Monday, July 24, 2017

This North Texas Giving Day, Help End Homelessness

North Texas Giving Day is a very important day for us, at MDHA, in our effort to end homelessness. How much should you give to MDHA on September 14, 2017? Here are some suggestions. (You can donate multiples of these numbers too!)

$103.53. $103.53 allowed Jonathan to reconnect his electricity, and avoid a return to homelessness (and a miserable Christmas).

$120.75. $120.75 allowed Daniel and Karla to remain housed, Abraham to pursue a job, and Richard to become eligible for a housing voucher. No, not $120.75 each; $120.75 total.

$95, $149, $200. $95, $149, $200, respectively, allowed Kisha, Sarah and Laura to move from shelter into housing.

So, please, before you forget, copy and paste into your calendar for September 14, 2017:

North Texas Giving Day - Don't forget to give to MDHA!

This link will take you straight to our North Texas Giving Day page.

Of course, if you don't want to wait, and prefer to donate to MDHA today, just go to our website, and click on Give to MDHA - or send a check to 2816 Swiss Ave., Dallas, TX 75204.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Watch Hard Conversations: Toxic Inequality

On June 28, 2017 for the latest installment of our Hard Conversations series, MDHA, CitySquare, and the Dallas Public Library presented a book synopsis of Toxic Inequality: How America's Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future.
The book synopsis was led by Randy Mayeux, renowned scholar and longtime book reviewer at CitySquare's Urban Engagement Book Club. Our good friends, Larry James and Rev. Dr. Michael Waters, joined Randy for the Q&A part of this exciting event, and expounded on how the lessons of Toxic Inequality can be applied to race, poverty and homelessness in Dallas.
Bummed that you missed it? Fret not! Our good friends at Two Hats Publishing have hooked you up! Click here or on the image above, and get ready to be blown away! But, first, download Randy's handout here: Toxic Inequality - Randy Mayeux Synopsis - Handout

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Carpenter’s Assistant

Recently I have been thinking about a story I heard almost three decades back, and how the moral of this story should inform our behavior today. I have not found the story anywhere in writing. The late Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Abraham Shapira, heard the story from a person who witnessed what happened, and he told it my rabbi, who told it to me.

One of the most prominent rabbinic icons of the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century was Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan. Kagan was renowned not only for his scholarship, but for his exemplary interpersonal behavior and humility. He shied away from any formal office or appointment. Instead he and his wife ran a modest grocery store in the small Lithuanian town of Radin (now Radun, Belarus).
A portrait of Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan
The story occurred towards the end of the great man’s life, in the early 1930s when he was in his nineties. He had heard that Radin’s carpenter’s assistant had died, and he informed his household that he would be attending the funeral. He asked them to find out when the funeral was, and let him know, as he did not want to miss it.

The members of his household were perplexed. Why on earth would one of the greatest rabbis of Europe attend the funeral of one of the simple workmen of Radin? They felt that this was not a good use of the rabbi’s time, and that he should conserve his strength. They, therefore, neglected to inform him of the time of the funeral, and instead let it come and go, hoping the rabbi would just forget about the whole thing.

Eventually, the rabbi found out that he had missed the funeral, and he became terribly upset. Try as they could, the members of his household could not mollify him. They became so worried that they called on Radin’s official town rabbi, to come and speak to him. The town rabbi said, “Rabbi Israel, I don’t understand why you are so upset. The deceased was just the carpenter’s assistant!”

The great man reacted as if he had been struck by lightning. He grabbed the lapels of the town rabbi’s jacket, and said, “You don’t understand! This man’s wife became an invalid, and could not care for herself, at all. He lovingly cared for her, feeding her, dressing her, tending to her every need, for twenty-two years, until she died. Not once did he complain or say a cross word to her or anyone else about this. Do you realize the level of godliness this man reached, through this saintly behavior? I was so looking forward to the great privilege of honoring this righteous man, by attending his funeral. Now, I will never get the chance to do so!” The town’s rabbi continued to try to console Rabbi Israel, but to no avail.
The building which housed the academy founded by Rabbi Israel, at 29 Sowiecka St.
I was wondering why I had been thinking of this story lately. Then it hit me. We, today, act just like the other characters in the story. We judge people by how they seem to us outwardly. We judge the rich to be worthier than the poor. We judge those who have had great luck and fortune in life to be, literally, worth more than those who have had bad luck. We judge those who have reached high office or professional prominence to be more important than those who merely toil in the shadows in jobs we regard as lesser.

What the great rabbi teaches us, more than eighty years after his death, is, quite simply, that we need to stop doing that. A person’s worth, worthiness and importance are, well, far too important to be based on such superficial things. The true worth of a human being is to be found in how they act, how much they give of themselves, and how much they sacrifice for others. And just like in the case of the carpenter’s assistant, we often have no idea what greatness hides behind the fa├žade of a seemingly simple person.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Addressing Racism and Homelessness in Dallas – a Progress Report

It’s hard to believe that the first time we discussed the disproportionate representation of African Americans in Dallas’ homeless population, on this blog, was just a little over nine months ago. Since then, we have endeavored to make the glaring racial disparities in homelessness an integral part of every conversation surrounding homelessness in our community.

With the help of a generous grant from United Way of Metropolitan DallasUnite Dallas Relief Fund, we are in the midst of a research and action program from the Center for Social Innovation (C4) titledRacism and Homelessness - Addressing Inequity in 10 American Cities”, nicknamed SPARC (Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities). In the words of C4, “While no single initiative can end structural racism across all systems, we believe,” that through this initiative we can, “create positive change in attitudes and behaviors that will begin to close the racial gap that has led to the disproportionate prevalence… of homelessness among African Americans.”
Hard Conversations: Racism and Homelessness
We launched the program, with a number of activities in late November 2016, including a first round of training for service providers, and the first meeting of a planning body to help MDHA and C4 shepherd this program in Dallas. The highlight that month was an installment of our Hard Conversations series on Racism and Homelessness. It was a packed house, in what could only be described as a combination of a church service and rock concert, with some serious learning and consciousness raising.

In February, C4 staff spent a week here in Dallas collecting qualitative data. They held focus groups with individuals experiencing homelessness, case managers and other front-line professionals, and mid to upper management personnel of service providers. They recorded about twenty Story corps style interviews with persons experiencing homelessness, where these individuals shared their life histories. Through this qualitative research, which they are conducting in all participating cities, they are looking for patterns in how people of color enter homelessness and what barriers prevent them from rapidly and permanently exiting homelessness.

We also spent time that week, MDHA and C4 staff together, meeting with a variety of stakeholders in the community to seek their guidance and input, including a large group of African-American and allied clergy, and leaders of other anti-racism efforts in our community. We also had another in-person meeting of the local planning body we had formed to help us shepherd this effort, whom we have and continue to meet with regularly over the phone.
2017 State of the Homeless Address
During the State of the Homeless Address in March, Cindy J. Crain, MDHA’s President and CEO, shared the relevant data on racism and homelessness, from the 2017 Homeless Count, and the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). These numbers reiterated what the 2016 Homeless Count numbers showed us already: 60-70% of those experiencing homelessness in our community are African-American. She vowed that MDHA would continue to work to, “counter the systemic influences that created such extraordinary disparity with systemic changes.”
Along the way, we were heartened to see the media address these issues, with Tasha Tsiaperas’ Does Dallas' homeless population show the city is racist? in the Dallas Morning News, and Stephanie Kuo’s How Dallas' History Paved The Way For A Disproportionately Black Homeless Population, on KERA, as two prime examples. Race has also been constantly in the background of KERA’s excellent series, One Crisis Away: No Place to Go, which focuses on the plight of families in West Dallas, who are at risk of losing their homes.

Currently, as C4 analyzes the qualitative data collected here in Dallas at the end of February, they are also in the process of collecting quantative data from the HMIS system, which they will subject to rigorous analysis. They have also begun to connect us with the other cities they are working with in a budding online learning collaborative, where we are sharing our challenges, and how we are beginning to tackle them. It is fascinating to see the commonalities and differences between the different communities regarding the connections between racism and homelessness. 

C4 encouraged us, from the beginning of this process, to develop and incorporate structural changes that could begin to move the needle on racism and homelessness in Dallas. To that end, as we developed our new Continuum of Care (CoC) Strategic Work Plan, with our partners in the CoC General Assembly, we included as an overarching goal, addressing racial disparities in homelessness and service delivery. We encourage you, the reader, to review these action items to see how you can help. 

A key action item pertains to one of our most important innovations in our homeless response system this year, the MDHA Homeless Response System Community Dashboard. It provides a quarterly snapshot of the core system metrics that inform us on achievements in moving individuals to permanent housing. We will add an addendum to this important tool, which will capture, along racial and ethnic lines, who is homeless and in need of housing. Even more importantly, it will inform the community on how well we are utilizing the housing resources we have, in a way that promotes racial equity and begins to eliminate racial disparities in service delivery.

Promoting racial equity in service delivery begins “at home”. What do we mean by that? During the State of the Homeless Address, Cindy Crain shared a slide that showed the racial and gender breakdown of the CEOs/Executive Directors of the main thirty-two service providers in the homeless arena in Dallas. The numbers are troubling, to put it mildly: 44% white males, 44% white females, 6% black males, 6% black females. A key action item is to build on this, and conduct and publish an annual demographic survey of all senior management and board officers of federally funded homeless response system agencies. We can and must begin to move to a more diverse make-up of senior staff, as well as lay and professional leadership, that better reflects the population we are all here to serve.
Last Hard Conversation with Randy Mayeux on Housing First
Later this month, we will host another public event, related to racism and homelessness, as we seek to keep this issue front and center in our work.  MDHA, CitySquare, and the Dallas Public Library will present a book synopsis of Toxic Inequality: How America’s Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future. Randy Mayeux, renowned scholar and longtime book reviewer at CitySquare’s Urban Engagement Book Club, will lead the discussion. Larry James and Rev. Dr. Michael Waters, will join him for the Q&A portion. They will expound on how the lessons of Toxic Inequality can be applied to race, poverty and homelessness in Dallas. RSVP today, so you don’t miss this exciting and informative event!

We look forward to continuing to work with C4, with our partners, and with the community at large on addressing this important issue. Together, we can fulfill the vision we started this process with, and “create positive change in attitudes and behaviors that will begin to close the racial gap that has led to the disproportionate prevalence… of homelessness among African Americans.”

Friday, May 26, 2017

Jonathan Reconnects, with a Little Help from the MDHA Flex Fund

Jonathan* has not had what most would consider an easy life. His disability does not allow him to work. He had even experienced homelessness. That said, with the help of a City of Dallas program, Jonathan had made significant progress. He had gotten into an apartment with a rental subsidy, and had a steady though fixed income from SSI (Supplemental Security Income). He no longer needed to worry about experiencing homelessness. Or, so he thought…

The problem is that $733 a month, which is what SSI paid in 2016, does not always go far enough. Late last year, Jonathan fell behind on his electric bill, and on December 15th, his electricity was shut off. That night the temperature dropped to 36, and a few nights later it was down to 17 degrees!  
Jonathan’s case manager, Mirka, was able to help him make an appointment with Dallas County to apply for utility assistance, but they could not see him before the 27th. On top of that, his electric provider was not registered with Dallas County, so it would take another seven days following that appointment, before his electricity could be turned back on.

Jonathan was at wit’s end. He could not refrigerate his food, he could not cook, and he could not heat his apartment. What really worried him, though, was that his lease required that his apartment be connected to utilities, so he was now in violation of his lease. He was liable to find himself, not only without electricity, but without a place to live altogether.

Put yourself in Jonathan’s shoes at that moment. Imagine what that feels like, to be without electricity, mere days before Christmas, worried that you might be evicted. Now imagine that all of this is happening to you because of $53.53, which is approximately what many of us middle class folk might spend on a casual dinner with drinks, for two.

Fortunately, Mirka knew where to turn for help, the MDHA Flex Fund. The Flex Fund was designed by MDHA, with the help of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, to pay for minor but impactful expenditures that impede clients from (making progress in) ending their homelessness. In this case, it would work in a similar, if not identical, fashion. The Flex Fund could pay the electric bill, and not only make Jonathan’s home habitable again, but also shield him from being evicted and returning to homelessness, due to the violation of his lease.

Mirka completed the one page Flex Fund request form. It asks for the client’s information, the solution needed, including cost and vendor, articulation of how this solution will help the client end his or her homelessness, and an explanation of why other resources cannot provide it. (This prevents service duplication, and waste of funds.) She then emailed the form, with documentation from the electric provider, to MDHA.

Shavon Moore, MDHA’s Continuum of Care Resource Manager, received the request and quickly approved it. She suggested to Mirka, however, that they “top off” Jonathan’s account with another $50, so he would not be disconnected again before his utility assistance could be approved by Dallas County. She then went online to the electric provider’s website, and paid $103.53.
Within two hours, Jonathan’s electricity was reconnected, the lights were on, his refrigerator was humming again, and the apartment was feeling nice and toasty. Jonathan was finally able to rest easy, and not worry about becoming homeless again. This Christmas would be full of light and warmth, after all…

* Client’s name has been changed to protect his privacy. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A New Beginning, Full of Hope

Homelessness comes in many “shapes and sizes.” It can happen to people for varied reasons. I am often reminded of a quip from our good friend, Dr. Iain De Jong, that drives this point home, “If you have seen one person experiencing homelessness… you have seen one person experiencing homelessness!”
Dr. Iain De Jong (Courtesy of the Press Democrat)
One of the reasons people experience homelessness is domestic violence. Though this is not what people usually think of when they hear the word “homelessness”, it should immediately make sense. What else would you call your situation, if you left your home, to escape your abuser? Therefore, the Federal Continuum of Care grants facilitated through the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA), have long included grants for housing programs for domestic violence survivors.

One thing that survivors do share with others who experience homelessness, is that they need more than just housing. Often, they can find themselves with nothing more than the clothes on their back and what they could carry in their hands.

Regina*, a domestic violence survivor, had found refuge with our grantee, Hope’s Door New Beginning Center. She was working hard on rebuilding her life, was admitted into their housing program, and was able to save up enough money to pay her required portion of the rent on her apartment. She was still missing two things, so basic to rebuilding her life and remaining housed, that most of us take them for granted, furniture and transportation.

Regina learned about the Dallas Furniture Bank, whose mission is to provide “furniture to families transitioning from homelessness.” She also learned about the DART Reduced ID card program, a DART-MDHA partnership, which allows those experiencing homelessness to ride on DART using 50% discounted passes. However, she did not have the money to utilize these services.
Aliah Henry, CEO, Dallas Furniture Bank
Now, you might ask why Hope’s Door New Beginning Center could not help her with these needs. It is not that they did not want to help her. As is often the case, the Federal grant that paid for her housing and services, could not be used to pay for furniture and transportation. What was Regina to do?

Luckily, her case manager, Jackie, knew who could help: The MDHA Flex Fund. The Flex Fund was designed by MDHA and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, with people just like Jackie in mind. The idea of the Flex Fund is simple. A person experiencing homelessness faces a minor but impactful expenditure that impedes the person from (making progress in) ending his or her homelessness. The Flex Fund pays for it. That’s all there is to it.

Jackie told Regina about the Flex Fund. She shared with her that early on MDHA had formed a partnership with the Dallas Furniture Bank to allow clients to obtain basic furniture, with the MDHA Flex Fund footing the bill. Jackie and Regina discussed what furniture would be most helpful to her. Regina chose a sofa, a chair and an end table for her living room, a table and chair set for her dining room, and a full-size bed, dresser and night stand for her bedroom. Jackie also shared with Regina that the Flex Fund could pay for her DART Reduced ID card and the remaining 50% cost of a monthly pass, as well.
A Hope’s Door New Beginning Center staffPurple Thursday photo
Jackie filled out MDHA’s simple Flex Fund forms, and submitted them to Shavon Moore, MDHA’s Continuum of Care Resource Manager. Shavon notified the Dallas Furniture Bank, and they called Regina in for her private appointment. It felt great to shop in style at their facility, and choose her very own furniture. Shavon also provided Jackie with a letter Regina could take to DART, certifying her homelessness, as well as a check made out to DART to cover the ID and the remaining 50% cost of a monthly pass.

Hope’s Door New Beginning Center is a true lifeline for domestic violence survivors like Regina, in bringing normalcy back into their lives. With the help of community partners like MDHA, the Dallas Furniture Bank and DART working together with them, Hope’s Door New Beginning Center can better help the “Reginas” of our community in achieving a sense of stability in a new beginning, full of hope.

* Client name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

They Couldn’t End Their Homelessness without It

British actor, Roger Daltrey, in one of the iconic American Express card commercials from 1985

How often do you find yourself without identification? The answer is, probably not that often. Most of us, in the words of the old American Express commercial, don’t leave home without it. This is why many find it surprising that over 10% of us do not have a government-issued photo ID. Not surprisingly, those without an ID tend to be poor, minorities, and/or elderly.  

Many of these same people manage to navigate life without an ID. However, ending a person’s homelessness can be challenging, if that person does not have some type of government issued identification, and cannot afford to get one. It seems that to paraphrase the same commercial, you can’t end your homelessness without it.

About six weeks ago, Daniel and Karla*, two neighbors who had experienced homelessness in the past, found themselves in a pickle. They were both living in permanent supportive housing, funded by a Federal grant. The agency which had received the grant ceased to operate, but our grantee, CitySquare, was prepared to keep the residents in housing. Daniel and Karla each had to present a government issued ID (at least a birth certificate), but neither of them had one. What were they to do?

About four weeks ago, Abraham was experiencing homelessness. He was determined to find a job, so he could become housed. He knew that he would need a government issued photo ID to get a job, and that to get the photo ID, he needed a birth certificate. He had obtained a birth certificate with the help of our partner, The Stewpot, but alas he could not find it. (It is difficult to keep all your documents and valuables in place, when you don’t have a home!) He would have to wait an entire year to be eligible for this help again. What was he to do?

Just three weeks ago, Richard was experiencing homelessness. CitySquare was helping him get everything in order, so he could apply for a Dallas Housing Authority voucher. He had a driver’s license, but it had expired. Without renewing his license, he would not be able to apply for a voucher. What was he to do?

Fortunately, about two years ago, through surveys of clients and service providers, MDHA had identified a variety of needs (beyond housing and supportive services), that Dallas’ homeless population faced, in their struggle to end their homelessness. One of these needs was critical documents, such as government issued identification. These needs may not be covered through existing federal, state and local government grants, that fund programs for the homeless.

Thus, with the help of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, the MDHA Flex Fund was born. The idea was simple. A minor but impactful need, such as the lack of a birth certificate or photo ID, impedes a client from (making progress in) ending his or her homelessness. The Flex Fund pays for it. That’s all there is to it.

That is how we helped Daniel, Karla, Abraham and Richard. Their case managers submitted a simple one page form. The form asks for the client’s information, what the client needs (including cost and vendor), articulation of how this will help the client end his or her homelessness, and an explanation of why other resources (including the client’s) cannot provide (for) it.
A classic Shavon Moore selfie
Shavon Moore, MDHA’s Continuum of Care Resource Manager, reviewed each request, approved it, and provided payment directly to the vendor. In fact, as is often the case with critical documents, in Daniel, Karla and Abraham’s cases, Shavon could quickly order the documents and pay for them online. Once they arrived, the case managers picked them up from the MDHA Offices.

Research shows that ending a person’s homelessness, quickly and permanently, is not just the right thing to do; it is the most cost effective thing to do. How cost effective is it to end a person’s homelessness with the help of the Flex Fund, specifically? The numbers speak for themselves. The cost of helping Daniel and Karla remain housed, Abraham pursue a job, and Richard become eligible for a housing voucher was… $120.75. No, not $120.75 each; $120.75 total. Now, that is not a bad return on investment!

* All client names have been changed, to protect their privacy.