Oh, Give Me a Home Pt. 2

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Dallas’ Mayor has appointed a Commission on Homelessness. Both CitySquare’s CEO, Larry James and I are among some 30 plus practitioners and advocates whose charge is to

1.  Analyze our community’s current system for addressing homelessness.
2.  Compare it to best practices of similar communities.
3.  Deliver a focused set of strategies and recommendations for the City and County to consider going forward.

The objective is to position Dallas among the highest performing and progressive communities in addressing the complex issues involved with homelessness.

CitySquare has had some success in getting homeless people off the streets. From our, 16 story, vertical community called, CityWalk@Akard, to permanent supportive housing programs, to our soon to open Cottages at Hickory Crossing, as well as our “Homeless Outreach Team” (or HOT), we have learned how to get people into housing, get them back home, or reunite them with family.

CitySquare is not alone in its work among the homeless – in fact, we’re not even alone among those non-profits employing the strategy of permanent supportive housing (PSH) to shelter and another chance for homeless citizens. So with homeless advocates and non-profits willing to provide the opportunities for housing and services, why did tent city exist and why does chronic homelessness persist?

While nearly all of the agencies working to house the homeless have similar success stories, their are at least two fundamental barriers to getting more of our neighbors out of the streets. One challenge identifying units to house more of the homeless. In Dallas, real estate is booming. Many apartment managers who gladly accepted our programs in the past, are now turning to the market where they can make more money than the vouchers we provide. We must develop some carrots and sticks, some of which must be financial, that will both induce and some of which will demand that the developers and managers of multi-family housing make room for homeless and low income families. Even we admit that a project like ‘the Cottages’ is not the most efficient or effective way to combat homelessness. Segregating even the formerly homeless into encampments, does provide them with the role models or the environment in which they have the psychic space to do more and better with their lives. An awareness of the value of such strategies  involving more mixed income housing strategies is realized throughout the country…

“Kelly Stewart Nichols, planning and policy manager at the Austin, Texas, Neighborhood Housing and Community Development department, suggests that local governments prefer mixed-income housing to segregation of low-income residents in 100 percent affordable projects, because “policy lessons have taught us that poverty concentration is not ideal.” She notes that many low-income renters are service workers whose jobs are essential to the community—restaurant staff, retail clerks, cashiers, daycare workers, hairdressers, maintenance technicians, and security guards—or disabled and retired people living on Social Security income.

“In high-rent markets such as New York City, Los Angeles, and the District of Columbia, mixed-income projects allow teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other municipal workers to live in the neighborhoods where they work, says developer Mark Weinstein, who set aside 20 percent of Santee Court in downtown Los Angeles for workforce-affordable housing, because, he says, “it was the right thing to do.” Workforce housing, targeted to people earning 80 to 160 percent of area median income (AMI), is the most difficult category of affordable housing to finance because it does not qualify for tax credits.”

If we are going to provide those sleeping on the streets a home, we will have to include creative mixes of financing, including tax credits. We will also have to reallocate revenues, such as fees, abatements and other credits given to other businesses to make up pools of money to provide further rent subsidies to fund the gaps between ordinary subsidies will pay and what market rate rents are in actuality.

Still another obstacle, there is the Not In My Back Yard (or NIMBY) effect. Nearly everyone concedes permanent supportive housing is a great idea, but just not in my neighborhood. I recently sat with one politician, who told me he was unalterably opposed to any PSH program, anywhere in his district, even though he admitted he had a problem with homelessness, in his district!

Many who object to the policy of ‘housing first/PSH’ for the most part, don’t know any homeless people, and many don’t want to. That’s because so many of us, confuse ‘homeless behavior’ with the behavior of these same people once they are housed. Think of yourself, cut off from friends and family, with little if any money, with nowhere to go and no way to get there if you had someplace to go. What would your behavior be like? Now think of all the benefits we who are housed take for granted when we have the privilege of ‘closing out the world’ when we go ‘home’. Still being ‘homeless’ means more than that.

I remember when we started Destination Home, our PSH program, it was the first Thanksgiving fellowship we had with the new residents. There three men I sat down with to eat. I asked them each, how they became homeless. Each one had a story of loss. Two men had daughters that died. One had lost his mother. The bereavement led one to the loss of a job, another to the break-up of a marriage, two lost  their homes. Then  came addiction. Then actual homelessness.

I listened to them and reflected on their circumstances and I realized they were me! I was fresh off of burying our second son. I had experienced crushing losses as a pastor. Yet the difference is, I had family, friends, church members whose love would not let me go. It took all of them plus God, to keep me out of the grips of severe depression and despair. Short of that, these men were me.

The homeless are those who have fallen through frayed social fabric, a social fabric which has to be rewoven intentionally, by those of us who recognize ourselves in them. And who understand that the cost of letting them remain homeless, is a cost too high for us to bear.

What do you think?

Oh Give Me a Home Pt.1

The subject in Dallas is homelessness.

The plight of the homeless people was raised to high relief  when our City Council determined that the encampment known as ‘Tent City’, with a population of nearly 200, needed to be razed and those who had resided there, be found new housing as soon as possible.

It was cast as a public safety issue. Mainly because a couple of fatal stabbings had taken place and ‘the wrong people’ complained. Tent City, had encroached upon the Cedars: a redevelopment of an area, just south of downtown, but within walking distance – if you don’t have a car – and Old City Park, as well as ‘The Bridge’, Dallas’ ‘official’ emergency shelter.

Tent-city

If I sound a little snarky, forgive me. First of all, Tent City is nothing new. It/they have been around as long as people have been homeless. And violence in Tent City is nothing new. It has occurred among the homeless as long as people have been homeless (just as it has occurred among people who have been adequately housed!). It’s just that this time, violence, murder, drug use, etc. took place too near a neighborhood, in which too many upwardly mobile, transient millennials and middle class whites live. Few of them knew, and I found fewer who cared when, four or five years ago, two or three homeless people died of exposure. To be honest, just like many of us, sudden concern and new found ‘compassion’ seems just a little too convenient.

Dallas now has a task force on homelessness, on which I serve, charged with making recommendations to the City Council by August, on in time their budget considerations. It is my hope, that we resist the urge to come up with quick solutions, or to consider how much our solutions may cost. That’s the Council’s job. I think our responsibility is to come up with effective, comprehensive and efficient solutions to a very difficult problem.

According to Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance’s Point in Time Survey (an annual census of the number and conditions of the homeless – a census mandated by the federal government), There are more than 600 chronically homeless individuals (those who have experienced multiple episodes of homelessness), some 50 homeless veterans, more than 1700 homeless people suffer from mental illness, struggle with addiction, suffer from HIV/AIDS and more than 550 are victims of domestic abuse. These variations of the theme of ‘homelessness’ is why it simply doesn’t work to tell them to ‘go get a job at McDonald’s’.

One of the most effective solutions is the one we employ here at CitySquare, called ‘housing first’. Essentially, the housing first model says, get a person in housing as early as possible and then begin addressing their issues. Housing first, when combined with Permanent Supportive Housing saves on average $36,000 annually with compared to having individuals on the street, or cycling through jails, hospital emergency rooms or mental hospitals.

This approach takes time, intentionality and persistence. But I’ve seen lives change. Like the woman in our program, whose husband divorced her because of her addiction. After spending some time on the street, she got clean and sober and when her ex-husband saw the change in her, he gave her a new van so that she could start her life over. Or the formerly homeless young man who actually had a graduate degree and who, while looking for a job, became a volunteer for CitySquare, helping us to change other lives.

And of course, now we have a new project, The Cottages at Hickory Crossing. A multi-layered funding, service program and a daring concept for Dallas. Fifty small homes for noted ‘frequent fliers’, those for whom homelessness has meant cycling through the expensive ‘solutions’ to housing mentioned above. They will have the intensive case management, health care, mental health care and opportunities to gain the stability necessary to lead productive lives.

cotteges

I’m excited about the prospect. And I know the challenges will be many. But in CitySquare, these people will have friends who won’t go away. And our highest hope is that the city will see this as a replicable model. No matter the cos

What do you think?

 

 

A National Day of Mourning

I woke up early Sunday morning the horrible news and was forced by both conscience and curiosity to turn to it on and off all day. A madman, entered a night club in Orlando, Florida and engaged in the massacre of at least 49 people, wounding 53 with the shooter, himself being killed by police at the scene.

orlando

It was a horrendous scene, even from 1200-1300 miles away. A gay nightclub. People minding their own business. Having a good time. Visited upon by an unspeakable act of violence designed to traumatize them and terrify our nation.

The  textbook definition of terrorism.

Four days have passed and we know more about the gunman. We know the weapons he used – at least one of which was an AR-15, the dreaded killing machine of choice, the design of which serves no other purpose but to take human life. We know that although he was of Afghan descent, he was an American, born in Queens, New York. We know he was a terribly disturbed young man who’s actions took many lives and ruined many others.

Politically, I think we all know – at least the most rational thinking of us – that this will keep happening, as long we have no meaningful gun control laws to stem the tide of such carnage. I agree with Hillary Clinton, no gun control law is going to stop all gun violence, but it will save some lives. What type of death toll is acceptable? Far, far fewer than we saw Sunday morning.

But such an action lies with the legislators we elect, which to some degree, puts it out of our hands, at least until election time. What we need is to feel as if we are doing something. I heard one suggestion that gets to the heart of it. We need a day of National Mourning. A chance to grieve what we have lost, indeed what we are losing as a country. In our congregations, of whatever faith, in public gatherings of a peaceful nature, we need express our frustrations and fears regarding this tragic incident and this tragic time. We need to be heard.

But we also need to hear from mature people of courage in those congregations and secular gatherings. People who have, themselves, born heavy burdens, and who can remind us that it will be alright and remind us of the foundations of our spiritual and, even our democratic faith.

We need to feel some connection with those who are suffering. Perhaps we need to write letters to the survivors and let them know we thank God for their lives. Write letters to the families of those who did not survive and let them know that we thank God for the lives of their loved ones.

Most importantly, we need to avoid knee jerk, easy answers that make us feel better, or superior to those still searching for answers. I had to take the time to We don’t need to be rushed to conclusions that this was an attack by a terrorist (It’s looking more and more like its not); or that we need new gun laws (which I believe we do). This is a time of reflection…

We need to reflect on these 49 deaths, and the deaths 22 babies in New Town, and the deaths in the Arizona shopping strip that nearly took the life of a sitting member of congress; the murders in the Denver theater; the massacre in the South Carolina church, the near daily slaughter in the city of Chicago.

We need time to reflect.

To Grieve.

To Mourn.

To Pray.

Because there’s not just something keeping us from doing whats wrong; there’s something keeping us from doing the right we know to do. And I believe that’s why these heinous acts keep reoccurring.

What do you think? Talk it over…

 

 

 

 

Are You Up for a Challenge?

I want this to be a different type of blog. A different kind of conversation; a conversation not just between you and me, but you, me and others.

I’m afraid to admit that my vocabulary is so limited, that I don’t have words to express how important conversation is. Conversation  is actually at the heart of our democracy. Our democratic culture is dependent upon conversation, debate, negotiation and compromise, all of which means we must listen to and be heard by one another.

And so, I do want this to be a conversation…but not just between you and me, but you me and others. Other people you know. Other people you know well…and perhaps others you don’t know so well. So here’s what I’d like for you to do with this blog…

Many of the subjects raised in these posts are going to be, more or less, opinion pieces: what I think about culture, race, politics, poverty, education, etc. Some of these opinions will provoke interest, thought, maybe even some level of indignation. But all are meant to provoke conversation. More particularly some degree of face-to-face conversation. Designed for you to leave your computer (or whatever device you use) and take the subject matter and actually talk with someone you know about what you’ve read. It’s not necessary to give me attribution. But what is necessary is that you talk with someone about what you’ve read. You may be surprised at who disagrees with you. You may be surprised with who agrees with you. But have these conversations.

Today, we live in a world in which most of our dealings are with people who are just like us. They look, worship, vote, and go to the same schools as we do. They, for the most part, have the same worldview as we do. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if we broke out of that mold, approached someone different, told them how we felt about something we’ve read that provoked interest and they in turn, told us what they thought? What if they believed or thought of a situation in an entirely different way? How would that impact you? Change you? Give you another perspective once you went back and talked to your friends?

Look, I know the internet isn’t supposed to work this way. But what if we used it as a tool to begin serious, thoughtful conversations, versus knee jerk reactions? What if we began to change hearts and minds with those conversations?  Or what if no hearts or minds were changed, but we were simply exposed to a different point of view? It would be the equivalent of 10,000 cups of coffee being shared by thousands of people representing the start of a real democratic revolution that may get us back to civility, sanity and respect for one another. Hence the name of this blog. Hence the challenge.

For those who want to broaden the conversation, you can post the result of interesting conversations that you have with others on, CitySquare’s Public Policy Facebook Group. But I would encourage you to have the face-to-face conversations first and let’s try and change this world!

Are you up for the challenge?