Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Rational and Irrational Thought

I am currently researching and writing about Coordinated Access, which we are about to launch here in Dallas. (If you receive our e-newsletter, you already know what this is. If you don’t, why not sign up? Just email me at, and I will add you to the list.)  

In this context, specifically the difficulties in obtaining buy-in for programs and ideas backed up by objective research, I found this Scientific American article particularly instructive: Rational and Irrational Thought: The Thinking that IQ Tests Miss - Check it out, when you have a moment.

By the way, the slightly naughty subtitle (click on the above link, and see it for yourself) actually made me think of the upcoming legislative session. I don’t know why; I just can’t put my finger on it…

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Unique Story That Teaches Us How We Should Treat People Experiencing Homelessness

Check out this somewhat unique story from the UK about a student, who used her common sense, not only in the way she treated a guy who helped her, but also to arrive at what would be of most help to him:

Homeless Man Offers Student All His Money To Get Her A Taxi. Now She's Thanking Him In A Big Way -

Why do I say this story is somewhat unique? I am always on the lookout for uplifting stories about people helping people experiencing homelessness. There are, in fact, many wonderful people out there who want to help. There are, however, often two fundamental challenges that such stories suffer from. First, they treat the person who is experiencing homelessness as one who lacks agency. Second, the help offered does not help the person end his or her homelessness. This should not be surprising, as some people, ample evidence not withstanding, cling to a belief that the "homeless" have something so inherently wrong with them, they need to be "fixed", before they can move back into a permanent home.

In this story, person A has a problem, and person B helps her. Contrary to the often repeated narrative, it is the person experiencing homelessness, who helps the person who is not, and not vice versa. Not only does this man have agency, he sacrifices much more than the typical well-meaning do-gooder, as he gives her all the money he has. We are further told later in the story, that he helps people all the time. Now, Person A, whose problem was solved, decides to return the favor. So, how does this student decide she should help a man experiencing homelessness? Without spending years studying the issue, she arrives at the same conclusion sociologists have arrived at time after time. What does this "homeless" man need? A home! We can reasonably conclude that he has some more challenges in his life, that he probably needs help with; don't all of us? However, getting him into a home - Housing First - will help, not hinder addressing whatever those challenges might be, in addition to ending his homelessness.

Monday, December 15, 2014

This Book Blew Me Away!

I just finished reading one of the best books I have ever read. It just blew me away.

The book, which came out this year, is No Greatness without Goodness – How a Father’s Love Changed a Company and Sparked a Movement. It is the story of former Walgreens Senior Vice President, Randy Lewis, which he tells in first person. Raising an autistic son inspired him to lead Walgreens towards a reality, where 10% of their workforce is made up of persons with disabilities. He did this without sacrificing anything on the business end of the ledger. He is emphatic about the fact that this can work in any company, and in fact has inspired other companies to do the same as Walgreens. He insists that this is all out of a sense of justice, not charity.

Since when you are a hammer everything is a nail, while reading this I obviously reflected on what this might mean for our fight to end homelessness. Homelessness is primarily an issue of poverty, while chronic homelessness, is an area where poverty and disability meet and exacerbate each other. Could such policies, like the one Lewis led at Walgreens, help in this area? I can’t see why not. He gives specific examples of people, who due to their disabilities, were never given a chance to find meaningful employment. Once his policies were enacted, they joined Walgreens, and now serve as valuable employees. An obvious result of this, is that they leave the ranks of the poor.

The larger theme that he talks about is instructive too. We have achievable goals in place to end veteran homelessness and chronic homelessness in the next two years. We are already “breaking the mold” in the area of homelessness, in general, with the funding of Rapid Rehousing programs for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. However, these achievements and initiatives will not solve the problem of those who are “doubled-up” with friends or family, who are probably number around 7.5 million people in our country. They most certainly will not solve the challenges people face every day living in substandard housing or housing they cannot afford. The only solution to these problems, and at the end of the day, the only thing that will help cure poverty is if our country decides to act as it should, and truly invest in ending poverty out of a sense of obligation, justice and love.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Alliance Homeless Forum Meeting

Friday morning I attended the Alliance Homeless Forum at the Central Branch of the Dallas Public Library. This was my first time at this extremely interesting and important meeting, and I am definitely making this a regular on my calendar. It is open to all.

The first agency spotlight was delivered by folks from AIDS Arms. They explained how their agency helps helps individuals who are HIV positive, and patients with AIDS. They specifically highlighted the special program they run to help such individuals, who are experiencing homelessness. It was fascinating to hear how they help clients where they "are", and empower individuals to direct their own care, according to their own needs.

They talked about how care is free under federal law, and compared to the past, the medication regimens are simpler, side effects are down, and testing is quicker. As with so many issues in the health and social service arena, getting people services is not only the humane thing to do; it contributes to public health, and saves the community money.

Ignorance and various misconceptions regarding AIDS (and sexuality in general) create tremendous barriers to the important work these folks do. This ignorance seems to be more prevalent than one would imagine, and seems to begin in our schools, continue in our houses of worship, and even affect some service providers.

The second agency spotlight was delivered by Ron Coward, of the Crisis Intervention team, who are social workers, who are attached to the Dallas Police Department. They mainly do outreach with persons who are experiencing homelessness and are unsheltered. They spoke about the importance of helping people who are unsheltered, specifically during cold and wet weather, and how they help folks navigate the system.

Traswell Livingston, III, the outgoing Chair of the Dallas area Continuum of Care, closed out the meeting thanking and honoring those who have been instrumental in running the forum and advocating for those experiencing homelessness.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

20 Things a Person Experiencing Homelessness Might Do With a Cellphone

There is a rather disturbing letter to the editor on the Dallas Morning News site. You can find it here:, and here is the letter in whole:

Homeless people with cellphones?

Re: “Unlikely visitor slithers into The Stewpot,” Wednesday news story.

What a nice story in the Metro section Wednesday about the Stewpot Homeless Resource Center sponsoring a drive for coats or sleeping bags, and feeding the homeless in a selfless way.

However, I also looked carefully at the accompanying picture, and noticed that the homeless man was taking a close-up picture of the python with his cellphone. Hmm. Homeless people with cellphones. Am I missing something here?

Peter Archbold, Richardson

I was happy to see that online, the commenters almost universally took this individual to task. I am sure that if I asked any one of our grantees what the letter writer is missing, they could come up with things I can’t think of. Another tack might be, and I am just spit-balling here, to attend the Alliance Homeless Forum this Friday at 10.30am at the Dallas Public Library’s Central Branch, and ask one of the attendees, what they could do or do with a cell phone.

However, let’s just say that one would exercise simple empathy, which Webster defines as, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also: the capacity for this”. Would that not be enough, to come up with an answer to the above rhetorical question?!

Perhaps the problem starts with defining these people as, “the homeless.” Perhaps, if one recognized that these are people, who among all of their characteristics and life experiences, are currently experiencing homelessness, one could empathize?! Seriously, have we not learned, in the American South of all places, that treating people as the “other” dehumanizes us too?!

So, just for the sake of this exercise, let’s see how many reasons, in no particular order, I can come up with, without consulting the experts, speaking to an actual person experiencing homelessness, or doing any research. (I will stop when I reach 20, OK?)

I might do any or all of these, with a cell phone, were I experiencing homelessness:

     1)     Talk to loved ones, who care about me, and about whom I care;

2)     Talk to potential employers about jobs;

3)     Talk to the Texas Workforce Commission, so I can get unemployment benefits;

4)     Document an accident or a crime;

5)     Call 911 to report an accident or a crime;

6)     Talk to CitySquare, who can help me find housing;

7)     Talk to The Bridge, so I can find if I can stay there tonight;

8)     Call the Salvation Army to find out where I can get a meal;

9)     Make an appointment to see a doctor at one of the Parkland HOMES mobile clinics;

10) Find out results of medical tests;

11) Talk to the VA about benefits I earned, while protecting the rights of people to write letters to newspapers about why I shouldn’t be able to have a cell phone;

12) Find out where I might get a used suit for a job interview;

13) Find out where I can store my belongings;

14) Call Texas Health and Human Services to arrange for medical insurance for my children;

15) Find out from AIDS Services, if they can help me get a refill for my anti-viral drugs;

16) Call the Resource Center to find out if there is an LGBT youth support group I can join, since, at just 16 years old, my parents threw me out of the house, after I came out last week;

17) Call Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, to find out how I can get a restraining order against my husband, who is continuing to stalk me;

18) Call the Vogel Alcove to tell them I am running five minutes late, since my boss at my minimum wage job changed the schedule on me at the last minute, and threatened to fire me, if I left at the time he had originally told me I could;

19) Call Pat at the Stewpot to thank her and tell her how much I enjoy selling the Streetzine;

20) Text a small donation to the Dallas Public Library, because I love the fact that they treat me with dignity, and host the Alliance Homeless Forum every month, where I can share concerns with people who value my point of view.
That, Mr. Archbold, is what you are missing.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Celebrating with the CoC

Mike Faenza
This past Tuesday we had a special meeting of the Dallas area Continuum of Care (CoC) Assembly. It was led, as usual the last four years, but for the last time by Traswell Livingston, III, the outgoing chair. Traswell, with the help of Director of the CoC, Paula Maroney, recounted and reviewed the huge progress made by the CoC over the last four years. You can check out a power point presentation here on the CoC page of our website:
The CoC honored MDHA President and CEO, Mike Faenza, and Traswell presented him with a cool beer stein with a plaque on it! Traswell acknowledged the hard work done by each of the committees developed over the last four years, and honored the committee chairs. He highlighted the work of Myrl Humphries, as outgoing CoC Vice Chair, specifically. Traswell then called up the incoming Chair, Edd Eason, and incoming Vice Chair, Dustin Perkins, and installed them as the new CoC officers.
R to L - Traswell Livingston, III, Dustin Perkins, Edd Eason
Join us for the first CoC Assembly meeting of the year, under the new leadership, on January 27, 2015, at the Center for Community Cooperation, 2900 Live Oak in Dallas. The CoC page posts the agenda a few days prior here: Would you or your organization like to join the CoC? Download a membership invoice here:, and follow the instructions. See you soon!