Friday, January 30, 2015

The author

Read the following excerpt lifted from a letter I received not long ago. 

After you've read it, I'll reveal who wrote it.

The day is all about reading and writing for me here.  That's the things that change in my day:  what I'm doing with my time. Otherwise, the system offers nothing but a routine subsistence of nothingness that grinds one's soul down also to nothingness.  It is beneficial thus to find some reliance also to nothingness.  It is beneficial thus to find some reliance on your mind, your spirit--the Lord--and discover some meaning and purpose for your life.  And there invest your energies, and in so doing you don't spend energy--you cultivate it and it will sustain you when even all that is left is death.  I don't fear death (so much!) but the "death" I do GREATLY fear is a life devoid of purpose, meaning and intention:  I fear waking up and having nowhere to go, to strive toward--no dreams.  I think this is something I have discovered here to generate on my own:  my meaning, my dreams. . .because here these things aren't given.  Peace. . . .

This thoughtful letter came from the hand of a 33-year-old young man who makes his home on death row in a Texas prison.  He has done so for the last 14 years. 

He has become my friend.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Inclusive capitalism?

A good, relatively new friend sent me a message that read in part:

I just emailed to you a column from the NY Times talking about “inclusive capitalism.”  Reading it made me think of your concept of the wealth of the poor.   .   .   .  The fact is that the poor and the middle class have been hammered for too long and there must be a way for them too to share in the wealth they are helping to create.  If our capitalistic society cannot create wealth for the vast majority of our people, then at some point our people will reject it, which would be a disaster.  The secret to our success has been that those who hold the levers of wealth have been far sighted enough to understand that unfettered capitalism will over time devour itself, so balance must be struck with government regulation.  We have managed to do that most of the time, but the balance is now frayed.  Regulated capitalism makes the most sense, because capitalism is the very best way to engineer wealth in a democracy.  We need to keep it that way.

All the best to you in the new year.
You can read the article he refers to here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Grateful for not sneezing!

My dear friend and colleague, Randy Mayeux shared an inspirational post on Monday, as we celebrated the amazing life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Read his wonderful words here

Note:  you'll do yourself a big favor is you read Randy's blog on a regular basis!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

University students use creative partnerships to battle poverty!

From The Dallas Morning News
Editorial: Duke, Paul Quinn and Abilene Christian University do poverty-busting in Dallas

Read all about it here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tough reality often overlooked, not understood

 How Expensive It Is to Be Poor
Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center released a study that found that most wealthy Americans believed “poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.”
This is an infuriatingly obtuse view of what it means to be poor in this country — the soul-rending omnipresence of worry and fear, of weariness and fatigue. This can be the view only of those who have not known — or have long forgotten — what poverty truly means.
“Easy” is a word not easily spoken among the poor. Things are hard — the times are hard, the work is hard, the way is hard. “Easy” is for uninformed explanations issued by the willfully callous and the haughtily blind.
Allow me to explain, as James Baldwin put it, a few illustrations of “how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”
First, many poor people work, but they just don’t make enough to move out of poverty — an estimated 11 million Americans fall into this category.

So, as the Pew report pointed out, “more than half of the least secure group reports receiving at least one type of means-tested government benefit.”

And yet, whatever the poor earn is likely to be more heavily taxed than the earnings of wealthier citizens, according to a new analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. As The New York Times put it last week:
“According to the study, in 2015 the poorest fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in state and local taxes, the middle fifth will pay 9.4 percent and the top 1 percent will average 5.4 percent.”
In addition, many low-income people are “unbanked” (not served by a financial institution), and thus nearly eaten alive by exorbitant fees. As the St. Louis Federal Reserve pointed out in 2010:

“Unbanked consumers spend approximately 2.5 to 3 percent of a government benefits check and between 4 percent and 5 percent of payroll check just to cash them. Additional dollars are spent to purchase money orders to pay routine monthly expenses. When you consider the cost for cashing a bi-weekly payroll check and buying about six money orders each month, a household with a net income of $20,000 may pay as much as $1,200 annually for alternative service fees — substantially more than the expense of a monthly checking account.”

Even when low-income people can become affiliated with a bank, those banks are increasingly making them pay “steep rates for loans and high fees on basic checking accounts,” as The Times’s DealBook blog put it last year.
And poor people can have a hard time getting credit. As The Washington Post put it, the excesses of the subprime boom have led conventional banks to stay away from the riskiest borrowers, leaving them “all but cut off from access to big loans, like mortgages.”
One way to move up the ladder and out of poverty is through higher education, but even that is not without disproportionate costs. As the Institute for College Access and Success noted in March:
“Graduates who received Pell Grants, most of whom had family incomes under $40,000, were much more likely to borrow and to borrow more. Among graduating seniors who ever received a Pell Grant, 88 percent had student loans in 2012, with an average of $31,200 per borrower. In contrast, 53 percent of those who never received a Pell Grant had debt, with an average of $26,450 per borrower.”

And often, work or school requires transportation, which can be another outrageous expense. According to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:

“Low- and moderate-income households spend 42 percent of their total annual income on transportation, including those who live in rural areas, as compared to middle-income households, who spend less than 22 percent of their annual income on transportation.”
And besides, having a car can make prime targets of the poor. One pernicious practice that the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — and the protests that followed — resurfaced was the degree to which some local municipalities profit from police departments targeting poor communities, with a raft of stops, fines, summonses and arrests supported by police actions and complicit courts.
As NPR reported in August:

“In 2013, the municipal court in Ferguson — a city of 21,135 people — issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses, mostly driving violations.”

The story continued:

“ArchCity Defenders, a St. Louis-area public defender group, says in its report that more than half the courts in St. Louis County engage in the ‘illegal and harmful practices’ of charging high court fines and fees on nonviolent offenses like traffic violations — and then arresting people when they don’t pay.”
The list of hardships could go on for several more columns, but you get the point: Being poor is anything but easy.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dr. King and now

The Ultimate Measure

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Moving beyond charity. . .

Showing a Lack of Faith

To feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the harborless without also trying to change the social order so that people can feed, clothe and shelter themselves is just to apply palliatives. It is to show a lack of faith in one’s fellows, their responsibilities as children of God, heirs of heaven.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Help with annual homeless census


Contact: David Gruber, Development Manager, MDHA
2015 Point-In-Time (PIT) Homeless Count
This Thursday, January 22, 2015
Dallas, Texas – If you happen to be standing in front of Dallas City Hall this coming Thursday, January 22, 2015 at 5pm, you will see an interesting sight. A few hundred people will gather in front of the building, only to then fan out into the night. Their mission? To count and survey those in our community who are experiencing homelessness. The Point-In-Time (PIT) Homeless Count in Dallas is conducted by the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA), and is a requirement under U.S. Law. 
In fact, during the final ten days of January such counts will take place in every community across our nation. The PIT, which occurs every year, allows communities and the nation as whole to track progress towards ending homelessness, and gather vital data about the needs of those experiencing homelessness. Dallas and the nation as a whole are committed to ending veteran homelessness this year and chronic homelessness next year.
Here in Dallas, MDHA’s grantees and partner agencies count guests and residents in shelters and housing sites, while the above mentioned community volunteers, escorted by Dallas police officers, locate and count those living elsewhere. Similar counts are conducted the same night by the Collin County Homeless Coalition and by the cities of Garland, Irving and Mesquite, who are all part the Dallas area Continuum of Care organization, which is led by MDHA.
MDHA still needs volunteers for this huge operation, which in Dallas is subsidized by the Real Estate Council Foundation. Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age, should wear clothing appropriate for the weather and comfortable shoes, and bring a flashlight, a pen, and a clipboard.
For questions, contact Shavon Moore, at or 972.638.5627  

Friday, January 16, 2015

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Living with a bridge over your head. . .

My friend, Patrick Kennedy started the debate over a year ago.  His "crazy idea" to tear down the-badly-in-need-of-repair I-345 bridge to re-route traffic through Downtown Dallas gained legs and continues to spark a lively community argument. 

Patrick has lots of allies.  And, I find the idea one worth more conversation for sure.

The move promises to bring more economic development to the center city.  I'd like it much better, to the point of excitement, if I had confidence that the planners and deal makers would include low-income folks in the planning, especially as it relates to the development of much-needed housing stock for low-income and no-income residents. 

DMagazine this month has a word from its publisher, Wick Allison.  Wick is all for the tear down ( "Breaking the Concrete Noose,"  DMagazine, January 2015, page 13).  I respect his perspective.  His arguments are convincing, especially as they relate to economic development and expansion Downtown. 

There is a lot of wasted space beneath those interstate bridges.  Routing folks through and, in very different case of I-30, around the city makes all sorts of sense from economic and quality of life considerations.

That said, the chances of something this creative happening seems remote to me. 

That sad assessment of what's possible in reality sent me off in pursuit of a real dream development! 

This happens to me all the time. 

Tell me no or go away or forget it, and what do I do?  I press harder and toward even more extreme "solutions." 

Sorry, it's just me.

So, about all that wasted space beneath the bridges near Downtown.  How is it used today? 

Well, it appears fair game for graffiti artists, blowing trash tossed out carelessly from speeding traffic and, yes, people who set up encampments because they have no place to call home. 

Homeless people live under our overpass highway bridges all over this city.  Walk under any of these bridges where you find dry ground.  You'll find squatters who prefer their freedom of choice and habit to night shelters. 

Here's my crazy, big "what if?"

What if we developed these under-spaces with housing units for some of our poorest neighbors? 

Think about that for just a moment--give me 30-45 seconds at least!

Combine the work of a creative architect and a land planner to develop a housing concept for these under-freeway dwellings. 

Sign on area non-profits who specialize in high touch concierge services/counsel for prospective residents.  Work with local business owners to help locate some of these folks in jobs Downtown and elsewhere, thanks to DART. 

The effect would not bring more homeless persons Downtown.  If anything, close-in housing would attract chronically homeless, vagrant types to become residents. 

What do you have when you add an apartment to the life experience of a homeless person?  A person with a home, and therefore one less homeless person on our streets. 

Housing under our streets, not on them! 

Any designers, architects and land planners want to take a stab at "underpass housing" sketches for me?  I'll publish them here and on all my social media if you'll just send them my way! 

Dreaming of a better city.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Homelessness should be illegal

You read me correctly. 

We should pass laws that make being homeless a crime in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. 

The idea is not a new one.  More and more people talk like it's exactly what ought to be done. 

I agree. 

Of course, there is a slight "catch" in the plan I envision.  Follow with me.

If we determined homelessness to be against the law in our community and we found that a group of our neighbors possessed absolutely no capacity to obey such an ordinance due to the fact that they had no home and no capacity to secure one, then it would be absolutely incumbent on us to provide accessible housing for those who had no options regarding housing and the law we want to enforce. 

To impose legal categories and requirements on people possessing no chance of being compliant would be unjust, don't you think?

By the way, emergency night shelters don't count as homes.  Everyone who uses a shelter at night is still categorized as homeless by everyone from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to those who manage local night shelters.  As a matter of fact, certification from a shelter is one of the main ways a person can establish or prove that they are in fact homeless. 

Any law passed to make a behavior illegal should also include a provision that offers some reasonable pathway for a person to obey its requirements.

So, outlaw homelessness and at the same time you pass that ordinance open up permanent housing for everyone who needs it. 

Everyone would win! 

The public would save tax dollars because keeping people on the street or allowing them to stay there costs much more than providing permanent housing. 

Can't you see it working out? 

"Homelessness is now illegal.   Get off the street!"

"Here are keys to your home"--be it house, apartment or group home. 

That's a statute to outlaw homelessness that I could get behind!

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Cottages at Hickory Crossing coming out of the ground at last!

At last, construction is underway at The Cottages at Hickory Crossing! 

The video below shows crews preparing to pour the foundation for the community services building.  Next comes 50 single family  houses for 50 of the "most expensive" homeless persons to Dallas County:  those who use the most public resources to survive, including hospital, ER services, mental health services, EMS services and jail services.

We hope to occupy this new development before summer 2015.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Old Deuteronomy, a class act!

You have to know this fellow to really appreciate him!

A scared stray who'd obviously been mistreated, Old Deuteronomy, as he's called now, is nothing but a class act. 

About like an over-stuffed teddy bear weighing in at almost 20 pounds, this big guy brings me lots of joy!

Friday, January 09, 2015

From a Koch brother: Sane prison policy and poverty

[Possibly things can change for the better!  After you read this, tell me what you think.]

The Overcriminalization of America
How to reduce poverty and improve race relations by rethinking our justice system.
As Americans, we like to believe the rule of law in our country is respected and fairly applied, and that only those who commit crimes of fraud or violence are punished and imprisoned.  But the reality is often different. It is surprisingly easy for otherwise law-abiding citizens to run afoul of the overwhelming number of federal and state criminal laws. This proliferation is sometimes referred to as “overcriminalization,”which affects us all, but most profoundly harms our disadvantaged citizens.
Overcriminalization has led to the mass incarceration of those ensnared by our criminal justice system, even though such imprisonment does not always enhance public safety.  Indeed, more than half of federal inmates are nonviolent drug offenders.  Enforcing so many victimless crimes inevitably leads to conflict between our citizens and law enforcement.  As we have seen all too often, it can place our police officers in harm’s way, leading to tragic consequences for all involved.

How did we get in this situation?  It began with well-intentioned lawmakers who went overboard trying to solve perceived or actual problems.  Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year.  Over  time, this has translated into more than 4,500 federal criminal laws spread across 27,000 pages of the United States federal code.  (This number does not include the thousands of criminal penalties in federal regulations.)  As a result, the United States is the world’s largest jailer — first in the world for total number imprisoned and first among industrialized nations in the rate of incarceration.  The United States represents about 5 percent of the world's population, but houses around 25 percent of the world's prisoners.
We have paid a heavy price for mass incarceration and could benefit by reversing this trend.  It has been estimated that at least 53 percent of those entering prison were living at or below the U.S. poverty line when their sentence began. Incarceration leads to a 40 percent decrease in annual earnings, reduced job tenure and higher unemployment.  A Pew Charitable Trust study revealed that two-thirds of former inmates with earnings in the bottom fifth upon release in 1986, remained at or below that level 20 years later. A Villanova University study concluded that “had mass incarceration not occurred, poverty would have decreased by more than 20 percent, or about 2.8 percentage points” and “several million fewer people would have been in poverty in recent years.”

Read the entire article here. 

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Same Old Hustle

It happens to me a lot, especially around church settings.

The latest experience came on Christmas Eve as I attempted to make my way into the late night service.

I saw the old man, bent over, but determined as he approached me.

I'd seen him before, and often outside the YMCA downtown.

He worked the same con on me.

 "Sir, I mean no disrespect, but I'm just out of the hospital and I'm trying to get home to Abilene, " he made his pitch as he extended a handful of documents and offered his Texas ID.

I'd heard the story, with a variation or two many times from him.  In previous iterations his health distress was complicated by his having missed a bus west.

"Sir, we've talked often.  You need what I don't have, my previous counsel didn't satisfy you, nor can I tonight," I tried to explain.

He walked away in disgust.

I watched him, feeling conflicted as I walked into the warmth of a dimly lit sanctuary about to burst with celebration, memories, rich sentiment and the inspiration of grace made real.

I know I did the correct thing technically, unless my goal was to purchase him a bottle of comfort.

Still, as I walked my way and he his, I knew in a deeper way possibly as never before that to the one I'd come to remember and thank, I appeared and behaved like this poor, struggling man.

I have my own cons with their ridiculous pitches.

I want my needs satisfied in my own ways, and on my terms, thank you very much.

At times I fool myself, and even try to fool those around me, including the one I'd come to worship during Advent.

The bent over gentleman and I need exactly the same thing: grace, honesty and another chance to get life right.

Neither of us can make much progress without a mutual respect for one another.

Both of us need to ditch the pitch, the hustle, the passing game.

I hope to see him again.

Possibly we can talk about what we both really need.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

How to rebuild a broken city. . .

   Commitment to Change

Deep in us we know that the transformation of a city is dependent on transformed people and that finally a commitment to the building of the city has to involve a commitment to change in us.