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﷯Welcome to the 21st Century, Philanthropists! In April I was reading an article about the changing landscape of philanthropy – fundraising and giving for charitable organizations – in The Dallas Morning News online. The article focused on billionaire Todd Wagner and how he has integrated technology, media and philanthropy to help countless organizations raise funds for good causes. (Read the article here: https://www.dallasnews.com/business/philanthropy/2017/04/20/goodbye-galas- billionaire-todd- wagner-helps- nonprofits-step- digital-game) As I was reading the article, so much rang true for my 19 years in homelessness recovery and our work at Dallas LIFE. Dallas LIFE is a non-profit homeless shelter. We operate as a charity – a 501(c)3 organization. We are tax-exempt and hope to steward every dollar given to help the homeless recover permanently from their situation. Each year we have to evaluate the previous year’s attempts to gather funds to support the ministry and mission of Dallas LIFE. When we host an event we have to look at how the time investment and financial investment translate into dollars given. And we have found that the times they are a changing when it comes to fundraising. Each generation has the potential to change the “how” and “why” behind giving: how do we communicate the many diverse needs of the homeless and compel people to give of their resources (time, money and talent) to help our cause? What are the best, most efficient avenues for doing this? Is the night of the gala really dead? Grandma and grandpa, Mom and Pop, might have really liked a good gala: an excuse to get dressed up, have a fancy dinner, enjoy the company of local celebrities, engage in some fun activities (such as dancing or singing or speeches from heroes they would never think they would meet). To tell you the truth, I enjoy a good gala. Who wouldn’t? But is a gala really where the Gen-X crowd and the millennials see beyond themselves and give out of their abundance to help the less fortunate? And if it isn’t, what is the right venue for reaching a cross-sector of each and every generation, so no generation misses the opportunity to invest in changed lives? Whether it is a moving, touching video telling a story, a catchy meme or heart-tugging statistic or, indeed, a unique gathering of like-minded individuals (maybe even at a gala-type event), we have to explore the reasons people give and serve at Dallas LIFE. We have to be open to trying new things, to learning from the successful fundraising campaigns of other charities in our area. When we look at our own fundraising strategies and take pencil to paper, we need to be willing to try new things that may give a bigger return on the investment. We don’t want to scrap the old model just for a new shinier model if it doesn’t perform as well, but we don’t want to be so ingrained in the past methods that we don’t consider new ways of providing funds for our continued operation to love, serve and, ultimately, recover the homeless. I think when we are willing to consider putting the “annual-so-and-so” event on the chopping block or re-tool it for today’s giving climate, our reach and return can be multiplied. Of course, there are no guarantees and no one bats a thousand. But that doesn’t stop us from going to the plate time and time again. At Dallas LIFE we are going to continue learning from those philanthropic institutions around us and humble ourselves when it comes to fundraising. ﷯When Community Partnerships Work Permanently recovering the homeless is not a job for one person or one organization. It takes a village to recover the homeless. When I look over the list of community partnerships we have had here at Dallas LIFE through the years, the list is extensive and varying – from other organizations specifically targeting homelessness to local schools and colleges to groups who target one specific aspect of homelessness, such as hunger or addiction. The list of our community partnerships is as diverse as our residents at Dallas LIFE. Since we help every age group, every race, every creed, and both genders from varied backgrounds and life circumstances recover from homelessness, that means our partnerships are also VERY diverse. While not every organization approaches recovery of the homeless the same, exact way Dallas LIFE does, I have found that the power in partnerships is in finding our similarities – our common ground – and pooling our resources and strengths to help a people group that is so in need. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.” Who doesn’t want a good return for their labor? When does joining forces work? When one organization already has a system in place that is time-tested and works. When there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Why should we try to come up with a system for x, y or z if one of our neighbors has the exact thing we need in place and is willing to help out the homeless we serve at Dallas LIFE? Community partnerships do not just maintain themselves. In order for a partnership to work, communication and regular interaction help to maintain or progress the relationship. Because a lot of our community partnerships involve other charitable organizations, there can be a perceived deficit from all the organizations of manpower, funds and time. In order to create a partnership, it is good to explore how both organizations can help meet the needs of the other – and how to be on guard for any feelings of mistrust or divisiveness. Dallas LIFE may be a homeless shelter that relies on donations and grants, but that doesn’t mean we – as a group or even our residents – have nothing to give back. Just as community organizations can give back with their time, resources and talents to serve the homeless at Dallas LIFE, our residents, staff, board and volunteers can also give back outside of the walls of our shelter. Dallas LIFE has many fine community partners in our city who love the homeless and help us reach out to the needy. We could not do what we do, without them as well as our corporate sponsors. We’re better together. ﷯Do Free Apartments Cure Homelessness? A homeless person lacks a home. Does giving them a place to live remove their homelessness? Does it “cure” them – never to see them on the streets again? Some states, like Utah, have lobbied for and garnered support for the massive handout plan of doling out free apartments and homes to their homeless populations. This one-size-fits-all “solution” is only a band-aid and fails to address the root causes of homelessness. Mental illness, addiction, financial ruin and strained family relationships are just some factors that lead people to become homeless. A homeless person lacks more than a home. If the government or the politicians or the general public believe that a home is a homeless person’s greatest need, our duty is to educate them. After over 30 years working day in and day out seeking to rehabilitate the homeless, it is obvious that homeless people used to have a home, but we have to find out why they lost it and then we can work to help them find another. While it is a basic human need to have a safe, secure place to lay their head each night, convincing a mentally ill person to take shelter is not easy. When those suffering from addictions cannot put down their drug of choice in order to work or function in their family, their greatest need isn’t a home – it is conquering power over their addiction. A person with weak or zero job skills doesn’t just need a free home – she needs training and education to establish marketable job skills. Likewise, a person with strained family relationships and a non-existent support network will lose what he has – earned or given to him – if a system is not put in place to safeguard and counsel him in his stress and brokenness. Free housing may indeed save each city $10,000 a year per homeless person, but it still costs them $10,000 per person PLUS the cost of providing a house indefinitely. Utah calculated that free housing could take 84% of its homeless population off the street. Of their 1,900 homeless people, all but 300 would be off the street…for now. To implement such a plan in Texas, a state with well over 1,900 homeless persons in EACH of its five major cities, would cripple the budget and still not eradicate homelessness. We know from experience that when the root issues are not addressed, free apartments and free houses are only quick fixes and are not sustainable over time – fiscally or practically. Providing tools for whole-person restoration and life transformation, including infusing a work ethic and a desire to engage within the community, is a personal, comprehensive approach that requires time, dedication and willing participants. Dallas LIFE’s homeless recovery program does not get thousands of people into permanent homes; it helps thousands of people make permanent life changes so they can earn their own home. By teaching life management skills, offering counseling and providing job skills training at Dallas LIFE, we offer dignity and respect that results from hard work. The American dream isn’t a handout. But it can be taught and caught one life at a time.
﷯When Those Who Fought for Freedom Have No Homes “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” Penned in 1814 after a battle that sought to decimate American troops, The Star-Spangled Banner showcases an overnight victory. More than 200 years later, over 57,000 brave veterans are homeless on any given night in the land of the free. Soldiers who return from war or duty become displaced and homeless at greater rates than non-veterans. Yes, freedom bears a price. The price should not be that those who have sought to fulfill a duty to protect their countrymen are now homeless and on the street. Their bravery should not be rewarded by a blind eye and empty gestures. Military service strains family relationships, but that is not the only reason that veterans have historically been at greater risk of experiencing homelessness than other U.S. adults. The toll of combat exposure, wartime trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), includes further social isolation and psychiatric hospitalization, which are primary risk factors for homelessness. Another risk for homelessness is criminal justice involvement. While the Bureau of Justice estimates that veterans comprise roughly 10% of any criminal justice-involved populations, veterans typically are less likely to be poor than non-veterans, but poor veterans are more likely to become homeless than non-poor veterans. Whether they served in World War II or recent conflicts in the Middle East, the veteran population at greater risk of becoming homeless is those who served in the late Vietnam and post-Vietnam era. Veterans returning from the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq often have severe disabilities that are known to be correlated with homelessness. The evolution of homeless rehabilitation includes the growth of the homeless female veteran population, which is at a historical all-time high. As with the general homeless population, homelessness prevention strategies are critical for many veterans experiencing homelessness. However, those veterans with the most severe physical and mental health disabilities – often caused by their military service – require permanent housing with supportive services. Dallas LIFE provides veterans with services on site, help to get VA benefits, a special dorm just for our veterans, and counseling for related issues. When upwards of 20% of Dallas LIFE’s resident population are veterans and as many as 56% have been veteran-related residents, the challenge for our facility is that of every homeless recovery program (regardless of their vet population): to teach and encourage all residents – veterans and non-veterans alike – to overcome the tragedies in their past to grasp the promise of the future. This goal cannot be achieved with just a hot meal and warm bed, but with useful life skills and facilitation of re-entry into society and the workforce, so the formerly-homeless veterans can sustain themselves and their families. The hope of independence. The hope of freedom. The hope that the words of our national anthem can ring true for their lives too, not just for those they selflessly served and defended.
﷯A Temporary Solution Only Delays Permanent Change: Tear the Tent Cities Down As the rain pours down in Dallas and traffic mounts on I-45, under the interstate more than 300 people take shelter in tattered tents and inhumane living conditions. Young people, the elderly, veterans: all types of people live there. There has been death there. There has been murder there. Daily there is fear and hunger there. Tent Cities are popping up all over our nation. Many well-meaning folks have reached out to those Tent City dwellers by bringing water, food and blankets to “help.” But by doing that, they are only enabling those living there to remain in sub-standard conditions preventing them from taking the necessary steps to become financially, physically and emotionally independent. Tent City is sub-standard. Tent City is not safe. Tent City is not the best option for any human being. Warm beds, good food and permanent help are available at Dallas LIFE with counselors and professionals ready to serve the homeless. Options that keep families together; living situations that don’t separate children from their parents exist at Dallas LIFE. It won’t be easy – it isn’t a quick fix. Our Homeless No More program requires that each person gives it their all. We have seen lasting change with a 90% homeless recovery rate. That means 9 out of 10 of those who come into the program ARE NEVER HOMELESS AGAIN. Because I know that tents are not the answer, I agree with our city’s decision to remove a makeshift housing option for the homeless. Because I know it cannot succeed long-term, I encourage people to not bring supplies to the needy within Tent City. Bring the people to Dallas LIFE. Bring them to us. Show them there are other options. Better options. We are going down to Tent City ourselves to try to give them a better choice – to show them a better life is not just a dream. Our success stories are real. Our people are real. They are recovered from the situation of homelessness, and they want to give back to the very community they came from. They have a voice and a story that is worth sharing and worth hearing. I am unashamedly saying that the city of Dallas moving forward to tear down Tent City ACTUALLY aids the homeless more than allowing it to continue. I might have lost you with that one opinion. But I hope hearing a voice that speaks a message contrary to your initial thoughts on homelessness and possible LASTING solutions does more than engage you in a conversation. I hope you engage in being a part of permanent change for the homeless in your area. ﷯The Real Challenges and Real Recovery of Homeless Families Life is hard. Life is immensely harder when your family – yourself, your spouse and your children – have no job, no place to live, no money to buy food and no hope in sight. Families arriving at Dallas LIFE for just a meal and a night off the street will have those necessities provided for them for five nights for free. After five nights, they have to pay $10 a night to stay OR remain at Dallas LIFE for free by entering the Homeless No More Recovery Program. But it isn’t actually free. It will cost them almost everything: their time, their will, and their surrender of all the bad education/street education/poverty-mindset that has plagued them their entire lives. Adherence to the program leads to change for families – life change, lasting change. Many shelters only offer a bed and meal. If that’s what the homeless think they need, they go there. But if they desire a changed life, they go to Dallas LIFE. Most families don’t just have homelessness to recover from. Most have more than one of the following (and, more often than not, all of the following): no diploma; a poor rental history with many evictions; poor credit, arrest records; zero job skills; serial unemployment; a history of drug use, abuse and dealing; mental issues (depression or anxiety or countless other disorders); intense anger and out-of-control emotions; and limited family or positive friendships to lean on. Once a homeless family decides to embark on change at Dallas LIFE, it won’t be easy. In fact, for the first 30 days, they won’t even be allowed to leave the shelter. The intense feelings and draw back to a life of easy money by dealing or wasteful living have to be dealt with first. Unless they cut off their former friends, the influence of their old life will just keep the family homeless longer. There is no magical, happy beginning and certainly even the happy ending has its ups and downs as well. Families arrive with their lives in total devastation. Total recovery will take more than time; it will take hard work – actual work as they cook, clean or serve in some capacity at Dallas LIFE. They will be paid for their work, and they can even advance to supervisory roles as they grow in skills, character and work ethic. Combined with their sweat, they will simultaneously learn how to deny their natural instinct to fight authority and unleash anger as it boils up. Their time is not their own as the family goes to classes on anger management, addiction, computers, resumes, and interviewing and by doing so, gains necessary life skills they were lacking. As they are learning new skills, they know that in order to remain in the program, they must abide by a strict “three-strikes-and-you-are-out” policy. That policy requires cleanliness, obedience, and respect. Missing more days than attending school over the last few years, the children in homeless family pay the price as they have missed meals, been shuffled from relatives and friends’ couches, and suffered from anxiety manifesting in physical illness at times. Who can blame them? In their short lives, they have experienced no stability and typically only negative life events due to the poor decisions of their parents. Discovering there is a good direction to head in as they leave the past behind them, parents graduate from the 10-month program. Many families lean on the grace period that Dallas LIFE extends to them – not demanding families to immediately leave following graduation, but allowing them to find affordable housing – another tough task as they know the old neighborhood and friends aren’t safe places for them anymore. The standards to remain in the Homeless No More Program at Dallas LIFE are not easy to achieve. But families who know they want out of homelessness succeed. They restructure and relearn and are launched into new lives. Their new lives will have pitfalls, setbacks and, most probably, periods of joblessness and lack once again. But the hope is that the skills and knowledge of how far they have come and how many have helped them achieve what they now have for themselves, will drive them forward and help them not to regress too far from the hope and the road to true, long-lasting recovery. Read a 6-part story of one family’s long journey from homelessness to independent living from The Dallas Morning News here. ﷯When Grandma Loses Her Home: Never Too Old To Recover The Golden Years: traveling the world after a lifetime of work and sacrifice. Freedom to make decisions based on wants instead of needs, pleasure instead of toil. Whether the dream was beach living or spending more time with grandchildren watching them grow as your life grays, a dream exists. None of that is possible when people enter those “golden years” homeless. Erase any image of a never-ending vacation or even relaxing in your own living room. A simple expectation such as enjoying grandchildren is fraught with complications as your relationship with their parents (your children) are tense, either because you spent so many months living with them that you have been asked to leave due to being “in the way” or because you have borrowed money from them time and time again with no hopes of ever repaying them. The joys of enjoying a grandchild’s basketball game or taking them for ice cream aren’t experienced when you are a homeless grandparent. You don’t join the extended family for church when you don’t have clean clothes much less a place to even shower. Tensions run high in the family when adult children and senior parents cannot even have a civil conversation about the root issues in the “retired” persons lives. When grandma responds with hostility to her own children’s questioning of her spending or grandma belittles their love and attempt at bringing order to the chaos her life has become, the family unit further breaks down. Limited social security checks, combined with choosing between buying food or essential medications, results in the aging population needing assistance that many families cannot offer. Even with the burdens on them, racked by the need to provide some symbol of love to grandchildren, they may even overspend on frivolous presents – not really wanting to acknowledge how limited their income really is – which only further limits their ability to provide a home for themselves. Arriving at Dallas LIFE broken and fragmented AND over 60, countless families come to grips with the reality of their situations, choose to welcome teaching on budgeting and banking, and find freedom that comes from restoration of their own lives and the lives of their families. By tailoring Homeless No More Recovery Program to seniors we offer lasting hope to those in the “retired” age bracket as they reengage with responsibility, family, finances and society. Professional counselors, financial professionals, and those who have walked this road before them aid in the recovery of a homeless person age 61 or older. When a senior citizen becomes homeless or a homeless person faces the revelation they are aging and approaching senior citizen status, the situation can appear bleak and hopeless. He might not be your grandpa; she might not be your grandma. But she may be someone’s grandparent. And that grandparent is facing hurdle after hurdle to recover from homelessness…a daunting task at any age. ﷯Hope for the Disabled to Overcome Homelessness In our country today there is common rhetoric regarding certain subsets of the homeless population: “Some people just fall through the cracks.” God help the person who ends up in the proverbial crack, free-falling into hopelessness and despair. These cracks are not inherent. They do not have to remain. They are fillable. They can be repaired. God can help. And so can we. Within the homeless population at-large there are many facets of people. There are those who think they just need a one-time hand out. The reality is they will most likely repeat this and enter a cycle of homelessness. That’s a crack: Homeless people falling through cracks that were never filled with better, more effective ways to address their homelessness. Newly-discharged hospital patients with no place to go. Crack. Patients requiring prolonged care but depleted funds. Crack. The erratic patient that discharges himself and has no one to fight for him to get the help he needs to become stable again. Crack. The mentally unbalanced person who has been off meds for too long. Crack. To meet the needs of the homeless who are also disabled – whether mentally or physically – Dallas LIFE implemented the Overcomers track to our Homeless No More Program. Taking these folks in and nurturing them back to health is the focus of Overcomers. Our program director provides a guiding, one-on-one presence to achieve success at the disabled resident’s pace. Twice a year the Overcomers graduate as they are able to live independently once again with joy and dignity. Research shows that over 60% of the homeless population suffers from some sort of mental illness. Having no place to call home is one thing; having no place to call home and battling depression or bipolar disorder is an entirely different thing. This huge task is a daunting feat that requires a high level of coordination. This large subset of the homeless population requires special care and consideration. Mental healthcare workers see our Overcomers regularly, and psychiatrists prescribe medications weekly to restore health to them. When a patient has been off his or her meds for over a year, mental stability isn’t an overnight phenomenon…it is a process. Mental issues and physical disabilities are some of the deepest cracks in the recovery process for homelessness. By spotlighting not just the roots of the disabilities but the roots of homelessness and overcoming them, Dallas LIFE and its Overcomers program are restoring the formerly homeless to permanent homeless recovery and health simultaneously. One cannot fix one without the other. And a true fix isn’t a handout. A true fix is repairing the cracks so they no longer are hazardous pitfalls in the future to that person. Each person is unique. Until we realize even within programs designed for the masses, tailoring has to occur to successfully recover the homeless and shore up the cracks to prevent cyclical homelessness.
﷯Safe Shelter: How to Engage the Neighborhood to Embrace Homeless Recovery “Since the shelter opened up, I just don’t feel safe. I hate that place.” “This is my neighborhood, not theirs. They wouldn’t even be here if that shelter wasn’t here.” “How can we close down that eyesore? I pay taxes and my bills. They should be on the other side of town!” People do typically hate homeless shelters, and those are all quotes one would expect to hear from neighbors of a homeless shelter. But neighbors of Dallas LIFE, the largest homeless shelter in North Texas, feel the complete and total opposite and have responded as such. Where in the past danger, fear and avoidance would surround shelters, that stigma has been reversed at Dallas LIFE. Neighborhoods need to feel and be safe. The presence of a shelter does not alter that need. By engaging with the neighborhood via the neighborhood associations and surrounding businesses and city officials, Dallas LIFE provides services to the community and receives them in kind. The agenda to eradicate the homeless shelter from the area can only be thwarted by being pro-active. For example, Dallas LIFE is a member of all of the neighborhood associations surrounding us, as well as local organizations, that support and give back to the community. Being active members includes having our residents participate in community clean-up days, as well as other events. Reaching out to the associations so our plans and events can fit into the community’s calendar also aids in relationship building. When a need comes up in the community, Dallas LIFE seeks to help fill it within the neighborhood association. By participating to help the needs of our community, some of those neighbors and businesses also come to our shelter to help serve us. Educating the neighborhood regarding the recovery process of the homeless is not possible if neighbors do not feel comfortable. Dallas LIFE residents are involved in classes and are also busy serving within the shelter, which helps to enforce our no loitering policy. There is never a huge presence of homeless persons to intimidate a passerby. One of our neighbors walks regularly with his wife and infant in a stroller. They don’t avoid Dallas LIFE, but relish the time they can interact with children heading to our playground or exchange pleasantries with people heading into the shelter at dusk. They count Dallas LIFE as their neighbor, as do many of the families who live near us. A spirit of cooperation must also be established with local law enforcement. Years ago we established a police office at Dallas LIFE, so officers would have a landing place here when they came to check in on us. Fortunately, the police told us it was unnecessary. Our 24-hour security and reputation as a safe place means we overhear officers regularly say, “I love Dallas LIFE! I wish they did things your way at other shelters!” By keeping communication open with the police and seeing their services as integral to your shelter’s success, law enforcement can become your biggest supporters. Our police chief encourages people to support our shelter. He said, “When you donate to Dallas LIFE, you help them keep people off the streets and out of my jail.” Operate with the city in mind. Inform the neighborhood and community of your plans to build or renovate and take into consideration how those plans might impact neighbors. Establishing community within your community only helps improve the plight of the homeless and removes the perceived blight of the homeless. ﷯Faith-Based Shelters: Success Without Government Funding Our nation has a homelessness crisis. More and more families are becoming homeless. Children and grandmas – the very young and the very old – have no place to sleep at night. No home to call their own. When serving in the U.S. military increases the chances of becoming homeless upon discharge, that is a cause for concern and actually a downright shame. The largest, most effective homeless shelters throughout our nation are faith-based. Due to our country’s separation of church and state, faith-based shelters receive ZERO government funds. They may be the most successful shelters in their area; where success is measured not just by the rate of discharge or “rehoming” but in the rate of repeat homelessness. The most successful shelters uncover the issues that led to homelessness, bring in professionals to help (medical care, mental health care, counseling, addiction experts) and educate clients on the path to freedom and independence. At Dallas LIFE, our Homeless No More Recovery Program has a 90% success rate: 9 out of 10 are never homeless again. That kind of success rate is atypical of the majority of homeless shelters. In Washington, DC, at a meeting with a representative from the Housing and Urban Development and 35 CEOs of homeless shelters from across the nation, within a few minutes we were able to determine that faith-based shelters were typically the most successful shelters in their area. Of those 35 shelters represented at the meeting, all but two were the largest or the only shelter in their area. And of those 33 shelters – the biggest are only shelters serving their communities – 32 of the 33 receive no government funding. Why? Faith-based programs are not eligible to be funded by government dollars. None of the CEOs were in DC approaching the government to solicit funds or beg for governmental help. However, the irony that the largest, most successful shelters in most communities are not backed by the federal government monetarily did, in fact, surprise the HUD rep. Granted, some federal involvement makes the job of a homeless shelter harder, such as mandating where cross-dressing residents are housed (men’s dorm vs. women’s dorm) and other policies. The shelter CEOS would like to see the government lift the restrictions that make it harder to serve the majority of people who need help and want help simultaneously – those that want a hand up and not just a handout. Rather than asking for government funds, most homeless shelter CEOs would just prefer that the government let them implement the rules that make the most sense for running an above-reproach shelter. But the response of the HUD rep really gives the most hope, “We need to re-group here and better understand our target audience when offering government funding.” If the federal government is funding less-successful, smaller programs across the nation with taxpayer money while successful, large-scale faith-based shelters rely solely on philanthropy (corporate and consumer), donations and droves of volunteers from the private sector, something is off. Pushing “pause” to understand how the nation’s most successful homeless shelters operate without government funds and how the government can help lessen the burden they place on shelters to follow federal guidelines when doing so possibly puts members of their residents in harm’s way. Dallas LIFE does not necessarily want nor need government funding. Dallas LIFE would like the government to consider how not funding the best programs in the nation actually limits the help offered to the homeless community. And that is who and what it is all about: reaching and recovering as many homeless people as we can… permanently.
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