Monday, June 30, 2014

"Nine for 90" United Way spotlights summer food program!

As the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas prepares to celebrate 90 years of service, coordination and engagement in our city, nine great events will be rolled out in partnership with the Dallas Cowboys, local corporations and non-profits. 

CitySquare hosted event number 2 just a few days ago. 

Look here to see what happened!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sorry, but cash trumps volunteers!

[Not surprising, but completely wrong headed!  Just like in the for-profit world, non-profits need funding/venture capital more than volunteers.]

Wealthy Say Volunteering, Not Money, Is Best Way to Help the Poor
By Maria Di Mento June 20, 2014

Nine in 10 wealthy Americans say they want to help close the income gap between the rich and the poor, according to a new study released today. But only 39 percent say donating money to charities that provide education and employment programs is the way to help the disadvantaged. Wealthy individuals put more stock in volunteering as a way to help the poor: Forty-eight percent said giving their time and talents to programs that aid the disadvantaged would help create a more level economy.

Even more of the survey’s respondents, 53 percent, think the way to create income equality is through job creation by starting or growing businesses, or by promoting business ownership and laws that reduce regulations and taxes for entrepreneurs. The survey found that women are taking a more active role in wealth planning and decision-making, and many have their own fortunes: Fifty-two percent of women in the study came into their marriages or relationships with financial holdings equal to or larger than those of their partners, something for fundraisers to keep in mind when cultivating gifts from wealthy couples.

The nationwide survey, conducted by U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management, polled 680 Americans with investable assets of $3-million or more. Among other findings: One-third of women are the primary income earners or contribute equally to the wealth of their households. Three quarters of wealthy millennials (adults under age 35) consider the social and environmental impact of companies they invest in.

 Nearly 80 percent of well-off millennials believe socially conscious investing can help hold businesses and governments accountable for their actions.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sick. . .and tired

Last Thursday we took part in a "big event" out at the Opportunity Center just across the street from "the Corner." 

A number of our community partners showed up to be with us. 

We served several hundred meals. 

People were pleasant, engaging and joyful--on both sides of the resource line!

The folks who came with the meals did a superb job in delivering them.  It wasn't just another "hand out.'  The volunteers from this company really spent time with the homeless poor who came to retrieve a box lunch.

But, simple "retrieval" wasn't possible with this group. 

If you came, you talked to these people, both at the service line and then in lawn chairs arranged for conversation! 

For them, it wasn't about the meal. 

No, it was about the common humanity of everyone. 

Beautiful event. 

In the midst of it I walked up the street a bit to invite others to join us. 

As I walked, I spotted him.

A man, slightly built, about 60-years-old, I'd hunch.

He looked ill. 

His skin tone was deeply yellowish, betraying possible liver disease. 

He was sitting on the curb resting his feet on a drain opening. 

I invited him to join us for lunch.

The only word in his reply that I could hear was "sick." 

"Are you feeling sick," I asked. "Do I need to call for a doctor?"

"No!" he snapped back.  "I said, 'I'm sick of stale sandwiches,'" he explained. 

"I'm sure you are and I'm sorry," I replied before retreating up the street further. 

He told me the truth.  (Actually, the sandwiches this time were boxed, beautiful and not stale, but this gentleman had been to plenty of our rodeos!)  He'd eaten my sandwiches before and he was tired.

In reality, what he was tired of was having to depend upon and settle for what I decided to bring his way. 

He wanted more, and he wanted more on his terms.

I wasn't offended at all. 

He just told me the truth as he saw and experienced it.

I left our encounter more determined than ever to work for the development of more permanent supportive housing.

Someday, I hope to watch him move into an apartment of his own where he can prepare his own meals, as he likes them.

If I'm lucky, maybe he'll invite me to dine with him in a home of his own.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Monday, June 23, 2014

Life without "Welfare"

What Happens If You Have No Welfare and No Job?

A new report from The Atlantic  looks at the devastating lengths single moms go to when they have neither employment nor cash assistance.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how the welfare reform of the 1990s led to many poor mothers being kicked off welfare rolls. While some poor adults could still receive help from food stamps and disability insurance, the "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act" dramatically cut how much cash aid they could collect. The hope was that they would find work, but many didn’t.

Meanwhile, spending on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, the only cash assistance program that non-disabled, non-elderly, poor single mothers are eligible for, has dropped precipitously: It was lower in 2007 than it had been in 1970.

That left me wondering—what happened to the moms who had neither jobs nor cash assistance through TANF, which comes with strict time limits?

Read the entire report here.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

CitySquare summer food program shines. . .

Dallas groups tout program to feed kids during summer break
By MASAKO MELISSA HIRSCH / Staff Writer--Dallas Morning News
About 1 in 4 children in Texas don’t know where they’ll get their next meal — a problem exacerbated during the summer when they don’t have the option of free or reduced-priced school breakfasts and lunches.

On Thursday, several organizations aimed to raise awareness about the troublesome issue and to let local families know about a program that can help.

The United Way of Metropolitan Dallas hosted the event at CitySquare’s Opportunity Center. CitySquare is a nonprofit devoted to fighting poverty.

It was the second in United Way’s “Nine for 90” series, which honors the organization’s 90th anniversary with nine community service projects presented by Texas Instruments. Each project highlights one of the United Way’s main focus areas of education, financial stability and health.

“For all of us here today and in Dallas, Texas, that is not acceptable,” said Jennifer Sampson, president and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, referring to the number of children going hungry.

The event corresponded with the kickoff in Dallas of the Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, in which more than 100 organizations provide food at about 1,000 sites in Dallas County for children during the summer months.

About 73 percent of Dallas County students receive free or reduced-price school meals. Yet only about 14 percent of them take part in the summer mealsprogram.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Minimum wage and cities

U.S. labor secretary urges mayors descending on Dallas to pass resolution supporting minimum wage hike

The U.S. Conference of Mayors kicks off tomorrow morning at 6:30 with a continental breakfast on the Continental Bridge, and will include some after-work-hours performances by the likes of Lyle Lovett, Leann Rimes, Asleep at the Wheel, Marcia Ball, Bonnie Raitt, Los Lonely Boys — even “a special performance by Kool and the Gang,” says Dallas City Hall, like there’s any other kind. And: Kareem! But as you can see from the jam-packed program, there’s also work to be done, and that includes wading through 117 resolutions — everything from creating an International Jazz Day to commemorating the 40th anniversary of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Somewhere in the middle of Resolution No. 67, its title “In Support of Raising the Federal Minimum Wage” from its current rate of $7.25 an hour. The mayors’ resolution is asking for an increase to $10.10 an hour and says it “supports state and local government efforts to set their own minimum wages above the federal minimum wage to help its lowest paid workers keep pace with the rising cost of living.” It was submitted by 16 mayors, among them Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel, New York City’s Bill deBlasio, Seattle’s Ed Murray and Los Angeles’ Eric Garcetti.

Read the entire article here. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The startling wealth gap in America

Thomas Piketty's new book, Capital in the Twenty First Century, will blow your mind. 

Income inequality may be the biggest domestic threat to the future of our nation and its democratic culture.

For a preview click here

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Who are "the poor"?

What follows is not to be read as a listing of stereotypes.  Rather, these descriptions get at characteristics that various low-income persons exhibit.  I've encountered thousands of people over the last two decades here in Dallas who come to mind as I lay out this list. 

So, "who are the poor" anyway? 

1.  The poor are intelligent.  Income is no failsafe measure guaranteeing wealth or success financially.  And, being impoverished doesn't mean a person is stupid.  To the contrary, I've known highly intelligent people who live in poverty.  The vast majority of people are not poor because they are stupid.

2.  The poor want work.  In conversation after conversation, I've had men, women and youth begging me for work, for a job, for gainful employment.  Whether its in a formal workforce training effort or on the street with the homeless, the subject of jobs always come up. 

3.  The poor are often under-educated and low skilled.  Again, almost all people can learn, grow and develop.  But the fact is some poverty is caused by being under skilled.

4.  The poor are hard working.  Low-income people who have jobs work like crazy!  Countless families with whom we work have more than one job.  Poor folks aren't afraid to work.

5.  The working poor need more money.  Self-evident it would seem.  But most of us don't understand the pressure to survive under which these families and individuals live.  Low or inadequate skills lead to low wages.  We have a wage crisis in our nation. 

6.  The poor love their children.  Nothing more to say really.

7.  The children of poor people are under-experienced and under-exposed to the largeness of the world.  The funds needed to place children in enrichment activities is simply not available to the poor.  Thus, children miss out on lots that others of us take for granted. 

8.  The poor are often compromised by poor health.  Forced to use the ERs as makeshift medical homes, the poor suffer disproportionately with all sorts of chronic conditions not as prevalent among the more well-to-do. 

9.  The poor battle "toxic stress."  The daily pressure to provide the bare essentials of life place people in positions of stress and psychic strain that just doesn't let up.  A growing body of research substantiates the negative impact of this unresolved, unrelenting stress. 

10.  For the most part the poor don't eat healthy diets.  Limited funds drive people to cheap, processed food high in calories.  The combination of lack of income and accessibility often blocks poor people from healthier food selections. 

11.  The poor are loyal.  Friendship and human connections bind folks together in low-income communities. 

12.  The poor are amazingly generous.  It would be impossible to recount all of the times I have witnessed very poor people sharing from their meagre holdings to benefit someone else in need. 

13.  Basically, the poor are like you and me. . . just without the financial resources.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wages, it's all about wages and labor's share

How do we explain how a place like Dallas, Texas, with its booming economy, continues to grow poorer and poorer at the bottom? 

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that a growing, vibrant economy--like we enjoy in Dallas--would begin to cut into the poverty rate in our city. 

But, it's just not happening. 


Read on: 

Growth Has Been Good for Decades.
So Why Hasn’t Poverty Declined?
The surest way to fight poverty is to achieve stronger economic growth. That, anyway, is a view embedded in the thinking of a lot of politicians and economists.
“The federal government,” Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “needs to remember that the best anti-poverty program is economic growth,” which is not so different from the argument put forth by John F. Kennedy (in a somewhat different context) that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
In Kennedy’s era, that had the benefit of being true. From 1959 to 1973, the nation’s economy per person grew 82 percent, and that was enough to drive the proportion of the poor population from 22 percent to 11 percent.
But over the last generation in the United States, that simply hasn’t happened. Growth has been pretty good, up 147 percent per capita. But rather than decline further, the poverty rate has bounced around in the 12 to 15 percent range — higher than it was even in the early 1970s. The mystery of why — and how to change that — is one of the most fundamental challenges in the nation’s fight against poverty.
Read the entire article here.

Monday, June 16, 2014


The photos that follow present images of men I've met over the past several weeks at "the Corner: (use the Search tool at upper left to read more about this special location out near CitySquare's new Opportunity Center).

I post them here without comment.  They are great people, many wounded, broken and struggling.  They are fathers, sons, brothers, unemployed, working, veterans and more. 

Each has a story. 

Each brings a personal and spiritual force to the conversations we enjoy.

None, none should be dismissed out of hand. 

All deserve respect. 

These images could be multiplied in number by a factor of 20 or more. 

Meet some of my friends.




Thursday, June 12, 2014

Development vs compassion: Is it either/or?

Anyone who works with and among low-income persons knows the tension. 

Some simply dismiss it by deciding to go one way or the other. 

And, I suppose that is fine.

I mean, seriously, we recognize that charity or relief does little to reduce demand.  In fact, responding to mounting human need with compassion often turns up the volume and the intensity of the need, and thus, of the demand for help. 

Clearly, the better choice is working on the development side.  Here we discover breakthroughs that shift the needs people have from charitable solutions to systemic, just, more final solutions that they can more easily control or influence.

It's the old give a fish versus teach to fish analogy. 

But, what are we to do in the challenging "between space"?  You know, that time before justice arrives or skills enhancement or new, sustainable work and opportunity show up. 

People have to eat.

Kids have to go to school with clothing and supplies.  Cars have to be fixed, doctor's bills paid and landlords kept happy. 

I realized a long time ago, that as limited in its enduring affect as it is, charity and compassion remain vital to community progress and development.  In meeting immediate needs we encounter the necessary opportunities to build relationships that will pay off later as we strive for community development goals.

Compassionate action can be stewarded into a sort of community renewal  that will put charity along way down the road to being unnecessary, or almost so.

For me, it is not an either/or, but a both/and proposition. 

We all deserve and need justice and opportunity to thrive; but, at the same time, we all need compassion along the way as well. 

So, our community organizing and our jobs training efforts continue alongside our food pantry and our emergency intervention efforts.

It's just life, hopefully together, all of us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

a bare necessity

You may not think of it very often, if at all--that is, unless you are the "needy" one!

The fact is, Dallas has a dearth of public restroom facilities.  This is especially the case in the downtown business district. 

Meditate with me for just a moment, okay? 

Relax for a moment and close your eyes.

Well, er, I guess the "close your eyes" idea won't work unless you read the entire post and then close your eyes. 

But you get my point:  spend a moment to remember a time when you really needed a restroom, but couldn't find one. 

How did that work for you?

Likely, you found what you needed in a store or an office building or a hotel.  Likely, that was because you either were a customer or you looked like one. 

For our homeless friends life doesn't work that way most of the time.

One of the reasons why so many homeless persons have criminal records for "public indecency" is because they are caught relieving themselves without the benefit of an accessible restroom. 

Last Thursday I met an elderly gentleman. 

His hair was snow white. 

His skin was tanned. 

His legs, extending from walking shorts, evidenced symptoms of diabetes.

He was very quiet and reserved. 

I moved on after a few moments. 

Later I spotted him beside the old house on the corner with his back to the street. 

He urinated into the grass for a long time. 

He had to go.  Just like me. 

Humans are funny like that. 

Difference is he has no money or power, while I have plenty of both.

We need downtown public restrooms, and we need them badly.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"broken things that we. . . just need to scrap!"

Prisons aren't working in this nation. 

I observe the results of the work of the penitentiary system every day here in inner city Dallas.  Young men by the thousands (and disproportionately black) find themselves caught up in the criminal justice system to no good end in most cases. 

Prisons don't seem to reform.  They certainly don't educate or equip or transfer saleable skills, at least not the legal variety. 

In general, prisons need to be completely re-thought, redesigned and re-imagined.

I'm thinking of prisons today because I received in the mail just now another letter from a new friend I've been writing. 

He is in prison in Texas. 

Incarcerated at age 19, he's been locked up for 13 years.

He spends his days in a one-man cell. . .

. . .on death row.

The circumstances of his crime don't seem to indicate the death penalty, but that is not the point here.

In his letter my friend spoke of another inmate and then he went on to talk about his life inside.  I'll let you read a part of it here:

"I've a good friend--brother, actually--here who I'll speak with you more of him later.  He's one of the few people since being here whom I've bonded to in a genuine way.  He's a rare character and I'm lucky to have him part of my life--as I sometimes think that it's been our friendship that's saved me at times from going insane.  It's so amazing that we are placed in these cages w/the notion that we have nothing to offer the world and we are virtually these broken things that we as a society just need to scrap!"

The death penalty has always seemed abhorrent.  My new friendship personalizes it for me.  We should abolish the imposition of capital punishment in this state and nation as soon as possible.  My friend deserves better. 

I love what The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church has to say on the death penalty:

We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. . . .  When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person's life ends. . . . we oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes (Section 164 G, page 137).


Monday, June 09, 2014

My friend, Jose, needs relief

[CitySquare's "Urban Engagement Cinema" will present a free, private screening of the film, "DOCUMENTED" on Thursday, June 26 from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM at the Angelika Film Center & CafĂ© (5321 East Mockingbird Lane, Suite 230 in Dallas.  Below is a note from our good friend and partner in justice, Liz Cedillo-Pereira, an attorney practicing immigration and nationality law in the Dallas area.  Very instructive of the real problems facing our dear friends from south of our border here in Texas.  To read more about Jose's case, use the search tool on this page by typing in Jose or Monica and Jose.]

Thank you for showing Documented in Dallas on June 26, 2014.  I’d like to ask that you include two special people as  part of the screening. Frankly, Jose is the reason I have been so committed to the  plight of DREAMers.

As Keilah, Gerald and Larry know,  I have a client named Jose Ibarra (who is copied herein with his wife, Mayra).  Jose  is a  DREAMer who was deported in 2011 (before DACA announcement) for no offense other than being without status. 

He is married to a lovely young woman, Mayra, who is a United States citizen.  She has been delaying college and working full-time to help her mother and survive as a young married woman. 

We are working on bringing Jose back as a lawful permanent resident. 

Now, we have received a request for additional evidence because US CIS states we have not shown sufficient evidence to establish that Mayra is suffering “extreme and unusual” hardship without her husband. 

Their story is one that needs to be told because what they are experiencing amounts to cruel treatment.  Many couples seeking these waivers have children; they do not.  But all they have really is one another. 

He’s been alienated from his wife and family and community for 2.5 years in San Luis Potosi.  He has been beaten by local thugs because he does not look like everyone else.  His wife has to pay $650 for an airline ticket to see him or ride a bus for 16  hours. It’s a scenario that is unsafe for both of them. 

I have been representing Jose since he was placed in removal proceeding for attending his high school senior "skip day" in 2008 – he and his cousin, Monica, were referred to me by Larry James. 

For the upcoming screening of Documented, do you think we can Skype Jose in and have Mayra present as part of the panel?  Their story is much more powerful than anything I can add.

At a recent conference for Grantmakers Concerned for Immigrants and Refugees, I met Theo Rigby, Director of Immigrant Nation (copied herein) who had a showing of his riveting film, The Mayor.  Perhaps, Theo and/or Thorne would be interested in telling Jose and Mayra’s story and Dianne Solis with Dallas Morning News.    

Here is Thorne’s film related to DREAMers.

 All the best, 




Friday, June 06, 2014

A Seattle Model on Wages

[The story of how Seattle put in place a plan to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour provides much to consider.  What follows is a good report from Think Progress.  Reactions invited!]

How A Millionaire, A Socialist, And Some Taco Bell Workers Brought A Living Wage To Seattle

By Alan Pyke   

When Mayor Ed Murray (D) signed a bill that gradually raises Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 an hour on Tuesday, his choice of location seemed to reflect the complex and cooperative process that produced the document he was signing.

Rather than City Hall, Murray chose to hold the signing ceremony in Cal Anderson Park, which was the starting point for some of the many rallies that activists from groups, like 15 Now, organized over the past year. A ballplayer with a good arm would have no trouble throwing a rock from the park’s northwest corner into Dick’s Drive-In, a local Seattle burger chain. The south end of the park looks onto a multi-block stretch of bars and restaurants that has exploded with development and commerce in the past few years. Business interests like these played an essential role in crafting the aggressive-but-thoughtful law that Murray signed in that park on Tuesday.

And just a couple hundred feet west of the park sits Seattle Central Community College, a hub of Occupy Seattle activity and the trampoline from which Socialist Kshama Sawant launched her successful city council campaign.

It took a year of activist pressure, a worker-dominated election cycle that put a socialist on the city council, and several months of hard negotiating across ideological lines, but the new law will raise Seattle workers’ standard of living dramatically over the coming years. Some things about that process may be unique to Seattle, and replicating the exact recipe the city’s labor, business, and political communities used might be impossible. But interviews with some of the most prominent participants reveal that the key ingredients for a $15 minimum wage are completely portable, and could soon come to a city near you.

A Confluence Of Pressure

On the evening of May 29, 2013, Taco Bell and Burger King night shift workers walked off the job, forcing a pair of stores to close. They were joined the next morning by dozens more workers from other chain restaurants in other neighborhoods around the city, who planned to converge in the late morning — near Cal Anderson Park, of course — and march together a little more than a mile west to Denny Park for an afternoon rally. A local progressive activist called it “a powerful kickoff” for a movement that didn’t yet know what shape it would take.

Read the entire article here.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Poverty in Dallas

Last week 231 people showed up for a 7:00 a.m. meeting at Paul Quinn College to talk about poverty. 

But more than that, they showed up to make plans to do something about it. 

The Mayor's Task Force on Poverty heard from outside leaders/experts on the subject.  Linda Gibbs, Deputy Mayor in New York City's Bloomberg Administration and Thad Williamson, a professor at the University of Richmond and director of the new Office of Community Wealth Building for that city, both shared with the group. 

Then, for almost three hours, task force members divided up into focus groups and played "If I were Mayor of Dallas, I would __________," when it comes to the various focus groups' assigned topics. 

At the event, Mayor Mike Rawlings called us to  action and to ideation. 

His urgency rolled my stomach. 

But, it's time for urgency.

Between 2000 and 2012, Dallas' population grew by a modest 5%. 

During that same period, Dallas poverty grew by 41%!

We will keep working. 

Dallasites will hear from our mayor soon. 

We will keep battling poverty with a new fierceness.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Small, simple, functional. . .beauty

For the past few weeks I've been on a self-imposed, "blog sabbatical" prompted both by the most jammed schedule of my work life and "idea fatigue."

With what follows, I think I'm "back."

But, with this many words and phases inside quotation marks, who knows?

Whatever the case, I found the following clip an interesting challenge to our tendency to require, better, demand large living spaces.

I find "small housing" very attractive.

How about you?

[Personal note: R. I. P. Clyde Erwin! We are remembering you on your birthday and for Normandy!]