Tuesday, July 3, 2012

CitySquare's Work with the Homeless & Payday Lending Regulation Profiled

Two big issues that we've been working on were in the news the past couple of days...

Housing for the homeless is a central part of our work at CitySquare. We currently house close to 300 formerly homeless men, women and young people who have aged out of foster care in our housing programs. They are at our downtown headquarters in downtown Dallas in our signature CityWalk@Akard, Destination Home permanent supportive housing program as well as apartments that we own in east Dallas for our youth in TRAC (Transition Resource Action Center).

But we are relentlessly trying to get more of the city's citizens who live on the streets of downtown off of those streets and into housing.

Our Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) including a great team mate of ours Jonathan Grace, goes out daily (and nights) to talk with men and women whose physical and mental health has been damaged by life on the street. Some struggle with addiction and other pathologies directly related to homelessness.

But we believe we they deserve a home, and through a strategy called 'housing first'. The Dallas Morning News spotlighted that work in Sunday's edition.

"Grant Wells often wakes up on the back porch of his social worker’s house in East Dallas, having slept off a half-liter of vodka."

"He is among the hardest of the hard-core homeless, an alcoholic who has been on the streets 20 years. And soon, he’ll move into his own, publicly subsidized apartment, without any prior obligation to get counseling or quit drinking."

"“We want to get him a home that’s near the bar,” said the social worker, Jonathan Grace, who has been on the case eight months. “It sounds strange, but that’s his comfort zone and those people there are his support system.”"

"Wells is being placed through a method called “housing first,” in which people are moved directly from the streets into homes..."

"...Grace’s employer, the nonprofit group CitySquare, took on Wells’ case after watching him fish through trash bins in Deep Ellum for meals."

""Wells hasn’t read the research on housing first. He’s unaware of the method, other than it’ll help him settle into a home. Until then, he often finds a bed on Grace’s porch, usually barefoot after losing his shoes.""

"Grace doesn’t seem to mind. He drags Wells inside to clean him up for his next appointment at the Veterans Affairs office, washing his bruised and battered feet."

"“It’s the closest I’ll come to washing Christ’s feet,” Grace said. “It’s this disgusting, humbling thing. But I realize taking care of Grant is not a chore. It’s a blessing."

"“There shouldn’t be any degradation,” Grace said. “They are our neighbors and our friends.”"
Wells could be just days away from moving into his new apartment through the Housing First Program with Veterans Affairs of North Texas. After that, according to the plan, he’ll get treatment to wean him from vodka."

And then we continue our work to get stronger regulation for the payday lending industry. It's the subject of my column this month. Last year we were instrumental in getting state legislation and city ordinances passed to curb the detrimental impact of these businesses on people in economically fragile conditions...

"Last year, at the urging of the residents of Dallas, the City Council passed what has been touted as the toughest ordinance to regulate payday lending in the country, which strengthened two laws approved by the 81st Texas Legislature."

"The measure, led by council member Jerry Allen, provides greater protection to Dallas residents exploited by the practices of far too many members of this industry."

"City of Dallas ordinance 28287 limits the amount of payday loans to 20 percent of a borrower’s income, and auto-title loans to 3 percent of a borrower’s income or 70 percent of the value of the vehicle, whichever is less. It also limits the number of loan rollovers to three or four payment installments. Each rollover must repay 25 percent of the loan principle."

"As expected, the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas sued the city, but within weeks the exact ordinances were passed by the city of Austin, which is also being sued. Now, the City Council of San Antonio, led by council member Diego Bernal, is poised to follow."

"“A lot of folks in town are working-class and these businesses prey upon their desperation,” Bernal says, and the industry knowingly shoves people into an “abyss of poverty and debt.”"

"Both the legislation and ordinance went into effect in January 2012. So what’s the record of compliance among payday and auto-title loan merchants in Dallas?"

"This spring, a study undertaken by the public interest center Texas Appleseed, working with the Anti-Poverty Coalition of Greater Dallas, whose members posed as potential borrowers, surveyed 37 of the 241 short-term lenders in our city. The average charges for payday and auto-title loans among the 37 range from 24 to 66 times the Texas constitutional usury cap of 10 percent interest."

"The survey revealed major compliance issues. For instance, 41 percent of the surveyed lenders provided no information regarding the limited-rollover requirements. In fact, most of those in that 41 percent said loans could be rolled over indefinitely."

Come join us in the fight against poverty at CitySquare!

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