Thursday, September 16, 2010

Inspirational Turn-Around

I was an invitee to a very interesting breakfast meeting yesterday.

A large church in north Dallas was hosting a breakfast/information session with Mary Russ, CEO of Dallas Housing Authority; Mike Faenza, Executive Director of Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, Dallas' homeless assistance center and John Castle, Dallas' new homeless 'czar' (John is also a Central Dallas Ministries board member and a very good friend) and Randy Skinner, leader of Dallas' Justice Revival.

The church, area residents, representatives from area service providers such as the 'Y', were learning about permanent supportive housing and learning what they could do to partner with the project as it moved forward. In this setting, Ms. Russ, Mike, John and Randy did a superb job of explaining the goals and objectives of PSH and answering questions which would allay the fears of those present and those to whom they would be interacting. It was inspirational to see the church positioning itself to both educate it's members and community, advocate on behalf of those who would soon be classified as 'the formerly homeless' and learn what they could do to serve this population.

Refreshing. Inspirational.

The controversy earlier this year, so disappointing and so troubling, surrounding the Cliff Manor apartments, where 50 residents are moving in, involved miseducation, prejudice and close mindedness that took most of us who work with low-income and the homeless aback. Yet, again, what has turned that situation around is the engagement of the church community.

I attended a meeting in an Oak Cliff church several weeks ago, a few weeks after the initial town hall meeting that went awry. In this meeting faith based organizations, area churches, service providers and other non profits, made a commitment to learn more about PSH and identify ways to serve the Cliff Manor new comers. On yesterday, I heard stories of these churches providing 'welcome baskets' of pots and pans, sheets, blankets - move in items to help new neighbors get started in their new homes. Not incidentally (I believe, so at any rate), this jibed with another report I read in the paper just a few days ago.

"Members of the Cliff Manor Task Force hope to help residents of the north Oak Cliff complex and meld the high-rise with its neighborhood by opening a coffee shop and bookstore at the site."

"Details and any necessary approvals need to be worked out. But Randall White, a task force member, said the idea is to establish a nonprofit to operate what would be called Home – a place that would employ and train Cliff Manor tenants and ideally attract neighborhood residents."

"In an e-mail, White said, "Home will ... provide the community something it does not have, a place it can walk to to get a good cup of coffee and something to read.""

"He later elaborated in an interview: "The community needed to feel like there was something in this to make the neighborhood a better place." And with the jobs, "folks will have an opportunity to get up and out.""

The substantive engagement of the faith community, determined to treat poor people as people and the transformation of a toxic atmosphere cannot be two unrelated significant changes. From what I understand, the Oak Cliff Task Force includes some of the very people who initially stood in opposition to the project. Everyone who transforms places of exclusion and isolation into places of community are not members of the Christian church, but the church can certainly be a force for such a change, not just by what it preaches, but what it does!

So Kudos to those congregations in Dallas, south and north, who recognize the tremendous role they can play in ending division and changing the conversation and public discourse to what's 'good for business', to the transformation of human life and investment in human capital. It is at the heart of the Gospel to remember that Jesus said that what is done to end the isolation and desperation of those whose lives are characterized by poverty, hopelessness and despair is also done to Him.

For those who may not be a member of any faith community, thanks for recognizing, for whatever reason, that the notion of brotherhood and concern for others, is necessary for human survival and progress. Your neighborhood will be better, because you decided to be a neighbor. That's something beautiful no matter where you spend your Sundays

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