Even before we formed Central Dallas CDC, people were approaching Central Dallas Ministries about building housing for people who are now homeless. I assume that’s partly because CDM has a great reputation for serving the community, but mostly because the need was (and still is) so great that I imagine that anybody that might be willing to take a shot at building housing for the homeless was being asked to try.
We always said no. We had two reasons. First, CDM had always concentrated on serving the working poor. Only recently has it moved into serving the homeless as well. Second, we didn’t know how we to make a development like CityWalk work. But we did decide it was time to learn.
Besides study and research and talking with people who understood the issue, we visited successful developments in cities around the country, and, because there is always more to learn, we are still making visits. I visited three projects in San Francisco while I was on vacation there (that’s unusual sightseeing, isn’t it?). Larry James, President/CEO of CDM and Chairman of the Central Dallas CDC board, visited places in Seattle. We also visited Houston and Austin and other places, but the most significant visit we made was to the developments of Common Ground in New York.
Common Ground (here: http://www.commonground.org/?page_id=29) has probably been doing the work of ending homelessness longer and better than anyone else. It’s projects are half formerly homeless people and half other low income people. Most of them are located in Manhattan and they are beautiful. Small, but well-organized and well-thought through and all with long waiting lists. Five of us flew to New York to see two of their developments on a bitterly cold day in February. After we visited Common Ground and met the people living in their buildings and talked to Common Ground’s staff, we knew that Common Ground had developed a system that worked, and worked so well that it made the idea of ending homelessness seem possible.
All we needed to do was copy them and adapt their ideas to Dallas. We didn’t need to invent a formula that worked. Someone had already done that for us. That trip was the real start of CityWalk.