Saturday, September 29, 2012

Wages, families, neighborhoods and the economy

At the beginning of this school year, students from the Honors College at Abilene Christian University began their very special three year course of study that will see them focus as a group on poverty in inner city Dallas.

Already my young friends have turned up ugly evidence of what affects our economy so adversely.  These bright students discovered that in several South Dallas zip codes the average household income hovers around $10,000 annually.  Hard to imagine isn't it?

If you and/or your family had to make do with $10,000 a year, what sorts of things would impinge on your life, your decisions, your attitudes and your expectations?  Hard, but very good and fair questions for those of us who are doing so much better to ask and answer honestly.

The Dallas Morning News published a story last Sunday (9/23/2012, 4B) on a group of Wal-Mart workers who have organized against the pay practices and scale of the company's wages.  The group, Organization United for Respect at Walmart, demonstrated in Dallas' Uptown neighborhood the day before the report hit the paper.  Protesters claimed that Wal-Mart didn't pay them enough to purchase the health care plan offered by the company or to participate in the 401 (k) benefit plan.

According to Wal-Mart, the average pay to its employees in Texas is $12.31 an hour.  According to the union, the company's average hourly wage for the nation stands at $8.81.

If the company is correct about its Texas employees, a person working a full-time, 40-hour-a-week job and paid for 52 weeks (both unlikely assumptions) will earn $25,605 annually.

If the union is correct and making the same assumptions, a Wal-Mart employee will earn $18,325 annually.

What is life like for households living on wages at this level?  

How do marriages fair?

What health issues do these families face?

How is the psychological health of these wage earners?

What are neighborhoods like for communities who earn wages at this level?  

How do wages affect housing stock?

Public schools?

Code enforcement and neighborhood amenities?

What  impact do wages at this level have on local economies and on economic development?

What factors are at work here to encourage or discourage the development of retail outlets?

How is job growth in these areas?  

The realities of capitalism force on us tough questions about how we might make changes to help our working poor neighbors  These realities make a strong case for the expansion of public efforts such as the Earned Income Tax Credit program.  They also argue persuasively for increased investment in public education, early childhood programs and workforce training initiatives to enhance and diversify the skills of our labor force.

Things will not improve unless we get involved and begin to insist on the needed changes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

When "justification" hurts others

Earlier this week I enjoyed a conversation with one of Dallas' Exchange Clubs.  The meeting was really delightful.

There were about a dozen of us.

All of us were post-60 years old, felt like a fraternity of sorts!

My job:  to talk about the high cost of keeping people homeless and on the streets.

The "return on investment" of permanent housing in real savings to a community makes it a no-brainer of a choice when it comes to public policy, but we continue to settle for the status quo that does little good for anyone.

So, we kick the can down the road while our extremely poor neighbors live in shelters intended to be emergency solutions for the short term, but end up becoming community institutions with long-term residents in a string of nights that too often runs on for years.

Anyway, as we spoke about the mythical stereotypes associated with the homeless, I had one of those moments of insight, at least for me it was.

"If you don't want to help the homeless, then don't," I counseled my new friends.  "But at least don't concoct some lie about the helpless, homeless guy or gal that further embeds and strengthens the inaccurate stereotypes in an effort to justify  your decision not to help."

I believe that is what happens an awful lot when it comes to the very poor among us and our decisions to "walk by on the other side of road." .

What do you think?

BTW--I've had amazing meetings this week with church leaders about building cottages in our PUSH 50 project at Malcolm X Boulevard and I-30!  

So encouraging! 

More later. 

Monday, September 24, 2012


Someone once observed "that the kitchen is the heart of any home, but the porch is its soul."  
I get that.

I've spent a good deal of time thinking about porches lately.

As I've reported previously, every Thursday that I'm in town, I sit on the porch of an old, abandoned house on Malcolm X Boulevard.  I try to bring an ice chest of bottled water to share with passersby, as well as those who choose to stop and sit a while for a visit.

Almost all of the people I meet on this porch live on the streets of Dallas.  Almost all are extremely poor.  Most face challenges that I can't begin to comprehend.  But we have a grand time.

Recently, I sat on another porch that appeared quite different.

This second porch attached itself to a beautiful lodge nestled beside the White River outside Harrison, Arkansas.  Six of us, some acquainted and some not, made the trip to fly fish and enjoy the beauty of the river and its environs.

What a trip!  And we caught lots and lots of trout!

Every evening before enjoying a great meal prepared for us by the lodge owners, we would retreat to the back porch to visit and recount the day's fishing adventure.

After dinner, we migrated back to the porch to look at the stars, listen to the river, enjoy a night cap and visit some more.

On the surface these two porches would appear to have nothing whatsoever in common.

Abandoned, old, decaying house with porch to match versus the luxury and comfort of a well-maintained lodge home with open air, covered porch.

Beneath the surface where things happen that really matter, the two porches share so much in common.

On each porch, men sit and talk and laugh and enjoy each other's company.

On each porch, men reflect on family, finances, dreams, experiences and life.

On both porches, men really connect.

On both porches, men envision a better life, discuss hopes and dreams, recall setbacks and laugh about some truly stupid mistakes.

On both, a group of men enjoy fellowship, community, mutual support.

On each porch things happen, things verbalized that build up and nurture self-worth and value.

As I reflect, the amazing thing to me is just how similar the two "porch experiences" really are.

Here's the challenge:  how do I get the lives of the people hanging out on these two porches to intersect?

I know in my gut that such gatherings, especially if they were frequent, would transform the participants and, even more, our community.

Hmmm.  Maybe we need to plan a fishing trip!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A strong word from a friend. . .

Larry Johnson lives at CityWalk

Larry knows homelessness. 

Some folks don't understand him. 

He's had tough times. 

He's endured a few rough patches in his day. 

He is my friend. 

I believe friends deserve to be heard. Everyone deserves to be heard.  Give him your ear. 

Let me know what your think after you've listened to him.

Friday, September 21, 2012

New Community Media Resource

They are among the most iconic names of DFW TV news:  Tracy RowlettTroy DunganIola (Eye-Oh-la) JohnsonScott MurrayGary CogillRobert Riggs, Phyllis Watson and Jeff Brady.  

Starting October 1st, they will lead a team of veteran journalists united in a new one-hour morning talk show on KTXD-TV Channel 47 called "The Texas Daily."

The idea is to produce a smart news program with familiar faces who can put the news headlines in perspective and offer opinions for the Baby Boomer generation, an over-40 audience that's tired of  the wrecks, rain and robberies covered by most local newscasts.

For the first time, we'll have a conversation with commentary about what's happening in North Texas, and what matters

Jeff Brady will host the program weekday mornings from 8 - 9am. More than a dozen other journalists will join him on a rotating basis in the KTXD studio (in Addison) to provide opinion and perspective. 

So tune in to 'The Texas Daily' on Channel 47 - starting Monday October 1st at 8am!

Thursday, September 20, 2012


At CitySquare, we list "Community" as one of our core organizational values.  

Across the years, I've learned that without deep, unconditional relationships with others I am basically lost and largely ineffective.  

Embracing community opens doors to self-discovery and life purpose.  
When I read this quote from Desmond Tutu, it resonated deeply with my heart.  

What do you think?

"We say in our African idiom, 'A person is a person through other persons.' The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. I need you in order to be me as you need me in order to be you. We are caught up in a delicate network of interconnectedness. I have gifts that you don't, and you have gifts I don't--voila! We are made different so that we may know our need of one another. The completely self-sufficient human being is subhuman. Thus diversity, difference is of the essence of who we are."

--Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Cottages at Hickory Crossing Win Award!

The Cottages at Hickory Crossing, a project designed to provide permanent supportive housing for 50 of the "most expensive" homeless persons in Dallas, recently received one of the coveted AIA Dallas Design Awards!

Take a look at the project summary in slide show format  here.

Interested in helping us build the project?  Contact me!

We're currently recruiting communities of faith to sign on to each build a cottage in the community we intend to develop!  Any interest in your church, synagogue or mosque?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

CitySquare. . .our work

Here's the video produced for use at "A Night to Remember" with Lyle Lovett. It provides a glimpse of the work we find to do day by day. Feedback welcome!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Obesity: Sign of Poverty, Hunger

Obesity among the poor seems counter-intuitive.  But, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

Low-income families work from restricted budgets, restrictions that apply to grocery shopping and food choices.  In addition, thousands of low-income families live in areas of the city that offer limited and often unhealthy grocery purchasing alternatives. 

If you live on limited income, you will likely learn to purchase cheaper food products that will satisfy hunger quickly, choices that invariably include high percentages of high calorie and high sodium, processed products.  Fast foods, chips, sodas and high carbohydrates lead to problems with weight, as well as chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity. 

Add to this the fact that many low-income neighborhoods do not offer safe, secure areas for exercise and you have a perfect formula for overweight children and adults. 


Children experiencing homelessness are sick four times more often than other children and they go hungry twice the rate of other children.  Nutritional deficiencies in homeless children often lead to increased rates of being overweight and obese. National Center on Family Homelessness

There are much higher rates of obesity observed at every age of children experiencing homelessness than in other populations.  About one-third of U. S. adults (33.8%) are obese.  Approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are obese.  Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.  There are significant racial and ethnic disparities in obesity prevalence among U. S. children and adolescents.  In 2007-2008, Hispanic boys aged 2-19 years were significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white boys, and non-Hispanic black girls were significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white girls. Obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).  In one study, 70% of obese children had at least one CVD risk factor, and 39% had two or more.  Obese children are at grater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood.  Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Obese children may show other signs of poor nutrition, including iron deficiency and anemia.  For low-income children, obesity may be associated with household food insecurity.  Children's Health Fund

Efforts that work to improve the health and wellness status of poor children must include nutritional concerns.  Food pantries, food banks, community health clinics, public policy leaders, economic development organizations, farmers' markets, urban farmers and neighborhood associations must work to improve access to better and more choices in food selection for poor families. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

At our doorsteps

The very poor among us are hated. 

Tell me that I'm too harsh in my evaluation if you want, but it is true.

Try to build a high-quality, residential building for the poor and the homeless in any Dallas neighborhood, then get back to me. 

No one wants be be near the very poor.  That's just a sad fact of life in our city, even among the so called "urban pioneers" and progressives.  Spare me your explanations, please. 

So, here's the Sunday reading.  I dedicate it to all the NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) I've met over the last 18 years. 

The Rich Man and Lazarus  Luke 16:19-31

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores  and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thin Places

Maybe you've experienced one.

You find yourself in place that seems to "connect" with other realities, either in your past or possibly a sense of what might be ahead for you. 

Some refer to these extraordinary experiences or realities "thin places," those locations or dimensions that touch the "other side" of life, allowing you to sense something at work beyond your control but important for your life.

I moved up against such a "thin place" recently while visiting with homeless friends at The Corner (Malcolm X and Dawson where I pass out ice water almost every Thursday).

Two gentlemen approached, each taking a bottle of water.  We chatted for a bit, talking about the day, the project across the street and life.  One of the men, Eric, said something that told me he was not originally from Dallas.  When I asked about  his home, he told me that he was from Shreveport, Louisiana.  I shared that I had lived in Shreveport for two years and forty-five minutes!  The back story on that comment will need to wait for another post!

I took a seat on the porch of Billy's old, abandoned house.  My new friend from Shreveport sat on the steps just above the sidewalk.  We both enjoyed the shade.

After a few minutes, I took a chance and asked a pretty far-fetched question.

"Did you ever know a guy in Shreveport named Wayne Nelson?" I asked.

A little background.  Now, I first met Wayne when he was 10-years-old.  I was a very young minister working at a church in the heart of the city located between a very rich, old neighborhood and a very poor historic community. 

Wayne lived with his grandmother  across the street from my church in one of the row houses that had degenerated into a slum block, owned by a slum lord. 

The day we met Wayne was outside the church attempting to get a drink of water from a fountain that hadn't worked in years.  When I happened to walk out of the church, Wayne jumped on his bike and flew away!  I shouted for him to come back, and he did. 

"Come inside.  We have a ice cold drinking fountain," I told him.  [What is it about water and this very 'thin place'?]  We went inside, Wayne got a long drink of cold water and our friendship began!

Wayne became the first African American guest in our declining church, maybe the first ever.  But that gets into the back story that will have to wait for another day. 

He visited with me after school most afternoons.  He came to our house for meals and play and fun. 

By the time we moved to New Orleans, Wayne had turned 12.  He really wanted to move with us.  I've often wondered what might have happened had we worked that out with his granny. 

Wayne seemed developmentally challenged.  He was not as far along as other children his age.  I really loved the kid, and he loved me. But, I haven't heard from him in years.

Fast forward to the corner and back to my crazy question to my new friend, Eric. 

"Did you ever know a guy in Shreveport named Wayne Nelson?"

"Black guy?" Eric asked thoughtfully.

"Yes," I replied.

"Crazy Wayne?" he exclaimed.  "Everybody knows Crazy Wayne!" exclaimed.

"What do you mean by 'crazy,'" I pressed.

"You know, kinda slow," he explained.

"Yes, that sounds like it could be him," I said.

"Man, I stayed there by Wayne," he told me.

"You mean you lived in the row of houses across the street from the church?" I asked with growing wonder.

"Yes, right there off of Southern Avenue," he explained.

"My church was on Southern Avenue!" by now almost shouting at Eric!

"Wayne's doing good these days.  He lives out by my sister," he told me.

"Was he a skinny guy?" Eric asked

"A rail," I replied.

"Yep, that's him.  He was always skinny, skinny, but now he's fat!" he explained through a mounting laugh.

"Eric, do you know the odds that we would meet on this corner almost 40 years after I met Wayne Nelson and have this conversation?" I asked him and myself.

"My sister sees him," Eric offered.

"Next time you talk to your sister would you tell her to tell Wayne that Larry, the preacher said 'hello'?"

I intend to try to find Wayne.

But one thing is certain to me.  The Porch on The Corner is a mighty "thin place."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Action speaks louder than words

About six months after the earthquake that killed twenty thousand people in Gujarat, India, in 2001, I visited there.  The region had been flattened; nearly every house and building had collapsed.  Several of my colleagues and I were there to dedicate the first of hundreds of new houses built through a partnership between Wold Vision, Habitat for Humanity, and USAID.  The resilient Indian people, with some help from outsiders, were beginning to put their lives back together and move on, even though their human losses had been unimaginable to most of us in the West.

During the dedication proceedings, a group of village elders sat just a few yards behind us, observing everything.  They looked like majestic and dignified figures from the pages of National Geographic, with deeply lined faces; long white beards and mustaches; and turbaned heads.  As the event wore on, they were having quite a lively conversation in their local dialect.  They could not have known that one of my colleagues Atul Tandon, had grown up in that very region and understood every word they were saying.

After the ceremony, Atul share with me what he had overheard.  He said the the men were speculating as to why 'these Christians' had traveled thousands of miles across the ocean to help their community rebuild.  They wondered what motivated complete strangers to help them.  They were experiencing the love of God and the kingdom of God in profound ways through the concrete love and action demonstrated by Christians, acting through the Habitat for Humanity and World Vision organizations.

Saint Francis of Assisi understood the power of faith put into action to change the human heart, for it was he who said, 'Preach the gospel always; when necessary use words.'  We had not yet spoken a word in their language, but the village elders had already 'heard' the gospel.

-- Richard Stearns
The Hole in Our Gospel
pages 22-23

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Gone Fishin'!

Spending two days on the White River in northern Arkansas.

Mission:  land as many big, browns as possible! 

Check with me next week to see what kind of mood I'm in!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Real friends

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Line

If you are concerned about poverty in the U. S. and/or if you work to overcome the devastating consequences of poverty on men, women and children, this is a video resource that you need to see and be able to use.  Available on October 2, 2012!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Communion in bread

Sometime in your life,
hope that you might see one starved man,
the look on his face when the bread
finally arrives. Hope that you
might have baked it or bought it
or even kneaded it yourself.
For that look on his face,
for your meeting his eyes
across a piece of bread,
you might be willing to lose a lot,
or suffer a lot,
or die a little even.
                                      --Daniel Berrigan

Friday, September 07, 2012

Talk, and then there's talk

"Today it is fashionable to talk about the poor. Unfortunately it is not as fashionable to talk to the poor."

--Mother Teresa

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Wanna buy a house?

Three years ago, the W. W. Caruth, Jr. Foundation convened a group of organizations involved in providing housing and support services for the homeless population of Dallas.  CitySquare and the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation received invitations to join the consortium.

We began working hard and, after about a year, we had a plan and a concept.

The Cottages at Hickory Creek is to be a planned community of 50 small, highly efficient cottages in a secure environment that will provide homes for 50 of the "most expensive," chronically homeless persons in Dallas County.

By "most expensive" we mean those folks who consume the most emergency medical services, the most ER and public hospital expenses, the most in psychiatric services and the most in criminal justice costs for this part of our population.

We even have a list of 250 names of these "most expensive" homeless persons.  The average cost per person to the county, not including non-profit costs from organizations like CitySquare, is $40,000 annually!  And, that is to keep a person out on the streets of the city.

Once inside one of the cottages of our conceived project, we estimate the costs would be under $15,000 annually.

We've worked now for 3 years.

We still don't have the funding worked out to take advantage of the Caruth Foundation's generous matching challenge--for every $3 we raise, the foundation will contribute $1.

Recently, the group recommitted to the process of seeing these homes built.  The Central Dallas CDC (i. e. John Greenan) is working on public funding.  CitySquare is working with churches and asking congregations of faith to "buy a home" for a neighbor.

Each cottage will cost $50,000, all in, to build.

So far the church outreach is gaining momentum.

Once built, CitySquare will provide the community development, concierge services and a medical services presence.  Metrocare (MHMR of Dallas County) will staff a psychiatric clinic daily.

Would your church or faith community be interested in buying a house? 

If so, I'm eager to talk to you.

After the homes are complete, the underwriting congregations will have an opportunity to "connect'" with the residents.  That's when the magic will break out, I guarantee you!

Let me know.  214.303.2116

Monday, September 03, 2012

Labor Day. . .a bit of history

Growing up, I was taught in countless ways that work and working people should always be respected.  The trade, the position, the field, the career didn't matter so much.  As long as it was legal, work and workers were to be respected, honored and celebrated.  Labor Day is about work and workers.  We would do well to remember what labor has done in this nation in the past and what can be accomplished going forward.  Happy Labor Day!

Labor Day: How it Came About; What it Means
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Founder of Labor Day
 More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.
Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."
But Peter McGuire's place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The First Labor Day
The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.
In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a "workingmen's holiday" on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Labor Day Legislation
Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From them developed the movement to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

A Nationwide Holiday
The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.
The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This change, however, is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics and government officials are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television.
The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Food needs grow. . .

Last week, Dr. Keven Vicknair, Director of CitySquare's "Food on the Move" initiative that seeks to address the food and nutritional needs of low-income, working families, sent me the following report on activity in our Food Pantry through the end of July 2012.  One conclusion that seems clear is the fact that the economy hurts the poor most of all.

Here's what she reports:

From January to July of 2012, the Food Pantry provided food to 12,901 individuals, of whom 4,478 (34.7%) have never before required our services and 2,283 (17.7%) who have returned after not needing us for at least six months.

This lets me know that the economy is not only pushing new people below the poverty threshold, but is in fact returning many people to the poverty rolls who had started to be self-sufficient but once again find themselves struggling.