Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Doing More Than the Least We Can Do

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.

It's sad.

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!


Anonymous said...

How do formerless homeless people pay rent, etc. We have a pretty good retirement but sometimes it's still cutting it close to not go too much into savings, investments.

Gerald Britt said...

Because our program focuses on the formerly homeless and disabled, all residents qualify for disability. Some may have veterans' benefits. They pay 30% of their income and a HUD grant pays for the balance of their rent...

randye said...

So the taxpayers actually pay 100%.

Wish you could save a little of that compassion and understanding (you know, context?) for the legitimate concerns of people who have worked hard to revitalize their neighborhoods.

We'll see how long the authorities keep on top of things, but today, congratulations to all.

Anonymous said...

This is new version of "The Ant and the Grasshopper."

The ant works hard in the withering heat and the rain all summer building his house and layin up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks he is a fool and laughs and dances the summer away. Come winter, the shivering grasshopper called a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while he is cold and starving.
Kermit the frog appears on Oprah and the grasshopper and everybody cries when they sing "It's Not Easy Being Green."

Acorn stages a demonstration in front of the ants house while the news station sing, "We Shall Overcome."

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright has the group kneels down to pray for the grasshoppers sake.

CBC, NBC, PBS, CNN and NBC dhow up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to the video of the ant in his comfortable home with the table filled with food.

America is stunned by the sharp contrast.

How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, the poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?

President Obsma condems the ant and blames President Bush, President Reagan, Christopher Columbus. and the Pope for the grasshoppers plight.

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid exclaim in an interview with Larry King that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and they both call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.

Finally, the EEOC drafts the Econic Equity and Anti-Grasshopper Act retroactive to the beginning of summer.

The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the government Green Czar and given to the grasshopper.

The story ends as we see the grasshopper and his free-loading friends finishing up the last bits of the ant's food while the government house he is in, which, as you recall, just happens to be the ant's old house,crumbles around them because the grasshopper doesn't maintain it.

The snt has dissappeared in the snow, never to be seen again.

The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident, and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the ramshackle, once peaceful, neighborhood.

The entire nation collapses bringing the rest of the free world with it.

Moral of the story:

Be careful how you vote in 2010.

Gerald Britt said...

Anonymous 2:42 - there's more true to that moral than you can possibly imagine!

randye, I get your point. I just don't understand how or why neighborhood revitalization has to exclude those whom we classify as poor or formerly homeless.

There are a number of issues associated with housing the homeless that people refuse to understand. I'd be glad to get into it with you if you seriously want to. But at the end of the day, we can make people continual objects of charity, a more expensive proposition - or we can get them out of poverty by giving them access to many of the services which many of our friends, relatives and neighbors utilize: some level of housing subsidy; access to regular health care; transportation;food stamps, etc. All of which have a ripple effect on the economy. It's the simplistic reasoning (not yours), that suggests that doing nothing because 'its their fault', that ultimately leaves all of us poorer and less safe.

Anonymous said...

From my quick review of HUD Fair Housing laws, it appears that the only way to keep this from happening in your neighborhood, is to make sure that zoning does not permit multi-tenant housing (apartments- 4 units or more). If you already have apartment complexes in your neighborhood, your area is a potential candidate for the social engineering folks of the left, as Dr Britt describes and advocates.