Friday, August 05, 2016

Cindy Crain: First responders should not be our first response to homelessness

G.J. McCarthy/The Dallas Morning News
People pitch a tent under I-45 south of downtown after being kicked out Tent City Tuesday, May 3, 2016 in Dallas.
Three months ago, a patrol officer called me regarding a person experiencing homelessness who was trespassing. I asked the officer to hand his cell phone to the man. I calmed him and recommended a solution, and he agreed.

Unfortunately, my staff and I were not immediately available to help. The Dallas Police Crisis Intervention Team was working on stacked calls. The two street outreach workers were knee-deep in cases involving the Interstate 45 tent city removal.

I called the officer back. I could clearly hear his frustration and agitation. He had been on this call for more than an hour, and it was hot outside.

"Ma'am, if y'all cannot get here soon, I am going to take him in."


Thursday, August 04, 2016

People keep asking me. . .

Never before have more people asked me more times this one question:

"Larry, when will The Cottages open?"

A close second is:

"Are The Cottages open yet?"

So many people have asked so many times in so many places with such interest that I feel the need to give you the "inside scoop" on why this creative project has taken us so long to complete. 

And, I get it!  We intended to open the project in the fall last year, already! 

So, here are the reasons--not excuses, reasons:

1)  2015 turned out to be the wettest year on record in Texas.  Rain, heavy rains and storms slowed the earliest, muddiest times of the year, and then some. 

2) We endured a few "technical issues."  Early on, civil engineering challenges were a factor.  Our contractor made a big mistake when he ordered a big shipment of the wrong materials for the houses.  The order had to be resubmitted, delaying us several weeks. There were other fairly typical matters that you just expect, but taken with the other matters simply added to our "days behind" count. 

3)  Our General Contractor got sick and almost died.  Our project was a tough one, made tougher by the 6-week plus absence of the leader of the company in charge of the project due to serious health problems. 

4)  We finally landed a competent project superintendent who shortly thereafter suffered a serious heart attack on the job! Shortly after surgery, he was back on the job and will see it to completion.  Still, a very disruptive event for our project.

5)  Our award-winning design strategy turned out to be very difficult to construct, requiring artisans to address the challenging metal work, a slow, tedious process. 

6)  More recently , the General Contractor underestimated the amount of material needed to complete a crucial aspect of the build out--another time draining mistake. 

7)  In general, across our region, labor is in very short, highly competitive supply.  We have not been able to keep enough workers on our job, our comparatively smaller job.  Our staggering progress is the result of this labor reality. 

Thankfully, we negotiated a guaranteed cost contract, so cost overruns are not a big concern. 

It's all about time.

As I read back over my list, I can tell you again I don't intend these to be excuses. 

There is no excuse for this ridiculous delay. 

Every day we delay means that 50 people have no home to call their own. 

No one is more upset by the time delay than I am, unless it is CitySquare's  Neighbor Supportive Services team and/or John Greenan, our leader at the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation.

I'm sure I've overlooked something else that has slowed us down.  The Cottages will be wonderful.  They've been too hard to bring to life for the result to be anything but terrific. 

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Irish wisdom, delivered and received

Recently, John Greenan, Executive Director of the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation, traveled to Ireland to present a paper at the Second International Housing First Conference at the University of Limerick.   No doubt, John represented us well with this presentation. 
While he was away, he sent me an email that made me think  (John's like that continually!).  Here's just a part of what he communicated to me: 

. . . going to the Housing First conference made me realize just how much we are doing. Combined, CitySquare and Central Dallas CDC are housing more formerly homeless people than any European country except France.

The Cottages themselves are a bigger project than any countries but France and Belgium have taken on.

France has now managed to house 600 homeless people for two years--after a full two-year planning process with real experts in the field--people with doctorates in the social sciences and psychology and the full support of the French government (which in France means a  lot). And the only reason the French were able to do so much is because their national health system is so robust that they didn't have to bring on or pay for additional support services. All they had to do was find the people and put them in apartments with vouchers. . . .

Actually, Denmark is doing a project for twelve homeless men, but that's it. Ireland thinks it has a terrible problem because Dublin, which is almost exactly the same size as Dallas, has 100 "rough sleepers" (the European term for unsheltered homeless people). We had almost three times that number in Tent City alone before it was taken down.

I understand John's point, and am encouraged by it.

But, there is something else here:  a troubling comparison.  European nations experience nothing near the terrible scale of our homeless population in the U. S. 

Why is that?

I'm sure there are contextual complexities that I don't understand.  However, it seems clear that European nations do a much, much better job at prevention than we do in this country.  Many of the factors that topple individuals and families into homelessness just aren't present in France. 

Why do you suppose this is true?  I

n large part Europe does better at preventing homelessness from ever happening because of things like: 

Universal health care

Mental health services

Living wages

Housing supports

Worker's leave benefits

Much of our hard work on housing development would not be necessary if we as a people decided to put in place systems of protection and support designed to assist and benefit neighbors who need a hand up, back onto the road to success.

Lots to think about here.

Monday, August 01, 2016

HighPoint Family Living

The HighPoint Family Living development will celebrate its grand opening in late August!

The multi-family complex, the latest in the portfolio of our sister organization, the Central Dallas Community Developmnet Corporation, offers great high quality housing for families and individuals.

Congratulations to John Greenan and his team.

And, a big thank you to Bank of America CDC, our partners in this great endeavor.

Drive by the development at 414 W. Louisiana Avenue here in Dallas.