Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Becoming a Top Gun Homeless Response System

In the opening scene of Top Gun, we are introduced to the hero of the movie, known by the call sign Maverick, as he accomplishes an incredible feat, trolling an enemy pilot:

It is so quick, that it is difficult to see how Maverick did this. So, how did he?

“When two pilots faced off in a dogfight, the pilot who was able to observe the variables, orient his aircraft to the best possible position relative to his opponent, decide on the best course of action to engage his opponent, and act rapidly on that decision would win the fight.” (Mark Bonchek and Chris Fussell, Decision Making, Top Gun Style; Emphases mine – DSG.)

What the fictional Maverick uses is a conceptual decision making framework originated by the real larger than life character, U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd. This framework is known as the OODA Loop, because, as illustrated by Maverick, it involves four steps, Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Boyd believed that this framework could be useful beyond the military, and it is seen as particularly helpful in competition in the business world. I believe, that it is applicable to our fight to end homelessness, too.

You can probably reflect on different situations, where you have engaged in decision making, and have used some or all the elements Maverick used. The extent to which you have been successful may have depended on your adherence to the OODA Loop framework.

You could, for instance, observe carefully, orient yourself to your situation very well, and even decide on the right course of action, but then due to various obstacles, not act. Conversely, my father’s admonition from when I was a child, still echoes in my head. To my pleading, “But I thought,” he would respond, “No, you didn’t think!” In those cases, I decided and then acted, without observing and orienting.

So, how does this apply to ending homelessness? If you think about our new MDHA Homeless Response System Community Dashboard, it gives us the perfect tool to make decisions in a way that would make Colonel Boyd proud. It allows us to observe all of the performance metrics or variables related to our number one job, as a homeless response system, housing the homeless. We can then orient ourselves into the best possible position, by drilling down into the data, and addressing three simple questions:
  • How are we doing in housing the homeless?
  • What is helping us house the homeless?
  • What is impeding us from housing the homeless?

Once we have carefully observed and oriented ourselves, we can decide what corrective action we need to take to do a better job. Then, we follow through, and take that corrective action.

That the most important component in the real world is action, is a given. However, it is the Dashboard that allows our action to be much more well informed than ever before, and that is the true game-changer. The Dashboard allows our action to be guided by genuine data-driven evidence-informed decisions, born of careful observation and orientation.  With that, we can win this dogfight and defeat our foe, homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Watch the State of the Homeless Address 2017!

On Thursday, March 9, 2017, about 350 people joined us at Goodwill Industries of Dallas, for the State of the Homeless Address.

We were honored to hear introductory words from MDHA board member, Dallas County Commissioner, Dr. Theresa Daniel, and Chair of the MDHA board, Executive Director of the Turtle Creek Recovery Center, John Castaneda.

Cindy J. Crain, MDHA President and CEO, shared the results of the 2017 Point-in-Time Homeless Count, and the progress of the Homeless Response System.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

MDHA’s Homeless Response System - Helping Real People

We never forget that homelessness is about real people. Here are just a few glimpses of how we help real people whom we encounter through our work:
A photo of one of our homeless friends,
taken by award winning, Fort Worth based photographer, B.J. Lacasse,
shared with our friend’s permission
Interested in helping us help real people? Go to: What Can You Do to Help? -

Monday, February 20, 2017

My Father Was a Syrian Refugee - My Remarks at the East Plano Islamic Center’s - “Make America One Again” Event

Yesterday, Sunday, February 19, 2017, I was honored to share a few remarks at an event celebrating and honoring refugees, held by MDHA supporter, the East Plano Islamic Center. Here is what I said:

My father was a Syrian refugee. I am a refugee.

Now, since my name is David Gruber, this declaration might puzzle you. That does not sound like a typical Syrian name… Allow me to explain.

Ancient Israel, like most societies of its time, was an agrarian society, and so their festivals centered around agriculture. However, as they developed their founding myths, my ancestors incorporated themes from these myths into their already existing celebrations. Perhaps the most fundamental theme, that they incorporated into these traditions, was the idea that we are refugees.

Therefore, one festival morphed into a celebration marking the escape from tyranny and persecution in Egypt. Another festival came to commemorate wandering in the wilderness. A third festival became a time to recognize the divine grace inherent in refugees building a new life in a new land.
Family of Syrian refugees at East Plano Islamic Center (EPIC).
EPIC is a supporter of MDHA.
On that third festival, the Israelites were commanded to acknowledge this divine grace, bring an offering to the priest, and proclaim their thanks for their resettlement in a new land.

In giving thanks, they were commanded to retell their entire refugee story. However, they were not to begin the story from the Exodus from Egyptian tyranny. They were commanded to start the story, from the very beginning, far back in the mists of time, when they were but a family, not yet a people. This family, like the people that later descended from it, were refugees too.

Do you know where this family came from? The first words of the story tell us, “A wandering Aramean was my father…” Do you know how we would say, “A wandering Aramean was my father…” in today’s English? “My father was a Syrian refugee!” Yes, the founding myth of our ancient faith begins with acknowledging that our mythical patriarchs and matriarchs were Syrian refugees.

Our acknowledgement of refugee status goes one step further, though. The Ancient Rabbis tell us that it is not just our ancestors, who escaped tyranny by divine grace. We did too. For if they had not escaped persecution, we too would still be living under a tyrant. They command us thus, “In every generation a person must regard himself as though he personally had gone out of Egypt.” We are to see ourselves as refugees!

This is not a difficult task for Jews. We have fled persecution many times in our history. Most American Jews are descended of people who fled from European tyrants. In this blessed land they sought and found equality. However, they also witnessed the intolerance and bigotry, that caused the doors of this land to shut, as European Jewry was destroyed, and six million of our brothers and sisters were murdered.

When the magnitude of the Holocaust became evident, we, as Jews, coined a term worthy to be shared by Americans of all creeds: Never again! Never again will we stand idly by. Never again will we allow bigotry and intolerance to rule the day. Never again will we sentence innocents to death by omission. We will stay true to our founding myth.

My father was a Syrian refugee. I am a refugee.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Invocation at the Dallas Furniture Bank’s 12th Annual CHAIRity FriendRaiser Luncheon - In the Image of God

Perhaps the busiest night of the year, for our homeless response system, is the night of the Homeless Count. And you can count on the staff and supporters of the Dallas Furniture Bank to step up to the plate that night, year in and year out.

This year, just three weeks ago, we had the largest and most comprehensive Count in Texas history. A few days later, Rev. Linda Roby of First United Methodist Church Dallas, which hosted about 775 of our 1,125 volunteers, asked me a fascinating question. Why, from a theological perspective is it important to engage in this activity, counting the homeless?

One could ask a similar question about the Dallas Furniture Bank. We are all here for a good cause, and last year I shared with you, from the point of view of academic research, why what the Dallas Furniture Bank does is so vitally important. However, from a theological perspective, why is it important to do what they do, namely, “provide furniture to families transitioning from homelessness.”

We need not look too far in the Abrahamic tradition to find an answer. In the very first chapter of the Bible we are presented with a core idea of this ancient tradition, that the original humans were created, bitzelem Elohim, in the Image of God.

The revolutionary power of this idea is limitless. If the original humans were created in the Image of God that means that each and every human today bears that Image. Consequently, each human, from the richest to the poorest, from the billionaire to the person experiencing homelessness, has inherent importance, inherent dignity, and inherent worth.
with Aliah Henry, CEO, Dallas Furniture Bank
And societies invest in what they think is worth the investment. Therefore, a society as rich as ours, a city as vibrant as ours, a community as blessed as ours, not only must, but can invest in ending homelessness. It can provide sufficient affordable housing to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring, housing that the Dallas Furniture Bank will furnish. It can fulfill the mission of the Dallas Furniture Bank and restore normalcy and independence to each one of our homeless friends.

That is the theological significance of the Homeless Count and the Dallas Furniture Bank. Through these seemingly quotidian acts of counting our homeless friends, of providing them with basic furniture to make their houses true homes, we acknowledge that our homeless friends bear the Image of God, and they are worth it.

And, through our presence here today, through our support for the sacred work of the Dallas Furniture Bank, we state, that we will not rest until each of our homeless friends is treated with the dignity that befits fellow human beings. For they too were created bitzelem Elohim, in the Image of God.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

MDHA Homeless Response System Community Dashboard October-December 2016

As we announced earlier this month, yesterday we began publishing quarterly reports tracking our community's progress in making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring in Dallas and Collin Counties.

Homeless Response System Community Dashboard will provide a snapshot of the core system metrics that inform us on achievements in moving individuals to permanent housing.

This first report published yesterday, February 13, 2017, covers activity between October 1 and December 31, 2016. Click here to download this first dashboard, which establishes a baseline to which we can compare future performance: MDHA Homeless Response System Community Dashboard - October-December 2016.  

With this baseline now in place, each subsequent Homeless Response System Community Dashboard will include a brief executive review of what the data tells us, methods for systemic improvement, and other impacts to the system of care.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Our Homeless Friends’ Self-Advocacy Bears Fruit

Courtesy of DART
One of the forums that MDHA facilitates is the Alliance Homeless Forum. This is a monthly forum run by and for our friends, who are experiencing homelessness, or are formerly homeless. Shavon Moore, our Continuum of Care Resource Manager helps facilitate these meetings. Already back in 2014, our friends highlighted an acute need – public transportation. In their experience, having access to public transportation to utilize medical and social services, search for employment, and navigate housing solutions was a critical need. This access was impeded by the issue of cost. Though $5 a day might not seem like much for the average reader, this is not a cost most of our friends can afford.

They researched the issue, and discovered that Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) already had well publicized programs in place, that allowed for 50% reduced fares for certain classes of people, e.g. persons with disabilities, seniors and students. They researched the issue further and found that a little-known program existed, where those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) were eligible for such a 50% reduced fare too. Perhaps since qualifying for TANF in Texas is extremely difficult, this program was not being utilized.

Shavon and our friends approached DART, and suggested that it would make more sense to convert this existing unutilized program into a program that would address their needs. DART agreed to run a pilot program, in collaboration with MDHA for the months of March-August 2016, that would enable our friends to pay a 50% reduced fare. Following this successful pilot, DART agreed to renew the program for all of 2017!

To be eligible for this program, a person must be literally homeless or actively enrolled in a program through safe haven, permanent housing, transitional housing or emergency shelter for at least ten days, and he or she must be have an active record in the MDHA’s Homeless Management Information System.

If such a person and his or her case manager identify transportation as a need, the case manager submits a request to MDHA. MDHA then verifies the person’s housing status and provides a letter of certification to the case manager. The person then submits the letter to the DART Store, and purchases a DART Reduced ID card.

The DART Reduced ID card allows persons to purchase 50% discounted passes at the DART Store, ticket vending machines and on buses. They must show the ID when presenting a DART pass to a bus operator or a train fare enforcement officer. 2-hour passes, day passes and 31 day passes are available. The MDHA Flex Fund can further pay for the ID and/or the remaining 50% of a monthly pass, if needed.

One of the most important lessons of this story is one that should be obvious, but is all too often forgotten. When it comes to discovering the needs of those experiencing homelessness, one of the most important things to do is… ask those experiencing homelessness! There is simply no substitute for true lived experience.