When confronted by news of yet another social 'problem', have you ever wanted everyone to stop the 'What if' and get to the 'Here's how!'? I know I do.
That's why I feel tremendously proud of our efforts at Central Dallas Ministries to put a dent in the problem of homelessness.
At the beginning of the year, I was asked to add to my responsibilities the supervision of a fledgling program we call Destination Home. Destination Home is a permenant supportive housing program built on philosophy of 'housing first'. Now that may sound too much like non-profit, sociology, insider speak, but it essentially means this - we believe that we can help solve the problem of homelessness for a number of people by giving them access to the dignity that comes with having the privacy that comes with a roof over their heads, and a key in their pocket. We don't make it a rule that they participate in a recovery program, church service or Bible study. They must simply be chronically homeless and verifiably disabled, and they cannot have a criminal background. The qualifications that I just mentioned are qualifications that come with the HUD funding that provides the money and the apartment owners that provide the units. Destination Home residents rent their own furnished, utility paid apartments and follow the same rules as every other tenant. And like every other tenant they can live in these apartments as long as they want.
Destination Home residents provide 3o% of their income for rent, if they have income and we provide case management and access to services that help lead them to the type of independence and interdependence with which most of us live our lives. They take advantage of what we offer as they want to, and feel they need to, but the goal of the program is for them eventually not to need us at all. Currently there are nearly 50 Destination Home residents, by this time next year we hope to have at least 105.
There are three things that make me especially excited about this program.
First the residents themselves. They come from every spectrum of life, just like the rest of us!
The problems which put them on the street, are the same problems that we encounter: loss and grief, illness and medical bills, family and financial problems. Some have substance addictions, but they are the substance addictions with which most of us are familiar.
Their disabilities are disabilities that are no more foriegn than those that many of us who have families, or insurance have to live with. In other words they are like the rest of us. The difference is, unlike us, for whatever reason, they have lost what my friend Ernie Cortez refers to as the thick network of relationships that enable most of us to live successful lives. The thing that makes me excited and proud about these residents is that they have found the courage to begin again and they value the opportunity for a new start.
Some of them are now pursuing dreams, hobbies, learning new skills, joining churches and helping new residents find their way. They attend AA meetings, they make regualr doctors appointments and they are discovering a life that is safe and managable.
The other thing that I think is remarkable our staff . They are finding the balance between helping DH residents and doing for them. But what is clear is that they are excited about being a part of an initiative that is making a real difference. They are not working with 'clients', they are really befriending people who simply need assistance to achieve a quality of life that they have previously not known.
The staff talks about how they are learning from the patience and the gratitude that the Destinaiton Home residents show for the least little thing. They look forward to work everyday because they know their making a difference.
The other thing that has me excited is the reaction to the churches involved. So far three churches have joined the effort to come alongside CDM and Destination Home residents to help reintegrate them into community. These are not congregations looking for publicity, but they do deserve recognition for their unique help.
Richardson East Church of Christ has helped immeasurably. Especially with the first residents: helping assemble furniture, moving it in and helping residents get settled. They have pretty much placed themselves 'on call' to CDM develop this program. But their's has not only been a traditional mission outreach . Members will occasionally come by and share a meal with the residents after church, just taking the time to get to know them and spend time with them. It is probably the most helpful thing that they do. We are tremendously grateful to them.
Watermark Church provides Bible Study for a small group of residents and helps with food and other household donations. They too have been committed from the beginning.
New Mount Zion Baptist Church began helping when they heard about the concept! Before the first resident moved in, they began collecting 'Welcome Baskets' of houselhold goods, mops, cleansers, etc. They have allowed space in worship for the program to be promoted and explained and the pastor has included them as a part of their ministry. As a matter of fact, there have been DH residents that have become members of New Mount Zion.
These communities of faith are a mix traditional and non-tradtional, but they show a committment to sharing their faith by building community, and sharing life with men and women whose lives are being rebuilt day by day.
Central Dallas Ministries has more plans to help the homeless help themselves. Its a big job, there are more than 5000 homeless people in Dallas County. We can't do it by ourselves. But we can put a dent in the problem. We can show the rest of Dallas what it means to move from 'What if?' to 'Here's how!' I think that's something to be proud of.