Monday, September 30, 2013

Housing First. . .and Human Rights (Part II)

As I noted last Friday, over the next several days I intend to share a message that I recently delivered to a group of people who wanted to talk about housing for our homeless neighbors.  I will break it down into bite-sized pieces.  And, as always, I invite conversation.  

Efforts to end homelessness in Dallas face a number of obstacles, most of which appear in the form of what I call "unsatisfying half measures."  

Here's one:  Transitional housing or "We have a plan for your life!"

People who enjoy stable housing often believe that they know what's best for people who don't have stable housing.

Lots of us believe that homeless persons need to be made "housing ready" before being placed in a home.

Think about that for a moment.

If I'm homeless, what do you think that I think?

Would I consider myself "housing ready"?

What does that mean, after all?

One thing it means is that people with the resources believe that they need to put people through a prescribed plan before housing can be "awarded."

Two things here.

First, housing, in my view, is not an award, but a basic right that comes with being a human being.

Second, if someone else makes the plan for my life, what becomes of my plan or the expectation that I would even have one?

A couple of weeks ago, I visited with a man on the street just across from our new Opportunity Center.  He asked me if we were going to have housing in the new development.  I told him that we were not.  He continued our conversation and asked if we placed people in housing.

"Well, that depends," I said.  "What is your plan to get off of the street?"

"What is my plan to get off the street?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied.  "What is your plan to get off of the street?"

He grew silent, as if he had never been asked that question before.

"I sure don't have a plan for your life," I informed him.

"No, man," he declared, "I don't really have a plan, but I do know I need a place to live."

"Well, in that case," I responded, "we may be able to help out because we do have some apartments and we would be glad to work with you."

About this same time, John Siburt (VP of Program Administration at CitySquare) encountered a gentleman named "Big Richard" during a street outreach at mid-night.

As they talked, John asked Richard if he stayed at the Bridge or in one of the downtown shelters.

"Naw, man," he replied, "I can't stay in the shelters, man."

John asked why that was the case.

"Man, in the shelters all they want to talk about is me going to 'a class,' man.  They got a class for alcoholics and a class for drug addicts.  Man, I don't need no class for that stuff.  I don't use that stuff," he reported.

"Then, man, they want me to see a psychic doctor!" he shared with incredulity.  "Man, I ain't crazy, I'm homeless!"

He went on, pointing down the street to another person, "Now that woman down there, she crazy!" he declared.  "But, I'm not!"

Sensing that John really cared, he went on, "Then, man, I went to another shelter once and man, they had church every day, they had church, six days a week, church!  Man, than's enough church to kill a horse!" he said.

Then, he summed up.

"Man, I don't need a class or a psych doctor or church. . . I need a place."

That's what all homeless people need: a place to call "home," a place to hang a picture.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Do we understand?

Article 25.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Housing First. . .and Human Rights

Working the streets of Dallas drives me to one conclusion:  our city needs hundreds of additional housing units that could immediately be filled with people who live on our streets.  My experience over the past two decades has converted me to the "Housing First" model.

Simply put, "Housing First" directs us to solve a person's housing problem quickly and first, even before rendering other direct services.

Once a person has housing, supportive services and the assurance that their housing is permanent, then friends and advocates can go to work with a person on a life plan of the neighbor's own devising.  Managing change, providing treatment and further interventions for life and health, all happen best and most effectively when a person is working from the stability of having a place to call home.

Lots of people don't agree.

Over the next several days I intend to share a message that I recently delivered to a group of people who wanted to talk about housing for our homeless neighbors.  I will break it down into bite-sized pieces.  And, as always, I invite conversation.

Efforts to end homelessness in Dallas face a number of obstacles, most of which appear in the form of what I call "unsatisfying half measures."  

Here's one:  Shelters posing as housing.

Shelters operated properly can be humane, cheap and efficient ways to provide beds, a night at a time, for our homeless friends.

However, and listen hard just here, we must not regard night shelters as housing.  In my view, every night shelter in the U. S. should be required to put the word "Emergency" in their organizational titles.

If you can't hang a picture on a wall, what you're living in is not a home.  

For all the good a well-run night shelter may accomplish, let's just be clear, shelters don't provide a home for any homeless person.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Affordable Care Act and health coverage

On next Tuesday, October 1, 2013, Americans without health insurance coverage will be able to enroll for coverage under provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
The process is fairly simple. 
You can apply online at
The enrollment process is easy to understand.
The website lets you know what you will need to do to sign up.  You'll be able to shop various health insurance options to find what's best for you!  The program will be very beneficial to persons who currently have no health coverage or who battle "pre-existing conditions." 
If you have questions, call 1-800-318-2596. Information is available 24/7 in 140 languages.
You'll even be able to enter into a chat online, if that is more to your liking!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Who can guess the source of this statement on poverty and church?

E) Poverty – In spite of general affluence in the industrialized nations, the majority of persons in the world live in poverty. In order to provide basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, and other necessities, ways must be found to share more equitably the resources of the world. Increasing technology, when accompanied by exploitative economic practices, impoverishes many persons and makes poverty self-perpetuating. Poverty due to natural catastrophes and environmental changes is growing and needs attention and support. Conflicts and war impoverish the population on all sides, and an important way to support the poor will be to work for peaceful solutions.

As a church, we are called to support the poor and challenge the rich. To begin to alleviate poverty, we support such policies as: adequate income maintenance, quality education, decent housing, job training, meaningful employment opportunities, adequate medical and hospital care, humanization and radical revisions of welfare programs, work for peace in conflict areas and efforts to protect creation’s integrity. Since low wages are often a cause of poverty, employers should pay their employees a wage that does not require them to depend upon government subsidies such as food stamps or welfare for their livelihood.

Because we recognize that the long-term reduction of poverty must move beyond services to and employment for the poor, which can be taken away, we emphasize measures that build and maintain the wealth of poor people, including asset-building strategies such as individual development savings accounts, micro-enterprise development programs, programs enabling home ownership, and financial management training and counseling. We call upon churches to develop these and other ministries that promote asset-building among the poor. We are especially mindful of the Global South, where investment and micro-enterprise are especially needed. We urge support for policies that will encourage equitable economic growth in the Global South and around the world, providing a just opportunity for all.

Poverty most often has systemic causes, and therefore we do not hold poor people morally responsible for their economic state.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Conversion to the neighbor, part 3

Christians have not done enough in this area of conversion to the neighbor, to social justice, to history.  They have not perceived clearly enough yet that to know God is to do justice.  They still do not live in one sole action with both God and all humans.  They still do not situate themselves in Christ without attempting to avoid concrete human history.  They have yet to tread the path that will lead them to seek effectively the peace of the Lord in the heart of social struggle (page 49).
Gustavo Gutierrez
Spiritual Writings

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Night to Remember 2013. . .25 years!

Conversion to the neighbor, part 2

Conversion is a permanent process in which very often the obstacles we meet make us lose all we had gained and start anew.  The fruitfulness of our conversion depends on our openness to doing this, our spiritual childhood.  All conversion implies a break:  "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37).  To wish to accomplish it without conflict is to deceive oneself and others.  But it is not a question of withdrawn and pious attitude.  Our conversion process is affected by the socioeconomic, political, cultural and human environment in which it occurs.  Without a change in these structures, there is no authentic conversion.  We have to break with our mental categories, with the way we relate to others, with our way of identifying with the Lord, with our cultural milieu, with our social class, in other words, with all that can stand in the way of a real, profound solidarity with those who suffer, in the first place, from misery and injustice.  Only through this, and not through purely interior and spiritual attitudes, will the "new person" arise from the ashes of the "old." (page 48)
Gustavo Gutierrez
Spiritual Writings

Monday, September 09, 2013

Conversion to the neighbor, part 1

A spirituality of liberation will center on a conversion to the neighbor, the oppressed person, the exploited social class, the despised ethnic group, the dominated country.  Our conversion to the Lord implies this conversion to the neighbor.  Evangelical conversion is indeed the touchstone of all spirituality.  Conversion means a radical transformation of ourselves; it means thinking, feeling and living as Christ--present in exploited and alienated persons.  To be converted is to commit oneself lucidly, realistically, and concretely to the process of the liberation of the poor and oppressed.  It means to commit oneself not only generously, but also with an analysis of the situation and a strategy for action.  To be converted its to know and experience the fact that, contrary to the laws of physics, we can stand straight, according to the Gospel, only when our center of gravity is outside ourselves (page 48).
Gustavo Gutierrez
Spiritual Writings

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Friday, September 06, 2013

What are we doing to prevent and end homelessness in Dallas?

CitySquare has five programs aimed at preventing and ending homelessness in Dallas County.

Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) – CitySquare deploys a team of workers that walks and drives the streets in and around downtown Dallas’ central business district to locate and engage individuals who are homeless.  HOT workers get to know these individuals and their unique situations.  Individuals are diverted to the services of various CitySquare programs, as well as the services of other community partners.  Services include food assistance, housing, health care, and case management, including the arrangement and coordination of transportation to cities of origin for the purpose of reuniting with families.  In 2012, CitySquare’s HOT team recorded 2349 encounters with homeless individuals and was successful in connecting 726 individuals with resources for food, housing, health care, and/or transportation.

Rapid Rehousing – In 2013, CitySquare received federal grant funds through the city of Dallas to house 45 homeless individuals.  CitySquare provides support services, including case management which connects individuals to services within CitySquare, as well as to our partners in the larger community. CitySquare’s case management focuses on working with individuals to provide short-to-mid-term assistance while helping individuals towards greater self- sufficiency. The Rapid Rehousing team and the Homeless Outreach Team work together to place some of the most service-resistant individuals from the downtown Dallas area into stable housing.

Destination Home – Since 2004 CitySquare’s Destination Home program has housed over 2,000 individuals who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Through U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants, Destination Home provides permanent support housing and case management services to an average of 200 individuals annually. These individuals receive counseling, drug and alcohol treatment, job support/training and a variety of other services designed to stabilize their lives and establish a pattern of healthier behaviors.

Transition Resource Action Center (TRAC) – TRAC provides a “one stop” assessment and referral facility for youth “aging out” of foster and juvenile care in the 19-county, Child Protective Services North Texas region.  TRAC brings together community resources and intensive case management services to benefit these special needs young people.  TRAC is the only program in North Texas that exists to comprehensively address the needs of this population which is at high risk of homelessness.  Annually, TRAC works with over 800 of the most challenged, at-risk teens and young adults in the region.  Participants craft an individualized life plan and acquire skills needed to survive on their own after”emancipation” from substitutionary care. TRAC provides transitional housing for many of the program’s most vulnerable youth.

CityWalk@Akard – CitySquare’s 15-story building in downtown Dallas is a unique and diverse vertical neighborhood housing over 200 low-income individuals, over half of whom were formerly homeless, or in grave danger of becoming homeless.   In addition, CityWalk provides much needed quality affordable housing for low-income wage earners who work Downtown. CitySquare Community Life Team provides counseling and case management services to a majority of the individuals and families who live at CityWalk.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Could hell be any hotter, good news any sweeter?

Thursday, August 29, 2013
4:09 p.m.

Just left the Corner where the temperature on my Jeep read 111.

If hell is hotter, I don't want to go!

The crowd of neighbors at the Corner was the largest to date.

Everyone was hot and thirsty.

Wendy, my friend, rushed me as I got out of my car wanting to know if I had the papers needed to get a copy of her birth certificate. We've been working on this project for a while.  If you've lost all of the documents proving you are who you say you are, how to you move forward?

Without the papers I can see how I might begin to think that in fact I'm nobody.

I worked down the list on the papers that I received from the state that instructed her as to what she would need since she had no documents proving who she was.  It is complicated.  No one could do this alone, including me.  Reality for the poorest of the poor.

Attitudes out on the Corner amaze me.

A smiling white dude in a cowboy hat walked up, shook my hand and replied to my inquiry as to how he was doing saying, "If I was any better, I couldn't stand it!"

He then begin to talk about his faith and his walk with God.

I thought of the church folk who are so quick to ask me if any "ministry" takes place in our work.

I'd say it does.

Except it's the homeless poor ministering to me, every single time.

At one point as I looked across the red hot pavement of Malcolm X Boulevard, I spotted a homeless black man assisting a blind, Latino man to the bus stop.  Community defined by compassion.

Preaching broke out when Robert, a regular at the Corner, told the story of Jesus and the woman caught in the act of adultery.

"'Who among you is without sin?' is what Jesus asked," the street preacher said.  "And everybody started mumbling and finally said, 'I'll catch y'all tomorrow.'"

"Yep," I replied, "they all started dropping rocks!"

"My favorite story, my very, most favorite!" Robert said.

Ministry, indeed.

Ice cold water,



Someone to simply pat my back, tell me that I matter and urge me to be careful. Sincere thank yous tossed back into your heart.

Good news, in a very limited way, but good news just the same to the poverty in all of us.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

In the battle. . .

This clip from Henry V could be applied to our battle against the forces, the seemingly unrelenting forces of poverty, despair and oppression.

Still, the speech by Henry calling his band of brothers to fight, against all odds the battle they were called to fight, fits well with our own struggle in the city.

As Matt Lair, board member with Urban Connection--San Antonio, who sent this to me said, "We few.  We happy few!"