Dallas’ Homeless Epidemic…

TZ1-HOMELESS COMMISSION_1470188162918_1790345_ver1.0I wasn’t at Dallas’ City Council briefing yesterday, when the Dallas Homeless Commission gave them the results of our study compiled over the summer. Believe it or not, I was in meetings, trying to build support for a new permanent supportive housing initiative! So, I was relegated to news reports.

Let’s just say, that I am unimpressed with the response of our council…

According to the Dallas Morning News, the range of responses went from calls for more ‘innovative’ responses to calls for the city to ‘own’ the problem…

“Reactions from council members were mixed. Some were critical of the commission’s first presentation, saying the group didn’t try to find new ideas to address homelessness…“If the council doesn’t get serious about this problem … we’ll have this problem perpetually,” council member Lee Kleinman said.”

Here are the facts: The city of Dallas has ignored the ‘new ideas to address homelessness’ for decades. The ideas presented ARE the new ideas to address homelessness based on best practices across the nation. And in response to Lee Kleinman…RIGHT ON! This problem DOES belong to the city of Dallas. If there was no CitySquare, no Austin Street Shelter, no Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, Dallas homeless would still be the problem of the city of Dallas.

The response of Dallas Commission on Homelessness to its charge, was that the city initially invest, $3 million which would house about 600 homeless vets and chronically homeless adults (I DO have a problem with the ask, because its way too low – although, I’ve been assured it’s actually closer to $9 million. Dallas has at least 3800 homeless people. Any proposal that doesn’t include enough money to address the needs of at least 25% to half of them in the next 18 months isn’t realistic…but that’s just me…).

Dallas has doesn’t have a Homeless problem. Dallas has a Homeless epidemic. If we had nearly 4000 citizens, afflicted with any disease…the Zika virus, ebola, pneumonia, that’s just how it would be defined…an epidemic. That’s how we need to see it, an epidemic, one from which most of the people afflicted, will almost certainly die. They will die sicker, and younger, from diseases that are more treatable and/or curable than the rest of our more healthy population.

The difference is they are poorer than the rest of us. That makes it easier for us not to care as much. That makes them easier to ignore and to drag out arguments about what we can and should do about them, and to substitute and confuse our arguments for action. Until we all become incredibly less rich…in ways we can’t even imagine…




Black vs. White Anger…Must We Be Enemies? Can We Be Allies?

One of the things, this time in our history is showing me is the degree to which we all think our circumstances are ‘unique’: blacks and whites, elite and plebiscites, old and young, working class and middle class. We all think we have a more of a grievance than the other guy.

Nowhere is our conflict national played out more starkly than in our politics, and our capacity (or lack there of) to see one another as allies rather than ‘enemies’.

Take for example Donald Trump’s core constituency – the white male without a college degree, which means they have a high school diploma. These are people who, at one time had relatively good paying jobs, and have either lost those jobs through off-shoring, because of technology and because of age, education or lack of training, have little to no opportunity (as they see it) to participate in a new economy. They are experiencing a rising drug abuse problem, one of the surest signs of hopelessness and despair. They pay less and less attention to the impact of religion, aside from the more cultural and communal aspects of faith.

Yet, blacks, Hispanics, the so-called ‘natural constituency’ of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, say pretty much the same things.

Take a look at this video clip from Saturday morning’s ‘Smerconish’ on CNN. A young man, J.D. Vance who grew up in Appalachia, has written a book entitled,  ‘Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis’ in which he seeks to explain why these people, in terms of culture, in terms of dwindling career prospects and fears of lack of opportunity for their children feel the bitterness, resentment and disaffection that he claims as the rational for supporting Donald Trump.

But, this rationale has been pointed to as the reasons for the poverty within the black community. William Julius Wilson, wrote a book years ago, entitled ‘When Work Disappears’, in which he describes the rise of poverty and the crumbling of society and culture within the inner city…

“There is a new poverty in American metropolises that has consequences for a range of issues relating to the quality of life in urban areas, including race relations. By the ‘new urban poverty’, I mean poor, segregated neighbourhoods in which a majority of individual adults are either unemployed or have dropped out or never been a part of the labour force. This jobless poverty today stands in sharp contrast to previous periods. In 1950, a substantial portion of the urban black population in the United States was poor but they were working. Urban poverty was quite extensive but people held jobs. However, as we entered the 1990s most poor adults were not working in a typical week in the ghetto neighbourhoods of America’s larger cities. For example, in 1950 a significant majority of adults held jobs in a typical week in the three neighbourhoods that represent the historic core of the Black Belt in the city of Chicago — Douglas, Grand Boulevard and Washington Park — the three neighbourhoods of Chicago that received the bulk of black migrants from the South in the early to mid-twentieth century. But by 1990 only four in ten in Douglas worked in a typical week, 1 in 3 in Washington Park, and 1 in 4 in Grand Boulevard. In 1950, 69 percent of all males 14 and over who lived in these three neighbourhoods worked in a typical week, and in 1960, 64 percent of this group were so employed.

“However, by 1990 only 37 percent of all males 16 and over held jobs in a typical week in these three neighbourhoods. The disappearance of work has adversely affected not only individuals and families, but the social life of neighbourhoods as well. Inner-city joblessness in America is a severe problem that is often overlooked or obscured when the focus is mainly on poverty and its consequences. Despite increases in the concentration of poverty since 1970, inner cities in the United States have always featured high levels of poverty, but the levels of inner-city joblessness reached during the first half of the 1990s was unprecedented. I should note that when I speak of ‘joblessness’ I am not solely referring to official unemployment. The unemployment rate, as measure  in the United States, represents only the percentage of workers in the official labour force — that is, those who are actively looking for work. It does not include those who are outside of or have dropped out the labour market, including the nearly 6 million males 25 to 60 who appeared in the census statistics but were not recorded in the labour market statistics in 1990 (Thurow 1995). These uncounted males in the labour market are disproportionately represented in the inner-city ghettos…”

“The disappearance of work in many inner-city neighbourhoods is in part related to the nation-wide decline in the fortunes of low-skilled workers. The sharp decline in the relative demand for unskilled labour has had a more adverse effect on blacks than on whites in the United States because a substantially larger proportion of African-Americans are unskilled. Although the number of skilled blacks (including managers, professionals and technicians) has increased sharply in the last several years, the proportion of those who are unskilled remains large, because the black population, burdened by cumulative experiences of racial restrictions, was overwhelmingly unskilled just several decades ago (Schwartzman 1997). The factors involved in the decreased relative demand for unskilled labour include:

• the computer revolution (i.e., the spread of new technologies that displaced low-skilled workers and rewarded the more highly trained),

• the rapid growth in college enrolment that increased the supply and reduced the relative cost of skilled labour, and

• the growing internationalisation of economic activity, including trade liberalisation policies which reduced the price of imports and raised the output of export industries (Schwartzman 1997; Krueger 1997; Katz 1996).

“Whereas the increased output of export industries aids skill workers, simply because skill workers are heavily represented in export industries, increasing imports, especially those from developing countries that compete with labour-intensive industries (for example, apparel, textile, toy, footwear and some manufacturing industries) hurt unskilled labour (Schwartzman 1997), and therefore would have significant negative implications for American black workers. For example, 40 percent of the workforce in the apparel industry is African-American. But, inner-city workers in the United States face an additional problem — the growing suburbanisation of jobs. Most ghetto residents cannot afford an automobile and therefore have to rely on public transit systems that make the connection between inner-city neighbourhoods and suburban job locations difficult and time consuming.”

Granted, while black unemployment improved throughout the ’90’s, the reasons for unemployment and poverty is are virtually the same. Certainly the results are. Yet, white anger around these issues is considered almost ‘righteous indignation’, while black anger is considered to be a type of rage of an ‘unworthy’ class.

Why aren’t we allies?

There is clearly an election year effort to divide our country along race and class lines. There always is. It appears to be working…again.

Elizabeth Warren made reference to a speech made by Martin Luther King in which he spoke of the origins of the efforts of a more affluent white class to divide poor blacks and whites, along race and class lines. The speech was actually given at the end of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March, that ultimately led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Here is the excerpt that contains the actual quote in context…

“Racial segregation as a way of life did not come about as a natural result of hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War. There were no laws segregating the races then. And as the noted historian, C. Vann Woodward, in his book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, clearly points out, the segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land. You see, it was a simple thing to keep the poor white masses working for near-starvation wages in the years that followed the Civil War. Why, if the poor white plantation or mill worker became dissatisfied with his low wages, the plantation or mill owner would merely threaten to fire him and hire former Negro slaves and pay him even less. Thus, the southern wage level was kept almost unbearably low.

“Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened. That is what was known as the Populist Movement. The leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses and the former Negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests. Not only that, but they began uniting the Negro and white masses into a voting bloc that threatened to drive the Bourbon interests from the command posts of political power in the South.

“To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society. I want you to follow me through here because this is very important to see the roots of racism and the denial of the right to vote. Through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement. They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century.

“If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. He gave him Jim Crow. And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. And he ate Jim Crow. And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, their last outpost of psychological oblivion…”

It is interesting to me that the party of individualism and self reliance is actively courting the votes of those who perceive themselves as ‘victims’ of ‘the system’. It’s ‘the man’ keeping them down in other words. They are blaming the government for their children turning to drugs (whatever happened to “Just say ‘No’?). And what’s the difference in jobs leaving to go overseas and jobs leaving communities and moving to the hinterlands where public transportation doesn’t go?.

It seems like poor and near poor whites have much more in common than separates them from poor black people. They would appear to be natural allies. Yet they and their interests are being pitted against one another. And yet the answer for one group is that the government will fix your problems. The answer for the other group is ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. And both are being told someone else is to blame for their lot in life.

Anyone see anything wrong with this picture?



Oh, Give Me a Home Pt. 2


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?