Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hard, wise counsel

Sometimes we make things harder than they need to be. Changing behavior may be hard, but possibly really worth every effort. Then again, relax and enjoy a laugh!

Friday, June 29, 2012

PEP: Great Stuff!

Jeremy Gregg, a former team member at CitySquare, now works with Prison Entrepreneurship Program.  Watch the video below of this amazing venture!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Something's wrong with Blogger!

Some of you have noticed, I know. 

Something has gone whacky on this blog!  Hackers?  Surely not!

But somehow, my posts from June 17-24 have all disappeared from my page.  I know I have at least one comment that sort of implies I took something down due to its controversial nature. 

Didn't happen!

I've tried to restore the posts in quesiton, but can't make that work. 

So, I'm going to post them all here in one giant "reprise" attempt to put them back up.  Here goes!

The Guts and the Gutters

We cannot know the God of the guts and the gutters unless we have traveled deep enough within ourselves to touch and experience our own guts--where God lives, and unless we have reached out far enough beyond ourselves to smell and sit in the gutters--where God squats.

Edwina Gateley
 I Hear a Seed Growing

Today I witnessed one of those breakthrough moments at "the Corner." 

The heat rose to oppressive levels.  The crowd that huddled in the shade under Billy's tree in front of his old, delapidated, abandoned house resembled a congregation in the fellowship mode. 

During the two-and-a-half hours that I sat there, I heard countless stories and enjoyed conversations with many people. 

But the sea change that occurred happened very quickly. 

Isaac Nelson, a man who migrated here from New Orleans, ended up in the "walk in" around the corner (an emergency homeless shelter down and around the block from "the Corner) thanks to a fairly tough illness.  About mid-way through our time together I went to my car to get bottled water to replinish the supply in my ice chest.  Upon seeing me lugging the case of water, Isaac sprang to my aid.  He grabbed the water and began filling the ice chest.  Two other men quickly rose to assist him.

"Man, I haven't seen guys jump around on a job like this out here, ever," one of our friends razzed them. 

As we settled back into the comfort of the  porch, two or three other passerbys came down the sidewalk.  Isaac opened the cooler and he invited people to help themselves. 

Isaac was in charge.

Today, the community took over "the Corner" in a brand new way! 

It was a "mission accomplished" moment! 

Just before I had to leave, George, another friend, reminded me of a conversation we had about a month ago.

"You know, I haven't been able to forget what you told me the first day we met," he offered.

"What was that?" I inquired.

"When you said there were enough of us to elect a city council member--I haven't been able to stop thinking about that, man." 

"As many of you as there are and as few folks as actually vote in Dallas, I'm convinced it's something that you all should keep thinking about.  You just need to get organized," I told him.

What a day.  I'll keep coming back here.

CitySquare's new Opportunity Center is exploding out of the ground, literally! It's fun watching the progress while visiting with neighbors who stay in the area. The new center will focus on employment. At the same time, the project has provided jobs for scores of workers.

Drop by the project at Malcolm X Blvd. and I-30 to see the progress.


The Same Inside

Walking to your place for a love feast
I saw at a street corner
an old beggar woman.

I took her hand,
kissed her delicate cheek,
we talked, she was
 the same inside as I am,
from the same kind,
I sensed this instantly
as a dog knows by scent
another dog.

I gave her money.
I could not part from her.
After all, one needs
someone who is close.

And then I no longer knew
why I was walking to your place.

Source: The Same Inside

This report hit the news last Friday.  When I read it, I thought of all of the children and youth we know who will be protected by this sensible policy change.  What do you think?

U.S. Will Give Immunity to Some Young Illegal Migrants

The Obama administration will stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives. The election-year initiative addresses a top priority of an influential Latino electorate that has been vocal in its opposition to administration deportation policies.

The policy change, described to The Associated Press by two senior administration officials, will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It also bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the so-called DREAM Act, a long-sought but never enacted plan to establish a path toward citizenship for young people who came to the United States illegally but who have attended college or served in the military.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was to announce the new policy Friday, one week before President Barack Obama plans to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials' annual conference in Orlando, Fla. Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney is scheduled to speak to the group on Thursday.

Obama planned to discuss the new policy Friday afternoon from the White House Rose Garden.

Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed. The officials who described the plan spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it in advance of the official announcement.

The policy will not lead toward citizenship but will remove the threat of deportation and grant the ability to work legally, leaving eligible immigrants able to remain in the United States for extended periods. It tracks closely to a proposal offered by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida as an alternative to the DREAM Act.

"Many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways," Napolitano wrote in a memorandum describing the administration's action. "Prosecutorial discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here."

The extraordinary move comes in an election year in which the Hispanic vote could be critical in swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida. While Obama enjoys support from a majority of Hispanic voters, Latino enthusiasm for the president has been tempered by the slow economic recovery, his inability to win congressional support for a broad overhaul of immigration laws and by his administration's aggressive deportation policy. Activists opposing his deportation policies last week mounted a hunger strike at an Obama campaign office in Denver, and other protests were planned for this weekend.

The change is likely to cause an outcry from congressional Republicans, who are sure to perceive Obama's actions as an end run around them.

To read the entire report click here

Fair Park may be the most under-utilized asset in the city of Dallas. 

The 277 acre community resource combines museums, seasonal attractions (including the best known, State Fair of Texas), history, art and performances.  It is a national historic landmark. Personally, I have very fond memories of walking to the State Fair with my best buddy when we were grade school kids.  His dad allowed us to tag along to his workplace not far from the park and we'd walk the short distance to a destination of great fun and wonder. 

For many reasons, those days are long gone. 

I've been thinking about Fair Park and its possibilities for quite awhile now.  When Jerry Jones decided not to build Cowboys Stadium in the park, I wondered why the city of Dallas wouldn't redevelop it in a manner that would actually produce more economic return to more of its citizens than a football stadium. 

More recently, I read Patrick Kennedy's opinion piece in the June issue of DMagizine ("Big Tex Is a Murderer," page 14) reporting that two zip codes just south of the park are two of the 25 most violent neighborhoods in the U. S. (75210 and 75215 rank 9 and 12 respectively).  Kennedy blames the violence in large part on the fact that the park includes 47 acres of surface parking, noting that "Crime follows disinvestment."

Kennedy wonders what would happen if the parking lots gave way to redevelopment and new investment.  I like the way he is thinking.  However, I don't think he goes far enough. 

The entire park needs comprehensive redevelopment.  One  possibility would be a public-private partnership, possibly backed by an aggressive bond issue and including private investors, land planners and community development organizations.  I know the Dallas 2020 Olympic Committee focused its attention on Fair Park as a potential, wonderful site for an Olympic Village had Dallas landed a bid for the games.  Plans included thousands of apartments that could be leased/sold after the competition concluded. 

Selling off some or all of the park should be considered with built in obligations to develop a truly diverse community in and around the park.  The value of adjacent homeowners' properties  would have to be protected as an upfront part of any deal. 

Can you imagine the vitality of a mixed use, mixed income development at such a scale?  The redevelopment, reinvestment coupled with DART's Green Line at the doorway of the park would draw Fair Park back into the entire community.  Businesses, performing venues, an entertainment corridor, apartments for lease, condos for sale, a healthy connection to the nearby schools--the deal, done properly and adequately capitalized, would set off real transformation of South Dallas.  The return on investment to the city and to the entire region would be phenomenal. 

Wonder what would happen if a group of accomplished folks got together and worked on this?  It's way past time to take some creative action on this largely untapped jewel of our city.

Insights from "the Corner"

My interview with my friend, Michael, reveals a number of basic themes that run through the experience of homelessness in Dallas, Texas.

As you listen to Michael, focus on. . . . . .his desire for permanent housing . . .his vision for starting over. . .his honesty about what he needs from others . . .his acceptance of responsibility for being on the street . . .his basic kindness regarding others . . .his thoughts of his children . . .whatever else you hear that you can bounce back to the rest of us!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cold Water

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
Matthew 10:42

I can't tell you how many times I've read those words. 

Never, until now, did I really understand the importance of "cold water," especially in the context of heat, need and extremity of circumstance. 

While a "cup of cold water" truly is a small thing for most (a gesture that allows for the use of the word "even," as Jesus says here), for many recipients in many situations, a cup of cold water is the best thing, the big deal, the perfect provision. 

Surely this was the case in Jesus' day.  Palestine is an arid place.  The heat, the wilderness, the difficulty of travel and life in general among the poor mimics in a way the challenge of living on the hot streets of a city like Dallas.  Where to find water becomes a daily challenge, among the most important of each new day.  As a matter of fact, the whole process of water in, water on and water out (!) pretty well sums up the routine challenge of being homeless. 

On Thursdays I sit on the corner of Malcolm X and I-30.  I arrive with a ice chest full of bottled water iced down.  Passersby, most on the way toward the nearby "walk in," as my homeless friends refer to the Austin Street Center, receive the water I offer with real gladness and usually appreciation. 

Nothing is better than ice cold water on a hot day.  That is especially true when the water gives way to conversation and the planting of friendship. What may seem a small, routine thing at first glance, takes on a larger life when considered in view of the human need. 

Jesus knew what he was talking about.  I believe we do well when we follow his lead.  After all, it's just not that complicated.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Who really creates jobs?

Business leader, Nick Hanauer, presented the following speech at the TED conference.  His thesis may surprise you.  Hanauer, a very successful business owner/creator, argues that business owners don't create jobs.   He debunks the popular myth that tax breaks to the rich result in the creation of more jobs. 

But, if not them, then who does create jobs in our nation?  Watch his short address and react. 

[You may want to read Hanauer's essay in Bloomberg's Business Week hereMy thanks to Rev. Gerald Britt for putting me onto Hanauer!  Once I saw Hanauer's presentation, I remembered that TED refused to post it, deeming it "too controversial in the current political climate.]

Can we all lighten up a bit? Like this!

Friday, June 15, 2012

SNAP now works at Dallas Farmers' Market

CitySquare has led the way in opening the Dallas Farmers' Market to low-income customers by helping negotiate the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, fomerly known as "food stamps") to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from local producers.

The new policy delivers a true win-win to the market and those who trade there.

Farmers now have a larger market for their produce. Customers now have a grocery venue that supplies fresh, healthy food. Profits and health status both improve!

Rev. Gerald Britt, VP of Public Policy, and his associate, Keilah Jacques worked hard to see this new policy implemented!

Here's a video report from Channel 8!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Making change safe. . .

Space for Change to Take Place
Henri Nouwen

Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment.

Source: Reaching Out

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cost benefit clear on housing for homeless

(Last week I received the following report from Becky Kanis, leader at Community Solutions and driving force behind the national 100,000 Homes movement.  Her encouraging report substantiates the real cost benefit to communities who commit themselves to developing supportive housing for our neighbors who live on the street.  Read the facts and let me know what you think.)

This just in!

A research authority with the County of Los Angeles has released its cost-effectiveness findings on Project 50, the County's ambitious 2007 effort to move its most long-term, vulnerable homeless people into permanent housing. The report compared a cohort of long-term homeless individuals who did not participate in Project 50 to those who did.

Its conclusion may not surprise many of you: it costs more to leave vulnerable neighbors on the street than it does to house them permanently.

Some of the highlights:
  • Between 2008 and 2010, Project 50 cost the county $3.045 million but generated $3.284 million in estimated savings. That is equivalent to a $4,774 surplus for each apartment provided.
  • This is a 7.2% return on investment over 2 years.
  • Incarceration costs for program participants fell 28% in their first year in Project 50, compared to a 42% increase for non-participants.
  • Medical costs for Project 50participants fell 68% in their first year, compared to a 37% drop for the control group.
This data confirms that housing our vulnerable neighbors is a win-win for everyone - and it has been getting wonderful coverage in the LA Times. Please use this press locally to amplify and expand your efforts! Project 50 was one of several efforts that inspired the Campaign, and each of you is tied to this innovation.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Public benefits. . . truly public

Over the weekend I heard a news program reporting that 26% of Americans use a local food pantry on a regular basis.  Of those who resort to charity centers for food stuffs a significant majority were also employed.  Given the number of people who use our pantry and the tons of food we distribute annually, these realities don't surprise me at all.

Ironically, and I would say tragically, far too many of our neighbors work but don't earn enough to properly care for themselves or the their families.  We often hear the flip side/"upside" of this very negative wage and labor reality in Dallas: labor costs in Texas are low; potential employees abundant, especially among the unskilled. 

Do the math.  A single person earning $10-12 an hour on a full-time job finds it very difficult to make ends meet each month.  If the job offers no benefits, the challenge is even tougher.  Add in a family and the mountain cannot be scaled without support from other sources. 

The Texas culture typically chaffs at the mention of "public benefits."  Texans typically don't appreciate "welfare." 

But, maybe we aren't looking at such benefits properly. 

If wages are too low for a significant portion of the workforce to make a life and we continue to depend on that sector of the workforce to make our community work, then public benefits actually benefit all of us in direct and indirect ways. 

Taken further, public benefit programs that place purchasing power in the hands of those at the very bottom of our city's economic pyramid ensure that those dollars surge into the local economy, and very quickly. 

The fact is poor people spend what money they do have

In 2010, according to the Texas Hunger Initiative, Dallas County left over $500,000,000.00 of purchasing power on the table due to the fact that all those eligible for the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP--food stamps) did not enroll to receive the benefits available and designed for working people.  Statewide the total unclaimed benefits ran into the multiple billions!

We need to understand a couple of things about that very significant pool of cash. 

First, these dollars flow back to Texas from Washington, D. C. when claimed by and used by the state.  When we fail to enroll an eligible person, we allow tax dollars that we've already sent to the federal government be redeployed in some other part of the country.  The very small cost to Texas to leverage these benefits back to Dallas is more than worth it to recapture funds we've already invested or set aside for the purpose of assisting low-income Texans. 

Second, and even more powerful, the half-billion unclaimed dollars are not just lost to our neighbors, but they are lost to the retail grocery businesses in our city.  Why these businesses don't insist on better performance by Texas is beyond me. 

And, this is just one public benefit resource available to the working poor in Dallas.  The Earned Income Credit tax program, health care programs, child care subsidies, housing support and other public efforts to benefit the lowest wage earners among us, actually end up benefiting us all. 

When families are financially stronger, the local economy reflects that strength in many ways that impact every aspect of our community's life and quality. 

Properly understood, public benefits turn out to be public indeed.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Me over We. . .

In Those Years

In those years, people will say, we lost track
of the meaning of 'we,' of 'you'
we found ourselves
reduced to 'I'
and the whole thing became
silly, ironic, terrible:
we were trying to live a personal life
and yes, that was the only life
we could bear witness to

But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged
into our personal weather
They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove
along the shore, through the rags of fog
where we stood, saying I

Adrienne Rich
In Those Years
found on Inward/Outward

Friday, June 08, 2012


What follows is a story submitted to me by Chris Oliver, a valued member of our Homeless Outreach Team that focuses all their efforts on developing redemptive friendships with homeless persons living on our Downtown streets.  This account simply reveals that recovery, when achieved, is the result of a process that demands courage, hard choices, work and patience on the part of everyone involved. 

We first made contact with Cindy on August 16, 2011 at Main Street Garden. We already knew Cindy from her time as a resident at CityWalk.

Cindy, and her boyfriend Sam, were frequent visitors to the downtown area where they spent a majority of their time panhandling and drinking before returning to their campsite.

After talking with Cindy, we discovered she had a history of going through treatment programs at Solace, Nexus, and Homeward Bound. On October 14, Cindy came to our office to discuss a plan for getting her into treatment again. We ended up escorting Cindy to Nexus for in-patient treatment on October 25. Cindy completed the 3-week program at Nexus, and upon her release on November 16 went to stay with her sister in Mesquite.

Although she continued classes with Nexus and tried to find a job, in the end her support system wasn’t the strongest it could be and Cindy relapsed in mid-December. In her own words, she was “out there with Sam again,” and all we could do was be there for her when she was ready to try again.

It took almost 4 months before she was ready, but on April 9, 2012 we escorted Cindy to the Homeward Bound treatment facility so she could try once more to break free from her addiction.

Upon completing 3 days of detox, we initiated a transfer for her from Homeward Bound to the residential treatment program at Turtle Creek. We continued to work closely with Cindy and her counselor at Turtle Creek, putting together a plan that would best support Cindy in her recovery efforts.

Upon her completion of the program at Turtle Creek, Cindy was once again released to the care of a family member. However, this time Cindy went to stay with her sister and her 2 nephews in The Colony, where she was immediately put to work at her sister’s chiropractic practice. Cindy also started to attend an AA group in the neighborhood at least once, sometimes twice a day. She also has a sponsor who is helping her work through the 12 steps of recovery.

Cindy just spent the Memorial Day weekend with her family, even getting a chance to spend time with her son in west Texas. She made her way downtown one day during the last week of May and ran into Sam, who continues to struggle with his addiction. She said seeing Sam in that condition reinforced for her that she doesn’t want to put herself back there. She called it “closure.”  Cindy is set to go to Destin, FL in mid-June with her sister and nephews on a family vacation, all the while continuing and enjoying her sobriety.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Facts. . .

The Dallas Business Journal published a report on the work of the Community Health Needs Assessment Task Force in this week's edition (June 1-7, 2012, page 11).

Here are some of the facts:

--26% of adults under age 65 and 26.4% of children from low-income families in North Texas lack health insurance.

--In 2011 the population in North  Texas was 4.6 million and is expected to swell to 5 million by 2016.

--From 2000 to 2010, Texas population grew 20% compared to 9.7% nationally.

--The most prevalent age group in North Texas is 35 to 54 (27.6%) followed by age 0 to 14 (20.2%).

--44% are "New Americans" born outside the US or children of the foreign born; of these 46% are undocumented.

--More than 230 languages are spoken in the North Texas area.

--In Dallas County, 29.6% of children under 18 and 15.8% of adults live below the federal poverty level.


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Crazy Growth!

The Dallas Business Journal reported this week that the DFW metro area is the fastest growing in the nation (Lance Murray, "Best of the Blog," page 12; June 1-7, 2012). 

Our area gains a new resident every four minutes and ten seconds

Between July 1, 2010 and the July 1, 2011, the area saw 126,037 new residents move in.  This means that 345.3 persons each day move into the DFW area. 

To find a searchable database of population growth in metro areas you might want to check out this site.

So, what does this reality mean to low-income families?  To the extremely poor?  What could it mean to non-profit organizations?

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Baseball is good!

Indulge a granddad who loves baseball, but grandsons even more!

Owen and Wyatt had a good day at their respective ball parks on Saturday. I was lucky enough to make both games!

Had to post some of what I saw. You'll hear me going bonkers over both of them!

Monday, June 04, 2012


CitySquare's great summer AmeriCorps team begins work on Monday, June 4!  All of our members will be working with children and nutrition in one way or another throughout the summer.

Texas has the 2nd highest rate of “food insecurity” in the U.S. and the highest rate of child hunger in the nation.

With the cut-backs in funding for recreation centers and summer programs in Dallas, CitySquare has filled in the gaps for several years. Summer 2012 is no different.

Once again, City Square and its team of AmeriCorps volunteers, begin a Summer of Service and the summer food program, Food on the Move, to see that Dallas area kids living in under served communities will have food and activities this summer. CitySquare’s Food on the Move program deploys mobile feeding units into the neighborhoods where children are not involved in other summer programming.

This year, CitySquare goes statewide instituting the summer food program in Irving, Austin, Houston and San Antonio! The goal for Food on the Move 2012 is to serve over 500,000 summer meals and make an impact on childhood hunger across Texas.

It is not only food that will be served up by these young ambassadors. They also spend an hour each day with the kids on their “routes” in activities geared to enrich young minds and to prevent obesity.

Food on the Move is a project in partnership with Pepsi.

Last week, CitySquare organized the swearing in of over 250 AmeriCorps members!  Thanks to Dr. Terry Flowers and St. Philip’s School & Community Center for  hosting the rousing ceremony!

It was my great honor to administer the AmeriCorps Pledge to our new members:

I will get things done for America
To make our people safer, smarter and healthier
I will bring Americans together
To strengthen our communities
Faced with apathy, I will take action
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground
Faced with adversity, I will persevere
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond
I am an AmeriCorps member
And I will get things done!

Friday, June 01, 2012

The CitySquare "difference"

Part of the application process associated with a recent grant application we submitted included the request that organizations describe what makes them different from others, what distinguishes them and their work. I thought the question and our response might be useful to anyone who supports our work or who might be considering doing so. If you need more information, call me by all means!

Question: Please describe your strategic approach as an organization, and how it is distinguished from others with a similar focus.

Response: CitySquare exists to fight the root causes of poverty by partnering with those in need. Working together as a community, we feed the hungry, heal the sick, house the homeless and renew hope in the heart of our city.

Our strategic approach as to how we operate as an organization can be best seen in our core values: We are a community of neighbors, investing in each other and developing meaningful relationships which value each individual.

Our work flows out of our faith, and that faith is inclusive and ecumenical.

We stand for justice and demand equity for all our neighbors.

Our resources belong to the community and as stewards of those resources we will act with integrity, demonstrate accountability and operate efficiently and effectively.

We are unique because we are a community of neighbors investing in each other and developing meaningful relationships which value each individual.

We don’t fight poverty for the poor—we fight poverty with the poor.

We value and promote the benefits of open-handed partnerships, requiring commitment and contributions from everyone.

We bring together resources from the public sector, the business sector, the legal sector, the faith sector and the medical sector to do the work that will represent a profound investment in our neighbors and the community.