Tuesday was one of those days I like to tell people about when I talk about our work at Central Dallas Ministries. We don't have days like this every day. But they happen often enough to remind us of why we do what we do.
Just last week, we completed our move of over 100 formerly homeless people into their own apartments. The owner of the apartment complex has provided furnishings, 'starter packages' of pots, pans, dishes, etc. and people who would otherwise be on the streets or in shelters have the opportunity to begin their lives over. He's provided office space for our staff of case managers, outreach coordinators and is providing community space for our program participants and the other residents in the complex. In the end, we will not only be able to transform the lives of the people we have in our program, but we'll be able to make a difference in the lives of everyone who lives there. He and his partners are so impressed with the way the program is being run and how we are working with the participants, he wants to expand the program on this site and at other apartment complexes they own and manage.
We took Larry James, our CEO, on a tour of the property and introduced him to one of the neighbors whose lived there about four months. She was thrilled to have these visitors 'invading' her space. And she proudly showed us around her new apartment and with pride told us she decorated it herself. She's in AA, she goes to church with her sponsor and she's enjoying the having the dignity that comes with a roof over her head and a place that she can call home.
Quite a day!
Quite a contrast to the distressing news we keep hearing about neighborhoods who are fighting to keep people like the one's we serve out of their communities. The Cliff Manor situation, where residents have behaved so inhospitable to the prospect of 50 formerly homeless people in their midst, is in fact, on its way to resolution. With or without the desired welcome by neighbors in the North Oak Cliff area, the facts are that the Dallas Housing Authority, who own Cliff Manor, cannot refuse available housing to those who are disabled or homeless. It's a Fair Housing issue. As Larry wrote in a recent blog post: "To deny such people housing due to neighborhood objections is a violation of federal law. Most of the population in question are disabled. Thankfully, we have laws that protect the disabled in this country. Denying housing to these folks also violates the Fair Housing Act. Denying housing to the qualified homeless invites, possibly guarantees, a federal law suit."
The hysteria, fear mongering and stereotyping of the homeless, leaves no room for the possibility - indeed the fact - that there are hundreds of people on the streets and in shelters, who are chronically homeless, with some form of disability, that can live productive lives if they can be given a chance. That means people who will work with them and community willing to accept them. No one in Dallas should be proud that it takes the prospect of a lawsuit to get people to relent to the eventuality of poor people living in their neighborhood. Such laws represent the minimum, the bare minimum standard of protection and the guarantee of opportunity.
Yet, there are signs of hopefulness. Signs I didn't see at the infamous meeting several weeks ago in which people were so mean spirited (someone called it 'compassionate'), that they didn't even want to see the people they were vilifying! Churches are preparing to help make the Cliff Manor move-in successful. They are preparing welcome baskets, looking at ways in which they can minister to the people who are moving in and even educating their membership on poverty and homelessness. Imagine that! Preachers and pastors teaching their members how to treat the people that Jesus spent so much time around. What a concept! The church actually showing that human life has a value much more intrinsic and important to the God they worship than property values. My!
By the way, these are not just 'storefront' churches - they are mainline denominations, working with what might be referred to as nontraditional and non-denominational churches, developing a strategy to be neighbors to their new formerly homeless neighbors.
And in north Dallas, my friend George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church, here in Dallas, recently preached a powerful message to his congregation in response to that community's fear of the permanent supportive housing in their neighborhood. In a sermon entitled 'More Than the Least We Can Do', George challenges attitudes that suggest that Christians can live oblivious to the needs of others and still live in fellowship with God.
"One of the reasons we go to church week in and week out—which is the same as the priest and the Levite who were on their way to the Temple in Jerusalem in the parable—is so that we will develop the way of thinking necessary to stop on the way to church or from it and help the man in the ditch, not in order to hone reasons to justify ourselves for not helping."
"Listen to this from a preacher, because you may never hear it again: If going to church becomes an end in itself, stop going to church. If you use church to fulfill your obligations to God and justify your personal salvation so that you will not care about people in need, then church is getting in the way of your salvation instead of making it possible. The church is the body of Christ, and if the Spirit of Christ is not in the body, then it isn’t really the church."
"You want to know where Christ is? He is wherever a man has fallen among thieves and is left in a ditch to die by good people who pass him by. If you want to be with Christ, you have to be with the man in the ditch. You have to be with the one who least deserves it, and then you have to do more than the least you can do."
You can view the entire message here.
At some point, we have to realize that you don't end homelessness by 'random acts of kindness' or by merely being 'compassionate'. And we have to realize 'the least we can do' is not enough. We are all less than we can be, if we don't make it possible to help one another be all that they can be.
Being a part of something like that makes for a very good day!