Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dallas' Justice Revival: Working for A City of Justice and Mercy

According to Metro Dallas Alliances Point in Time census, there are about 6000 homeless people on the streets in Dallas on any given night. That is most likely a low estimate. Some of us place that figure considerably higher. While Dallas' effort to deal with the issue of citizens living on its streets and beneath its highway underpasses is significant, the Bridge is not intended to be a permanent solution.

A nationally recognized model for dealing with homelessness is called Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). Permanent Supportive Housing recognizes that there are some people for whom life on the street can be solved, simply by providing them with a roof over their heads and enough support to help them navigate the systems which can help them keep their lives together.

In a remarkable way, very much like the rest of us!

Permanent Supportive Housing is, just as it implies, permanent. The residents in housing until they decide not to be.

Dallas' Justice Revival taking place next week has placed on its social justice work agenda the issue of PSH for homeless citizens. More specifically, the Dallas City Council supports a goal of 700 units of PSH to address the needs those homeless citizens for whom it will be appropriate. Obviously, we need more than 700 of those units, but identifying the 700 units is challenging enough. Nearly every section of the city is afflicted with NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), when it comes to housing for the homeless. Given how little is known about it, and given how resources and promotion has gone with setting the goal of 700 units, its not particularly surprising.

That's where we are asking churches to step in...

First we are asking churches to get educated about homelessness and PSH. It is important that believers know the depth of the problem and the importance of the solution. Churches need to be educated on the importance of PSH because they can be an effective tool in allaying the fears of their communities regarding the 'dangers' of such housing in their communities.

Churches can play a critical role in helping to stabilize residents in PSH by reintegrating them into a loving, affirming community of friends who are genuinely concerned about them and who are there for them. Including PSH residents in church activities, providing counseling support, establishing Bible studies or even welcome baskets for new residents are just some of the ways that churches can be helpful. Most importantly, once taught, churches can call on their communities to join them in helping these formerly homeless citizens reestablish their lives.

Our faith communities are also needed as advocates in the public arena for PSH. While Dallas' City Council made an important step in calling for 700 units of PSH, that is not enough. It's not a priority with the city until some funding is put behind it and until the city is actively engaged in serious strategic planning as to where in the city this housing can be located. Churches can offer support to council members, once informed regarding the importance of PSH, in making presentations at their town hall meetings to reach an even greater population in their community about the importance of making room for this type of housing. And this should happen before any planning for PSH is proposed, so that getting as many people off the street through PSH is not longer considered a special project.

In Matthew 25, Jesus, as he talked about those who would be commended for having compassion on those considered 'the least', in his catalogue of qualifications for that 'least' category said, "I was a stranger and you took me in." The phrase, 'took me in' is actually one word and it is the word for 'synagogue'. We usually mean that those so commended took someone into their homes. It means more accurately, to make room for someone in the community.

This is true justice. This is true mercy. This is what the revival is meant to help bring about.

This will change our city. We look forward to you joining us November 10-12.

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