a year.

The explosion in incarceration began in the early 1970s - the political response to an explosion in urban violence and increased drug use.

"So 'Tough on crime,' 'three strikes, you're out,' 'Let 'em rot, throw away the key' - all that stuff resulted in more mandatory sentencing, longer and longer sentencing," said Jacobson.

To read the entire report click here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

D Magazine covers CitySquare's LAW Center!

How Citysquare's LAW Center is Fighting Poverty

Seeking justice on behalf of their clients.
by David Hopkins
Published 4.18.2012

From D Magazine MAY 2012

Charles Johnson has a knack for finding students in need. During his 15 years as a security worker at North Dallas High School, he has taken in 39 teenagers who had nowhere else to go. He allows them to stay at his Oak Cliff home, where he lives with his mother. He’s a man of simple means who believes in helping others. One morning, he found one of his most recent tenants.

Ariel came to the United States from Honduras. He joined his sister and her 2-year-old daughter. His sister was deported after stealing food to feed them. Scared and alone, Ariel started looking for help. When Johnson saw him, he could tell he was hungry and in trouble. Ariel barely spoke English, but he tried his best to explain the situation. He had come here to escape a drug gang that had killed two family members. The gang shot up their house and was looking for him. Ariel was going to be sent back, which meant certain death.

To read the entire story click here.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

SNAP cuts will hurt poor. . .

Cuts to SNAP Will Hurt Texas Families Struggling to Afford Food

What follows is a statement from the Center on Public Policy Priorities regarding yesterday's vote by the U.S. House of Representative's Agriculture Committee to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps):

"Yesterday's vote by the U.S. House of Representative's Agriculture Committee to cut SNAP by $33 billion will hurt the families struggling to afford food in this time of high unemployment and economic distress. A cut of this magnitude would affect over 300,000 Texas families who will struggle to put food on the table without the support SNAP provides. SNAP was designed to expand when unemployment is high and contract as economic conditions improve. In this way the program assures that Texans stay healthy during period of job loss and stimulates our struggling economy. Cuts to this program will only weaken our nation's ability to weather these rough economic times and return to prosperity."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Patricia, a true friend to Dallas!

I captured this video while "hanging out" under a shade tree at Dawson Street and Malcolm X just talking to people.  Patricia strolled by with her trash can and her broom cleaning the street.  I think what she shares here is profound.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Valued partner: Omniplan

When we set about developing CitySquare's new Opportunity Center, we made a quality-control decision.  We wanted a first class design team.  As a result, we chose Omniplan as our architects.  The illustration below reflects the quality of their work.  The developments pictured here are located in Los Angeles area. 

For examples of the company's work closer to home drop in at NorthPark Mall and look arouind!

We believe South Dallas/Fair Park deserves beauty, utility and everything positive! 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Feinstein Challenge grant

From now through April 30th, every donation CitySquare receives in support of our hunger programs will go towards the Feinstein $1,000,000.00 Challenge! The more donations we receive, the larger our match will be.

About the Feinstein Challenge:

Alan Shawn Feinstein and his foundation will divide $1 million among hunger fighting agencies, and CitySquare is one of these agencies! Donors can make a gift on-line (you will find the link here), or you can mail a check or money order (postmarked by April 30th) to:

ATTN: Development/Feinstein Challenge
511 N. Akard St, Ste 302
Dallas, TX 75201

You can also participate in the challenge by donating non-perishable food items to the food pantry. For this challenge, food items will be valued at $1.00 per pound.

If you have any questions please call Amira at 214-303-2117.

Please spread the word!!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Bishop's Prayer

Last Thursday at CitySquare's 17th Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast, Bishop Keith Ackerman offered this moving prayer:

In Peace let us pray to the Lord saying "Senor Piedad" or "Lord have Mercy"

+For the Peace of the world that the evils which we have wrought and the evils which we have permitted may be removed by your Grace.

Let us pray to the Lord

+For the Mission of CitySquare as we seek to change the trajectory of the people's lives as we serve our neighbors through various programs to relieve the pain of hunger and homelessness by offering the hope of the Good News.

Let us pray to the Lord.

+As we approach the silver jubilee of CitySquare we continue to implore you Lord to give us grace to fight the root causes of poverty, whereby your people may celebrate a Jubilee of the Lord.

Let us pray to the Lord

+O Lord, give us grace to work in partnership with those in need, working together as a community.

Let us pray to the Lord.

+That as a community of faith we may address your concerns, O Lord, about the education of all of your people and replace apathy, narcissism, and political gain with enthusiasm, engagement, and humility.

Let us pray to the Lord

+O Lord give us sensitivity to see and discover the needs of our neighbors as we seek to be used by you to feed your hungry, heal your sick, and house your homeless as you renew hope in the heart of the city.

Let us pray to the Lord
+Father, let us live out the words that your son has taught us that your will may be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Let us pray to the Lord

+O Lord, we pray that you will give us the grace to adopt a spirit of humility and root out any sin of condescension - that we may work hand in hand with our neighbors so that together we may participate in the fullness of your plan that all your servants as they participate in your call to enter into the potential you have created.

Let us pray to the Lord

We pray, O Lord, for those who push their world's possessions through the streets in a shopping cart, as we stack food in our shopping carts that we will not share.

Let us pray to the Lord

+O Lord, we pray that you will teach us to give sacrificially to the needs of others, to remember those in need in our Wills, and to create endowments that will relieve the needs of the sick, the homeless, the friendless and the needy.

Let us pray to the Lord.

+Gracious Lord, as you place the hungry before us let us be hungry to feed them, for you have taught us that if we fail to do so we fail to feed you.

Let us pray to the Lord

+Heavenly Father as you sent your Son to redeem us, so send us into those places where you have gone to prepare the way and endow us with the grace which you alone can bestow.

Let us pray to the Lord.

+We pray, O Lord, that you would give us a desire to teach, a passion to provide educational programs, and the resolve to elect those who share your vision and not merely their own.

Let us pray to the Lord.

+Lord we pray that you will remove our blinders so that you will show us who you place before us, what you have called us to do in feeding the hungry relieving poverty and educate all of your people.

Let us pray to the Lord.

+We pray, dear God, that you will raise up agencies that will believe that all money is ultimately yours, and that we are merely agents of stewardship, and that our decisions will be yours and will be according to your Will.

Let us pray to the Lord.

+Lord, we pray that you will endow us with the Gifts of Faith, Hope, and Charity, and give us the grace to use them.

Let us pray to the Lord.

+Dear Lord, you have taught us that your food is to do the will of your Father. We pray, O Lord, that our task is to go in obedience to where you send us and then to get out of your way when we get there, so that you will be known and remembered and we will be used by you.

Let us pray to the Lord

+Heavenly Father, we pray that you would protect our children from violence, human trafficking, drugs, and manipulation, so that they may realize the hope you have offered.

Let us pray to the Lord.

+O Lord, you have taught us through your servant St. Francis that we are sent to preach your Word and when necessary to use words.

Let us pray to the Lord.

+And now, O Lord, we pray the prayer attributed to St. Francis, the saint of the poor, the Poverello of Assisi joining our prayers with all of your saints past and present who have dedicated their lives to serving the poorest of the poor:

Lord make us instruments of your Peace
Where there is hatred let us sow love
Where is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is discord, union
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy

O Divine Master,
Grant that we may so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life

Through Jesus Christ our Lord

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Numbers. . .

From The Motley Fool:

50 Amazing Numbers About Today's Economy

By Morgan Housel
April 5, 2012

In no particular order, here are 50 things about our economy that blow my mind:

50. The S&P 500 is down 3% from 2000. But a version of the index that holds all 500 companies in equal amounts
49. According to economist Tyler Cowen, "Thirty years ago, college graduates made 40 percent more than high school graduates, but now the gap is about 83 percent."

48. Of all non-farm jobs created since June 2009, 88% have gone to men. "The share of men saying the economy was improving jumped to 41 percent in March, compared with 26 percent of women," reports Bloomberg.

47. A record $6 billion will be spent on the 2012 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Adjusted for inflation, that's 60% more than the 2000 elections.

46. In 2010, nearly half of Americans lived in a household that received direct government benefits. That's up from 37.7% in 1998.

45. Adjusted for inflation, federal tax revenue was the same in 2009 as it was 1997, even though the U.S. population grew by 37 million during that period

To read the entire list click here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

TRAC--touching, healing, providing hope to young adults!

One of CitySquare's "signature" initiatives involves our work at the Transition Resource Action Center (TRAC).  This one-stop shop of services, training and opportunity focuses all its attention on youth who "age out" of the custodial care system (otherwise known as the foster care system) in the state of Texas.  What follows is a report on this important part of our work in the city and region. 

TRAC works with these special youth in the 19-county, CPS Northeast Texas region that includes Montague, Wise, Denton, Collin, Tarrant, Dallas, Rockwall, Kaufman, and Navarro counties.
Facts about this population:

25% experience Homelessness before age 22

Within 12-18 months of leaving care. . .
-33% will be on some form of public assistance
-40% will not have completed high school
-50% will be unemployed

Within 18 months of leaving care. . . 
-60% of young ladies will have a child outside of marriage
-70% of youth leaving foster care report a desire to attend college
-Less than 3% actually obtain a college degree

In Texas, the average youth emancipating from CPS. . .
-Was removed from their family at age 11-15
-Had 8 placements
- Had 5 CPS workers
-Spent 5 years in care

TRAC helps young adults by providing             
             Preparation for “Adult Living” Classes
             Money Management
             “Ready to Rent”
             College Visits
             Employment Soft Skills
             Workforce Services
             Skill building
             Resume help
             Education advocacy
             Job referral & coaching
             Job skills training
             Job placement with partner businesses
             Housing Services and Homeless Prevention
             Emergency Assistance
             Emergency Shelter
             Transitional Housing
             Permanent Supportive Housing

Major funding sources for TRAC

• Texas Child Protective Services

• Texas Workforce Commission


• United Way, Foundations, and Individuals

For more insight and information click here!  And take a moment to watch the video that follows.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Texas schools suffer from Legislature's knife. . .

What follows are exerpts from Manny Fernandez's article, "At Texas Schools, Making Do on a Shoestring," published in The New York Times on April 8, 2012:

From the previous school year to the current one, districts across Texas eliminated 25,286 positions through retirements, resignations and layoffs, including 10,717 teaching jobs, according to state data analyzed by Children at Risk, a nonprofit advocacy group in Houston. Texas public schools spend $8,908 per student, a decrease of $538 from the previous year and below the national average of $11,463, according to the National Education Association. California spent $9,710 and New York $15,592.

“I’ve been in education 42 years, and I’ve been a superintendent about 25 of those 42 years, and this is the worst that I’ve ever had to cut,” said John Folks, the superintendent of one of the districts suing the state, Northside in San Antonio, where officials eliminated 973 positions and made classes larger in a $61.4 million budget reduction. “We cut about 40 special education teachers. We cut about 28 athletic coaches. We froze salaries. School districts can’t take much more than this.”

You'll find the entire, very disturbing article hereAfter you read it, let me hear from you.  I believe we must do better by our children.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"We take care of our own"

I been knocking on the door
That holds the throne
I been looking for the map
That leads me home
I been stumbling on good hearts
Turned to stone
The road of good intentions
Has gone dry as a bone
We take care of our own
We take care of our own
Wherever this flag's flown
We take care of our own

From Chicago to New Orleans
From the muscle to the bone
From the shotgun house to the Super Dome
There ain't no help, the cavalry stayed home
There ain't no one hearing the bugle blowin'
We take care of our own
We take care of our own
Wherever this flag's flown
We take care of our own

Where're the eyes, the eyes with the will to see
Where're the hearts that run over with mercy
Where's the love that has not forsaken me
Where's the work that'll set my hands, my soul free
Where's the spirit that'll reign over me

Where's the promise from sea
To shining sea
Where's the promise from
Sea to shining sea
Wherever this flag is flown
Wherever this flag is flown
Wherever this flag is flown

We take care of our own
We take care of our own
Wherever this flag's flown
We take care of our own

We take care of our own
We take care of our own
Wherever this flag's flown
We take care of our own

"We Take Care of Our Own"
from Wrecking Ball (2012)
Bruce Springsteen

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

NIMBY strikes again. . .even Downtown

It just never fails.

Here's how the process almost always works out:

1. Propose a first class, beautifully designed housing asset.  Fact:  In most cases such plans involve dramatic improvement of the existing real estate chosen for such a project. 

2. Determine that said asset will provide homes, that's right homes, for very poor persons; yes, even formerly homeless persons. [This is a fact that for some reason escapes the ordinary citizen: once a person has a home, a roof over his/her head, they can no longer be considered homeless, but I digress.]

3.  Work hard to align sources with intended uses and put together the financial dimensions and details of the plan. 

4.  Line up necessary support for financing.  Almost all major, significant developments like what's in mind here require both public financing and political support. 

5.  Communicate your plans and intentions to the public, with special attention to the neighborhood surrounding the purposed development. 

6.  Batten down the hatches, dive for cover and prepare for an assault on your plans!

As I say, it almost never fails. 

Folks may say they favor permanent housing for the very poor, the homeless.  But any hint that such a development is planned for anywhere near their property, home, business, or school and you'll witness incredible opposition. 

The latest example of such opposition was reported in last Sunday's edition of The Dallas Morning News ("Uneasy neighbors," Metro section 1B, 4B, April 8, 2012). 

Happy Easter, Dallas! 

In this case the main, reported opposition comes from the Dallas Farmers Market, more accurately from the "Dallas Farmers Market Friends" and the "Dallas Farmers Market Stakeholders Association,"  both fine citizens' groups, I'm sure. 

The project in question connects at least indirectly with CitySquare since John Greenan, Central Dallas Community Development Corporation, is one of the developers.  CitySquare organized the Central Dallas CDC in 2001 to serve the community in developing first-class, affordable housing.  Since the completion of CityWalk @Akard, the CDCDC continues to be involved in a number of projects to provide permanent supportive housing to the homeless of Dallas. 

You will find the news story here

Let me know what you think after you've read it.

Monday, April 09, 2012

A new "Gathering"

Following our recently completed registry project as a part of the national 100,000 Homes Campaign, I began thinking about what my on-going response should be to what I observed/experienced among some of the most "shelter resistant" of our neighbors. 

As I mulled my question over, an image began to emerge.  I know that credit for my new idea must go in part to my friend in Waco, Texas, Jimmy Dorrell.  This year marks the 20th anniversary for "Church Under the Bridge."  Jimmy's congregation is exactly what it sounds like:  his church meets under the I-35 freeway that runs through his town. 

My time with the registry project took me under a stretch of the I-45 overpass near Downtown Dallas.  What came to me was a vision of a new gathering of folks in or near that same location.  My idea was to simply show up for a couple of hours each week at the same time, at the same place.  There would be no agenda.  The commitment would be to meet folks, to listen to their ideas/struggles/reports and to see where a growing relationship might lead us all. 

So, last Wednesday we began.  We showed up with ice cold bottled water and time marked out to spend on and with whoever crossed the common space. 

It turned out that the location was just across the street from the location of our new Opportunity Center at Malcolm X and I-30.  We discovered a "corridor" of sorts running from the Austin Street Centre back under the overpasses of the highway system that forms a latticework of concrete and rushing vehicles just above what is "home" for far too many people. 

What follows are simple notes I entered in my journal after the first two hours spent at this forgotten spot in our city:
  • Movement among the trees on the west end of the property where a plan is working to build 50 single-family homes for the poorest homeless persons among us. . .
  • A woman far away in the bushes likely relieving herself thanks to the absence of any accessible rest room facilities. . .
  • During the first few minutes, provided water for half-a-dozen folks (Ben, my friend from MetroCare had advised that we bring water!)  "A cup of cold water given in my name" came to mind; now I realize that those words were not intended to be literary, but simply practical for the poor.
  • Dallas police stopped by to check out what we were up to. . .had pleasant visit before watching squad car equipped with bull horn roust people out and away from a fence row where they were trying to enjoy a fast food meal. . ."Keep on moving!" was the order. . .
  • . . . "Where will we eat?" is a far different question for these people than for me and my friends!
  • A man and a woman with a dog on a bright pink leash walked by and accepted the offer of water; the dog wore a shirt!
  • Cocaine sales transpire on far side of the property. . .prostitutes walked the area. . .
  • Amazing number of private jets flew over as we talked to the homeless--bright white, trimmed in mainly blue; speeding toward or away from Love Field, coming or going on some adventure or another, oblivious to what played out below.
  • Moved up to an old, abandoned house by the one business in this part of town, an old filling station.  Visited with several people who sat on the porch, passing out more water.
  • Joe, just out of prison two days; still wearing prison shoes and clothes, needing to get to family in Ft. Worth. . .asking for a hug. . .
  • Holy week. . .
  • Ran into Jeff, an old friend from East Dallas and the Food Pantry--asked about lots of people we both knew--big cities can be broken down into very small segments, neighborhoods, friendships. . .
  • Talked to several people about Opportunity Center and work--one man called me the next day to follow up, may land a job on the construction site. . . wanted "reference". . .
  • Every time I've been to this corner long enough to have a conversation, every time, the subject of "finding a job" comes up. . .
  • Some people chose not to engage. . .
  • Lots of folks were clean, "together" and ordinary, if anyone can be simply that. . .
Next week:  same place, Thursday afternoon from 2:00-4:00 p.m. No agenda.  Just hanging out for a visit. 

A new "Gathering" in S. Dallas/Fair Park.