Sunday, November 29, 2015

New Transgender Clinic at The Stewpot

What: Parkland's Homeless Outreach Medical Services (HOMES) Department has opened a new clinic to serve Homeless Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming patients. Services focus on providing gender affirming, culturally competent care to homeless or marginally housed transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, including Primary Medical Care, Mental Health, and Hormone Replacement Therapy.  

Where: The Stewpot @ 1822 Young Street, Dallas, Texas 

When: Every Tuesday - 1:00-3:30pm

The Stewpot closes early for staff meetings on Tuesdays, so please arrive before 2:00pm for access through the main entrance or call the clinic at 214-266-2884 for access through Young Street entrance. 

For an Appointment - Call: 214-590-0153

For Additional Information - Contact:

Candace Moore, M.S.
HIV/LGBT Services Program Manager

Susan Spalding, M.D.
Medical Director

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

See Me Now - Teens without Homes

Bill Zeeble of KERA
As part of the National Coalition for the Homeless and National Student Campaign against Hunger & Homelessness' National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, here in Dallas, the MDHA Youth Committee held its annual See Me Now - Teens without Homes, event to highlight youth homelessness. Bill Zeeble of KERA excelled as the keynote speaker. He highlighted the tireless work of school districts in helping the most vulnerable of those experiencing homelessness, children. Piles of the Dallas Independent School District's homeless outreach program backpacks gave the assembled a real physical representation of the way too high numbers of youth experiencing homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties.  
Our Friends Place, Resource Center Dallas, CitySquare TRAC, Viola's House, Promise House, CITY House, and Dallas ISD were all well represented at the event. It was led by MDHA Youth Committee Chair, Carla Cleeson of CitySquare TRAC, and its Vice Chair, Sue Hesseltine, of Our Friends Place. Sarah Carroll, of the City of Dallas, and a member of the committee, read an official proclamation by Mayor Mike Rawlings, designating the day of the event as Homeless Youth Awareness Day.
Carla Cleeson, Chair of the MDHA Youth Committee
The highlight of the event every year is the panel of teens, who tell their moving stories, usually still unfolding, about their struggles with homelessness. This year, the panel was particularly diverse, and even included an adult, our good friend, Paloma Belmarez, longtime employee of Promise House. She movingly recounted her journey from typical middle class child through teen experiencing homelessness to helping kids at the same program that helped her.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My Invocation at the 30th National Philanthropy Day Awards Luncheon

Yesterday, I was honored to deliver the invocation at the 30th National Philanthropy Day Awards Luncheon, at the Hyatt Regency Dallas, presented by Greater Dallas Chapter AFP and KERA. Here it is:
Thank you for the honor of offering the invocation today. One of the best things about Jewish blessings associated with food consumption is that they are very short, and very inclusive. That makes me really popular at events like these. The usual blessing offered before a meal is the blessing over bread, bread being the historic staple of ancient meals and ceremonies. In this blessing we praise God for bringing forth bread from the earth. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but to me these slices of bread don’t look like they came directly from the earth. So why do we use that phraseology? I believe it is to acknowledge those who bridge the gap between the earth, from which the wheat is harvested, and the table upon which the bread is served. Many unseen people were involved in the effort of turning that plant into this bread. We must be thankful to them. Without them, there is no bread. 

The people sitting here today represent many wonderful causes, and most of the time they and their work are unseen. The formerly homeless neighbor living in permanent supportive housing might not know who I, the development professional, am. The person lying in a hospital bed may not ever meet the hospital’s volunteer fundraiser. The person, enjoying a museum’s latest exhibit, will seldom interact with its philanthropic benefactor. 

And yet, without the tireless work of development professionals, volunteer fundraisers and philanthropists, there is no permanent supportive housing, there are no hospital beds, there are no museum exhibits. It is the work of these people that we acknowledge today, as I recite the traditional blessing over bread and over this wonderful meal, in Hebrew and in English:
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Amen 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Not So Fast - The Final Part of Our Series on Source of Income Discrimination

As we discussed in the last posting in this series, there remain tremendous challenges in resolving the macro issue that inhibits those with little means from renting apartments – the lack of adequate affordable housing stock. However, it would seem that the micro challenge – allowing landlords to discriminate against low income renters, based on the source of their rental payments – could be and was on its way to being resolved in one if not two major Texas cities. Austin had passed an ordinance prohibiting such discrimination, and Dallas had committed to considering such an ordinance.

One of the principals of American government is that, generally, federal legislation preempts and overrides state legislation. State legislation, in turn, perhaps without need for the “generally” caveat in the previous sentence, preempts and overrides local government legislation. This last legislative session, with regard to this very issue, the legislature stepped in and legislated in this very area in SB 267. The operative section of this legislation had three paragraphs (Once again, any interpretation should be taken with the obvious disclaimer that I am not an attorney, certainly not one licensed in Texas, and this is my simple lay explanation):

Section 1 (a) prohibits local governments from prohibiting source of income discrimination, in general: “A municipality or county may not adopt or enforce an ordinance or regulation that prohibits an owner, lessee, sublessee, assignee, managing agent, or other person having the right to lease, sublease, or rent a housing accommodation from refusing to lease or rent the housing accommodation to a person because the person's lawful source of income to pay rent includes funding from a federal housing assistance program.” The “double negative” can be confusing – the state prohibits prohibiting. Basically, landlords may discriminate against those holding vouchers, and local governments cannot stop them from doing so. 

Section 1 (b) allows local governments to prohibit source of income discrimination, if the renter is a veteran: “This section does not affect an ordinance or regulation that prohibits the refusal to lease or rent a housing accommodation to a military veteran because of the veteran's lawful source of income to pay rent.”

Section 1(c) allows local governments to incentivize and encourage landlords to voluntarily accept housing vouchers: “This section does not affect any authority of a municipality or county or decree to create or implement an incentive, contract commitment, density bonus, or other voluntary program designed to encourage the acceptance of a housing voucher directly or indirectly funded by the federal government, including a federal housing choice voucher.”

With this new law in place, Austin could not enforce its ordinance, and Dallas certainly could still consider such an ordinance, but could not meaningfully address this issue, with regard to non-veterans. What can local governments, particularly in our geographical area of concern, Greater Dallas, still do? It would seem that they are left with two main options for veterans and non-veterans respectively.

First, local governments could pass ordinances prohibiting source of income discrimination in the case of veterans. As we heard from Shavon Moore, MDHA Continuum of Care (CoC) Program Coordinator, at the last regular CoC Assembly meeting, currently 120(!) veterans experiencing homelessness have housing vouchers, but not even one of them find housing. Most likely, many and perhaps most of these veterans, could be housed quickly, if landlords could no longer discriminate against them, refusing to accept their vouchers.   
Second, local governments could create programs to educate landlords about the positives and dispel myths and preconceptions about the negatives of accepting renters holding housing vouchers. To complement this education, local governments could grant incentives, perhaps through actual expenditures or tax expenditures to encourage landlords to accept vouchers.
Isabelle Headrick, Executive Director of Accessible Housing Austin
(Courtesy of Accessible Housing Austin)
With such education, landlords could arrive at the realization voiced by Isabelle Headrick, Executive Director of Accessible Housing Austin, “As someone who has leased properties to voucher holders for twelve years, I have found that Section 8 and other voucher programs make my job substantially easier, not harder… these are actually very well-run programs that put money into my organization’s bank account like clockwork every month and allow me to serve tenants who are very stable and stay for years.”

Friday, November 6, 2015

Much More Than a Pair of Boots – Back to Work for Just $69.78

One of the important new tools we use in helping individuals, who are experiencing homelessness, is the MDHA Flex Fund. The Flex Fund is designed to pay for minor, but impactful expenses, that help clients resolve their housing emergencies. We have written about this on our website, and in a number of instances on this blog, most recently in a posting titled, Not without Simon – Another Happy Flex Fund Story. Also, Courtney Collins interviewed Cindy J. Crain, MDHA President and CEO about this: Losing An Apartment Because You Can’t Pay The $45 Application Fee. The initial funding ($38,742) for the MDHA Flex Fund was generously given by United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.  

Herman Survivor Men's Bison Steel Toe Waterproof Work Boots (Courtesy of Walmart)
In that interview, Cindy mentioned steel toe work boots as an example of an MDHA Flex Fund expense. In the article cited on our website, Kiley Gosselin tells us about a Gates Foundation supported five year pilot at the Washington State Coalition against Domestic Violence, that used a flexible funding mechanism. She also gives a steel toe work boot example:

One advocate cited an instance where a survivor had obtained a new job and spent her own funds for a new apartment and security deposits, but was told on her first day of work she needed to purchase steel-toed boots at a cost of $100 in order to keep the job. Just $100 of the pilot program funds allowed for the purchase of the boots, supporting her ability to maintain employment – critical to her ability to maintain stable housing. Without the flexibility to cover these minor but impactful expenditures, advocates are often challenged with having to identify new housing options for the survivor – a much more difficult and costly endeavor than a pair of boots. (Emphasis mine – DSG)

I was therefore excited when our Vice President, Rebecca Cox, walked in today, and shared our first very own steel toe work boot story!

One of the best things about the Flex Fund, is that it empowers arguably the most important persons working for non-profits – case managers. These frontline workers are the “tip of the spear” in the fight to end homelessness. This last Monday, Walter*, a case manager at Austin Street Center, was happy to hear from his client, Paul, that he had found a job, with a start date of the following Monday. However, Paul was required to show up on day one with Herman Survivor Men's Bison Steel Toe Waterproof Work Boots (cost - $69.78). Fortunately, unlike the program Gosselin mentions, at least they told him in advance! Paul told Walter, what Walter, as his case manager, knew already – Paul could not afford this expense. Walter also knew that Austin Street Center could pay for only certain things with the tight funding streams available to them. They could not pay for this type of expense.  

Walter spoke to Linda, his supervisor, and she suggested that the MDHA Flex Fund might be a good tool to use in this case. Linda reminded Walter, that they both would need to sign off not only on the well evident fact that this minor, but impactful expense, was vital to Paul’s path to resolving his housing emergency. They would also have to affirm that they knew of no other resource in the community, that could directly supply or pay for steel toe work boots. With some quick research, Walter and Linda discovered, what they had suspected already – that was indeed the case. The only quick and readily available resource for this type of minor, but impactful expense, was the MDHA Flex Fund. Walter and Linda filled out the simple one page Flex Fund request form, where they documented all of this, and sent it in to Rebecca. Paul had told them that the Herman Survivor Men's Bison Steel Toe Waterproof Work Boots were available at Walmart. Walter called Walmart, and asked them to put a pair on hold. Rebecca went to Walmart, paid for the boots out of the MDHA Flex Fund, and delivered them to Austin Street Center.

Paul is overjoyed with his new pair of boots, but what really makes him happy is the fact that he is on the road to self-sufficiency. With his new job, he will be able to get his life back on track. His already existing faith in Walter has grown even more, since he was able to help him get what he needed to begin new employment. He knows that with Walter’s help, he can achieve housing too. All of that – for just $69.78. Not a bad return on investment…  
* Names of the client, case manager and supervisor have been changed. Boots are actually named Herman…