How Drive-by Do-gooders Enable Homelessness

As the winter chill set in last year, my husband gave a blanket to a homeless man sleeping outside our apartment, Eric.For seven years, we've lived downtown. In 2011, I bought my first home in the Cedars between Dallas Life Foundation and The Bridge homeless shelter. I felt called to the neighborhood because, to me, the hostility toward the homeless and their service providers from some of my fellow downtown residents always seemed dispassionate at best and cruel at worst. The advice of Just Mercy author, attorney Bryan Stevenson, also resonates with me; he says justice requires us to get close to issues to understand them before we try to solve them. Since selling our Cedars condo, we've lived in the West End, the epicenter of Dallas' K2 synthetic cannabinoid crisis.My proximity to extreme poverty didn't begin in my hometown of Dallas, though. While living in Los Angeles 17 years ago, I befriended Billy from church, who slept in his car -- until his car got towed, leaving him homeless. I offered to let him shower, eat, and eventually sleep on a futon at my apartment. Weeks later, I realized I was overwhelmed and ill-equipped to address myriad challenges he faced. My direct assistance was a hindrance enabling his homelessness, rather than an asset helping him into a continuum of care.In the book Toxic Charity, author Robert D. Lupton proposes an "Oath for Compassionate Service" before engaging in charitable work. Among its tenets, Lupton says: "Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves." I concur. So now, I work for RefillWise, a social enterprise offering a free pharmacy discount card to help people afford prescriptions, and I serve on the board of Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which must increase public-private partnerships to provide more reasonable transportation options.For the price of a single "value" item on a fast-food restaurant's dollar menu, one of our local food banks can provide at least three meals. When I'm solicited by panhandlers, I offer directions to these neighborhood institutions, where skilled professionals offer case management services. Few accept, but one woman, Helen, gratefully accepted and successfully connected with a social worker.I'm also alarmed to see people sleeping on sidewalks and under bridges near First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, where I was married and teach Sunday school. Few if any campers are clients of The Stewpot; most typify the service-resistant homeless. As a person of faith, I believe in grace and mercy for the less fortunate.  Continue reading...

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