I've had a number of conversations regarding permanent supportive housing since the townhall meeting at Methodist Central Hospital two weeks ago. In nearly all of them,
I've tried to explain that this is a concept and a strategy that works. It works because most of what we fear regarding the homeless disappears when people have a place to live.
If we can just get past the stereotypes.
If politicians can learn how to serve stir up community instead of red meat.
If people would realize that our common humanity is worth more than our property values.
If we just stopped to think that we cannot have it both ways: you cannot keep people on the streets AND eliminate homelessness - you just can't.
If people would just come to check out the programs that work. Like Steve Blow of the Dallas Morning News did...
"We have certain images in our heads when the word "homeless" is mentioned. None of them are pretty."
"But that building I watched – CityWalk@Akard – is working hard to give us some new mental images to go with the phrase "formerly homeless.""
""Quiet," "orderly," "inviting" – those are some of the words to describe what I found when I visited inside CityWalk the next day."
"CityWalk is a project of Central Dallas Ministries. The 200-unit apartment building opened in April. It has 50 apartments set aside for the formerly homeless. The other 150 are for low-income tenants."
"It's a home, but it's also a demonstration project."
""We could have done this much more easily and much more inexpensively in other places around town," said executive director John Greenan. "But we thought it was important to have one high-profile location to show that it can be done.""
"He said, "We want people to come and walk through the building and say, ‘This is OK.' ""
"I hope the neighbors of Cliff Manor will take him up on that offer."
You can read the rest of Steve's column here. But what's interesting is, nearly everyone Steve interviewed (not personally, but the institutions they represent), initially expressed apprehension, if not fear or dread at the prospect of 'those people' living downtown. When we moved in, I conducted no less than three tours so that people could see it wasn't a 'shelter'.
By the way: the original design for CityWalk@Akard was for 100 PSH units. We compromised at fifty, because of those images in people's head that Steve mentions. We had confidence from the beginning, however, that this was the right thing to do.
But the proof isn't in the architecture or the empty building. It's in the expressions of hope and purpose of the residents coming and going. Not all of their problems have been solved.
Just one major one: they have a home. That's not a bad start.
If only people would realize that...