Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On Being Less Than Human in North Oak Cliff

Monday night at 6:30 p.m., there was a meeting in the Hitt Conference room at Methodist Central Hospital, in Dallas. It was disturbing...

Ostensibly, it was a meeting in which Mike Faenza (the Executive Director of Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance); Mary Russ (CEO of Dallas Housing Authority) and Mike Rawlings (Dallas' Homeless Czar) were to explain to residents of North Oak Cliff the decision to move 100 people, recovering from homelessness, addiction and/or dealing with mental illness into Cliff Manor (a DHA facility). Amid fears that housing these citizens in an apartment building owned and operated by the Housing Authority for almost 40 years, and already essentially being used for the same purpose - these three executives sought to interject some reason into the heated public debate.

Let's just say it was no one's finest hour.

Certainly not for the residents of North Oak Cliff. The cat calls, insults, incivility, unreasonableness and rudeness was a signal that none of the residents (none who spoke anyway) came for dialogue or education regarding permanent supportive housing. It was clear, that there was spleen venting and political posturing.

I have a great deal of respect for Faenza and Rawlings. They have done an admirable job for a number of years, identifying resources and dealing with an issue that other politicians and other public officials have kicked down the road as it simply got worse. It has been an energy and time consuming task that few people wanted to tackle and almost no one who tried tackled well.

Yet, with a shade more or less than 6000 homeless people in Dallas, and at approximately 10% of these residents of the streets, experiencing chronic homelessness (while the city spends nearly $50 million jailing and hospitalizing them vs. the much less expensive alternative of housing them), North Oak Cliff residents, professing their 'compassion' insisted that these homeless people not be near them.

They did so by stereotyping homeless people. They did so by objectifying them; equating their homelessness with crime and immorality. They did so by conflating and confusing permanent supportive housing with low income housing and suggesting that they had their 'share'. A local pastor spoke passionately about the interests of the homeowners - interestingly enough missing the opportunity to ask how he and his church could minister to the people in Cliff Manor in a way that might make the project as successful as possible.

They did so by deciding to be publicly indifferent to any facts or truth that conflicted with their opinion. When one speaker, informed that his comparison between the plans for Cliff Manor would result in it becoming a Cabrini Green project (a violent, poverty riddled public housing high rise for families in Chicago. Cabrini Green, grew so bad it was eventually torn down), was inaccurate (Ms. Russ worked in public housing in Chicago, during the time that Cabrini Green was at its worst), his retort was to reply 'You're wrong!'.

When a woman came to the mike and accused the Housing Authority of evicting the elderly from Cliff Manor in an effort make room for the 100 homeless people to be moved into their apartments, Ms. Russ said that it was untrue. Such action, she said, would be illegal. The senior residents had taken advantage of an opportunity move into newly constructed housing in West Dallas. Obviously taken aback by having her opinion invalidated by a reasonable explanation, she shot back, 'Can we have their names so we can talk with them and see if you're telling the truth?'

When Faenza, as he had at an earlier city council meeting offered to have some people who would be candidates for tenants in the apartments brought in so that they meet them and see they had nothing to fear, just like the city council meeting, the catcalls and insults rang out. 'Don't turn this into a circus!'

Because up until now this meeting had been a model of civil public discourse...

Well, actually its because people who have at least a shred of human decency left within them, have difficulty referring to others as the dregs of society, unfit for shelter or opportunity, when those same people are actually in the same room with them.

Actually this is what the entire controversy boils down to: whom in our society, in Dallas, do we consider human? Whom do we consider to be worthy of opportunity? What are the requirements for citizenship in Dallas, Texas? Only homeowners? Only those who owe more taxes than they've had taken out of their paychecks every April 15th? How do you 'prove' you've earned the chance to begin again?

As long as we are able to stereotype and objectify people; as long as we are able to simply define people by the actions of the worst of 'their kind', we can feel comfortable relegating them to an occasional donation to a local charity. Or providing hot holiday meals, used clothes and spare change.

Attitudes like those exhibited on Monday night, are attitudes of people who don't believe the homeless are really human. And if they are less than human, they don't have the right to a roof over their head and the key to a room, because 'they' don't deserve it.

But, if they, the residents and the elected representative of North Oak Cliff are right; if the homeless are less than human as a 'class', if they can be railed against and their criminality and lack of morality can be held up and they can be ridiculed with impunity and without shame, then one has to wonder: are they that way, because that's who they are?

Or are they that way because that's the way we treat them...?


Anonymous said...

Bravo Gerald! The behavior Monday night was so unbelievably discriminatory and amazing that the protesters refuse to see it as that.

Jason Leon said...

The behavior exhibited was one of people who have fought hard to win back our neighborhoods. Although most of us want positive outcomes for everyone, city planning has to be done properly. This is not being done to an acceptable level.
If you are an advocate for the homeless, I'm sure you have heard other advocates who are against big box permanent supportive housing. We learned the other night that LifeNet will have one Case Manager for every 35 - 40 tenants. If these people really do need help and services, it is highly unlikely that the one overworked Case Manager will provide it.
True change will come with the more successful smaller psh models, not this stop gap measure. This will save the city money and help relieve overflow at the Bridge, but it's not going to benefit our community, and it's not the best place for the potential tenants.
Judge us how you will, like many of the other advocates have already done, that's fine. We do have serious, rational reasons why we are against this.
Jason "Just Another Heartless Oak Cliff Resident" Wright

Gerald Britt said...


Thanks for taking the time to respond to the post.

Let me say to you, that I take no issue with concerns and the desire for clarification on a very important and controversial issue. However, I do take issue with the meanspirted nature of the comments and behavior exhibited on Monday night.

In Dallas, so far, we have no 'quota system' for class or income in areas of the city. The people who will move into this complex are no more harmful to the neighborhood than any other. But to stoke fears through demeaning stereotypes is just plain wrong.

The fact is that the case management ratio you mention, is more than adequate for the tenants who will live there. Lifenet is an organization that has an admirable track record. Stimson's comments didn't mention whether or not extra security was ordered because of actual problems or because they 'assumed' there would be problems associated with the organization's clientele.

Frankly, the excuse that people can be rude, mean spirited and demeaning of fellow citizens because they are 'afraid' or because they want to 'take back' their neighborhood or their community is wearing a little thin. African-Americans and Hispanics have been excoriated in meetings in which they have acted similarly. The fact that a group owns property does not excuse boorishness and incivility. Nor does it excuse an unwillingness to engage in productive conversation or negotiations.

You are right, the city does need a more effective strategy for planning. But what does that mean? Does it mean we wait to employ an effective strategy until we come up with one - in the meantime we continue to spend $50 million a year on solutions that don't solve homelessness? Does it mean we segregate the homeless and poor further stimitizing them? Or does it mean that we continue to put them in economically under developed neighborhoods where the opportunities for reintegration are less.

We have said we don't want them downtown. We don't want them in Oak Cliff. South Dallas says the homeless are already there. Pleasant Grove says they are the dumping ground for everything no one else wants. So what do we do with people who have no place to live?

Anonymous said...

What do we do with people who have no place to live?
The Hope IV revitalization grant of $22 million dollars will provide close to 350 units to called Buckeye Trail Commons (formerly Turner Courts) in a mixed-use multi-development. Oh, and it is much closer to The Bridge, where these potential residents have acclimated currently.

OCer said...

Gerald -
i have some answers for you...

"You are right, the city does need a more effective strategy for planning. But what does that mean? Does it mean we wait to employ an effective strategy until we come up with one - in the meantime we continue to spend $50 million a year on solutions that don't solve homelessness?"

YES. we put it on hold until the City comes up with a viable solution because they will only follow through and do so if their pocket books are hurting...

"Does it mean we segregate the homeless and poor further stimitizing them?"

This is already being done. Did you know that Mike Rawling's "conceptual" plan was to place 75% of low-income and PSH south of I-30? if that isn't segregation i don't know what is... and you want to know why he was trying to get away with it??? the man has political aspirations and he can't put these people next to his neighbors and friends in North Dallas - if he does they won't contribute to his campaign!!!

"Or does it mean that we continue to put them in economically under developed neighborhoods where the opportunities for reintegration are less?"

North Oak Cliff is still under developed - we are on the fringe of development and this is stiffing it... as JEff Herrington already mentioned in his op-ed to the DMNews, the original vision for Forth Worth Avenue was to include housing of the sort as PSH. BUT it hasn't been built yet. give us a chance to rebuild the corridor and then come back and talk to us. i guarantee we will be more embracing.

"We have said we don't want them downtown. We don't want them in Oak Cliff. South Dallas says the homeless are already there. Pleasant Grove says they are the dumping ground for everything no one else wants. So what do we do with people who have no place to live?"

Send them to North Dallas. there are plenty of ditricts up there that aren't doing their fair share. they sign checks to keep this as far away as possible form them, be it campaign donations or charitable contributions. they're developed and ready to provide the jobs these folks need. but of course they don't want them and Oak Cliff is just expected to take it - again. I know Jesus said to turn the other cheek, but this is ridiculous - i really think he meant to include the following disclaimer:

turn your cheek once, turn your cheek twice. on the third time, give them hell. that's where Oak Cliff is right now...

Gerald Britt said...

Anonymous 2:13, you're making the same mistake that some of those at the Monday night meeting made. There is a difference between 'low income housing' and 'permenant supportive housing'. The Turner Courts rebuild is the former.

OC er: the issue is finding apartments which will take the rent HUD will pay and will make the office accommodations for staffing. The apartments that fall in those categories in North Dallas are not plentiful. In many cases those that are are turning market rate.

Somewhere along the line, we are going to realize that we are talking about human beings. And again, how long do you intend to say 'homelessness is a shame; somebody ought to do something' and then relegate the public response to charitable meals and holiday gifts of socks and t-shirts?

Anonymous said...

Did you know that Mike Rawling's "conceptual" plan was to place 75% of low-income and PSH south of I-30?"

This statement was questioned at the meeting and I was told it is not true. Will you provide information on how you are coming up with this percentage to give it merit?

Gerald Britt said...

Mike Rawling's purview does not include low income housing...

OCer said...

Anonymous 6:57 - this statement came from a City memo that Scott Griggs, president of the Fort Worth Development Group read from and presented to Mike Rawlings who was at a sudden loss for words at the Town Hall meeting. i was told it was dated April 02, 2010. i have been going through city docs online trying to find it, but it seems like it must have been removed. if i find i will post it here.

Rev. Gerald –
the homeless are indeed human and i'm not denying they deserve compassion and our help. i just don't think its fair of the City and of North Dallas (campaign contribution check signers) to kick Oak Cliff every time we start to get up again, because that's exactly what they do. i whole-heartedly believe that if we were given the chance to develop economically and if the PSH were scaled down to manageable 20 unit facilities we would embrace it. i for one would support small PSH in the area if i thought we were the right fit - but we aren't right now. Cliff Manor is an outdated structure, deteriorating by the day. there are no jobs around, and the retail directly around the building is limited. yes, there's the bus that goes to Walmart and downtown, but that's about it. honestly, doesn't sound like a fair shot for the PSH residents - i feel like we'd be setting the up to fail. is that fair to them? i've done a lot of research on PSH trying to educate myself on the issue and in all honestly we don't meet a lot of the "best practices criteria" for success. sure its a roof over their heads, but that's about it.

Gerald Britt said...

Twenty units at a time will take forever to address the problem. The elements of success which no one talks about are the one's which are employed to really make a neighborhood successful.

Instead of assuming that these people come with deficits that will drag down the community, why not work with DHA and MDHA and try and find ways to identify what they CAN do to be an asset to the area. Further, look at ways in which existing residents AND businesses can be good neighbors to them?

Why not find out whether or not they really can work and what jobs those have been screened are capable of doing?

Why not hold DHA responsible for investing dollars into making Cliff Manor a first class facility? I've been there. There is some justification to some of the complaints residents have.

Instead of stereotyping and discovering ways to paint them as the dregs of society, isn't there ANY way possible to treat them like new neighbors and welcome them the way you would want to be welcomed?

OCer said...


i didn't say "20 units at a time" - i said 20 unit facilities. instead of creating one massive "big box" which has failed over and over and over all over the country, instead make 10 little boxes and spread them around. this will foster a tight knit community and help the surrounding neighborhoods embrace their new neighbors better. and, all successful PSH studies that supporters keep pointing the opposition to "educate themselves" are all based on small PSH... the failed attempts that opponents are pointing to are mostly big box PSH...

as for your comments about "deficits," the real worry is truly relapses. that's when we believe our new neighbors may become a threat to us and our community. ask anyone that has ever battled an addiction and they will tell that it WILL happen. we know PSH residents have worked hard and have good intentions of staying on track, but what happens if they fall of the program? the way DHA operates - i.e. they dump them and run - it would just be swept under the rug... during the Town Meeting a neighbor who lives right by the building told DHA she's seen drug deals go down on the property. do you know what the DHA had to say? "why didn't you call the police?" and of course the neighbor has, on several occasions in fact. but nothing happens.

as to the residents that have already been "screened" to move in, depending on the day the DHA tells us their income will come from disability checks, the next day they tell us they have jobs... the DHA is just not trust worthy. their job right now is to cleanup downtown for the Super Bowl - they don't care about these people.

as for "Why not hold DHA responsible for investing dollars into making Cliff Manor a first class facility?"

because the DHA has made it clear that they play by their own rules and apparently no one has the right to hold them accountable? why do they want to use 100 units at Cliff Manors? because they just want to dump them there and leave them. and that's our other fear - there's no guarantee that they will always provide the support services they claim. they might the first year, but will it be the first thing to go next year during budget cuts?

did you know Turner Courts (in South Dallas i believe) was managed by DHA? they did such a great job with it that the place became a hell-hole, to the point of no return. so DHA secured another $22M grant to level and rebuild it... DHA cannot be trusted, and that's why neighbors won't back down on their fight. with DHA's track record, i can't blame them.

Gerald Britt said...


I appreciate your fears, but those fears leave no admission for the possibility of success. No, there are no 100% guarantee that those who are recovering from addiction at Cliff Manor won't relapse. Nor is there any guarantee that any of your neighbors recovering from addiction won't relapse.

I think the accusations regarding DHA are very unfair.

I am fully aware of the Turner Courts situation. I was a pastor in the area for 22 years and we (CDM) operated an after school program there for about 10 years.

It's true that TC was not managed as well as it could have been. But its deterioration was over decades and mirrored the decline in the neighborhood which had to do with crime and neglect on a number of levels. I assure you, it is not as simplistic as you and others would like to make it.

They have been difficult to work with at times and have left much to be desired in the management of some of their properties.

But DHA has new leadership, including a new board of managers and new staff in a number of critical areas. If we hold them responsible for all of the failures of the past, how do they have room to start over?

There is nothing about the plans or the character of the people involved - and I know them all - that suggests that DHA will 'dump these people and leave'.

I provide direct supervision over a PSH program and I can tell you that not everyone succeeds. There are people who are just not ready for the program. But that has not been the majority of program participants. Some relapse. But some become AA sponsors. I know of more in our program who have gone back to school; who have volunteered in other programs; who have helped their fellow program participants establish their lives; others who have reconnected with families and who have become members of area churches. A few who have recovered to the extent that they have re-established their lives to the point that they no longer need the program.

What you're fears are not entirely baseless - again, there is no 100% success rate in any program, or church, our business, or any other human endeavor. But they are based on generalizations, suspicions and speculations.

The statistics regarding PSH say that you are not entirely accurate - you have more to fear from the neighbors you already have than from these people. But the anecdotal evidence also says you're only considering part of a much larger story.

Geoffrey Iams said...

Wow! "unbelievably discriminatory?" Hardly. Everyone who wanted to speak got a chance. They only time anyone was "shouted away" was when they tried to shamelessly parade future residents out like some sort of prop. How demeaning to them. Also, before you sing the praises of Mr. Faenza too loudly, remember, he's using the homeless for profit. MDHA's tax return show him pulling almost a quarter of a million dollars in salary. (Who is shameless?)
Mr. Rombach comparing this to Cabrini Green was just one example of the bigger problem with high rise tenements, and he never retorted with "you're wrong". Go back and watch the video. He read his statement and left the mic. Period.

Geoffrey Iams said...

Here is the speech he was to give to the city council before he went from first on the list to seventh and never got a chance at the mic. Maybe you'll understand better his position before you scream discrimination. It's not about discrimination, it's about the high rise model.

November 22nd Colorado Place demolition began. So important was this event that 125 local leaders, neighbors and Councilman Newman attended in a cold drizzling rain.
After many months of compromise with developers, residents, zoning boards, and the Fort Worth Avenue Development group, a viable plan was set forth for a bright future for our area.
In the intervening months, we have seen crime drop sharply in our neighborhoods. The Avalon senior living facility has been built in what formally was an empty field. Abandoned shopping carts and street trash has been reduced. Panhandling has slowed and our graffiti problem has been controlled.
Today, we face an old enemy on our road to progress. The Dallas Housing Authority board, appointed by the mayor, is once again treating Oak Cliff as its easy solution. The repurposing of this building with little consideration for the neighborhood is not acceptable. I say we are being treated as an easy solution because our district of Dallas already house’s over 20% of DHA’s residents. We’re working hard to revitalize our small corner of the city with new construction and new ideas. Are we rewarded with new light rails, new street lights, paving and sidewalks like some of the more affluent areas of the city? No, instead we are once again being burdened.
The home owners I speak for today are hard working professionals or upstanding, self-sufficient taxpayers and we are resolute that DHA’s plan for Cliff Manor is an unacceptable fit for our neighborhood. The Ft. Worth Avenue Corridor is not ready to house this populace. Once revitalization has occurred, and the infrastructure is strengthened thru new business and retail, then perhaps we will be ready to accommodate even more than what is already our fair share of DHA’s clients. To place them in this area at this time will discourage economic progress.
In support the 2008 New York Furman study states:
”As a practical matter, developers of permanent supportive housing will choose locations likely to contribute to the success of their clients; thus, proximity to public transportation, groceries, medical services and employment will be preferred. “
Cleary, the Ft. Worth Avenue Corridor does not come close yet to meeting this threshold. Placing clients here is setting them up for failure and doing them and the neighborhood a disservice. Have any studies been done on the day to day lifestyle for these clients? Public transportation is minimal. There are no public areas such as parks or libraries anywhere near this building. The closest grocery store is ¼ mile down sidewalks in disrepair, the closest medical facility is two miles away. Our area has not been economically developed, we have no jobs to offer to help these clients become self-sustaining.
In closing, may I ask where the study on the Impact of Permanent Supportive Housing on Oak Cliff is? Or are our local and federal tax dollars being wasted to pay the salaries of people making arbitrary and convenient decisions?

Stephanie said...

Gerald - You should know that some of us opposed to this PSH program are advocates for the homeless. We believe in doing it right. I am an advocate for the homeless and I am against this for all the reasons Jason stated (first comment).

Were we angry Monday night? Well, when you treat a large group of adults like 5-year-olds who "don't know no better", it's wise to expect a little petulance and honest reactions. But it is unfair to call us heartless and it is unfair to paint a wide stroke across all those who spoke Monday night. Not everyone opposed to this project acted poorly. For example, Jason (first comment and my husband) spoke at the microphone both eloquently and with respect and spirit.

In fact, I recall Mary Ann Russ acting a bit poorly (insert less kind words here). If anyone is heartless in this - point your finger at her.

We here in Oak Cliff have HUGE hearts. We love our community, and we care about those less fortunate. Just come on over and walk around. You'll see. We just want projects like this done fairly, equitably (read: not ALWAYS in our backyard) and done the right way from the start. THAT is how you make something good for everyone.

Stephanie said...

And in reference to your comment about "we're talking about human beings" - yes sir, we are. We in Oak Cliff are also human beings, with little tiny baby human beings in our care. There's a lot at stake here for everyone. The homeless need understanding and compassion, and so do Oak Cliffies.

Gerald Britt said...

Stephanie, thanks to you for your response.

For the record, I am an 'Oak Cliffie' (kinda like the phrase!). I've lived in Oak Cliff for more than 30 years and have reared my children here. So I understand the challenges you are facing. In fact there is a PSH program not very far from where I live - closer, I suspect, than Cliff Manor is to some of the opponents of this project.

Again, I don't believe opposition to the project justifies the tenor and tone of a meeting that obviously was not called to receive clarification or education on PSH. Nor do I believe that the stereotyping of people who are homeless was either fair or productive. I sat on the stage at this meeting and could see and hear the majority of people and comments that were made.

No one is answering the important question: if we don't want homeless people living anywhere among us, what do we want to do with them. There is opposition downtown. Opposition in low income communities. Opposition in the North and opposition in Oak Cliff. So the answer is...what?

OCer said...

Rev Gerald ~

in response to your last question: "No one is answering the important question: if we don't want homeless people living anywhere among us, what do we want to do with them. There is opposition downtown. Opposition in low income communities. Opposition in the North and opposition in Oak Cliff. So the answer is...what?"

the answer is, and Stephanie said it best: equitably. proof to us that this is great for our community by sharing the wealth - if everyone takes in their fair share we will too. why should we always have to shoulder Dallas' burden alone? tell us every district in Dallas is welcoming 20 new PSH neighbors and we'll be happy to do the same. just don't tell us no one else wants them so they have to go to Oak Cliff "just because."

ps - i haven't had a chance to respond to your earlier post but i will. also, you said you manage a PSH program. i would love to have the opportunity to meet up with you sometime, take a tour, and address my concerns and give you the opportunity to convert me. you up for the challenge? ;o)

Gerald Britt said...


By all means! I would love for you to come meet our staff and our residents. I believe we are doing a great job in this area and welcome the opportunity to show you around. Please let me know when you'd like to come and bring your friends with you...