This is the time of year when I start thinking about putting together another permanent supportive housing project—a place to give the homeless homes and try to get a few more men and women off the streets leaving our city a better place for all of us. The process begins now because it will take the next six months to find a good site for a permanent supportive housing project, put together a financing plan and try to gain the approval (or at least tolerance) of the neighborhood, the City of Dallas and a host of other interested parties. Then in December we get our one yearly chance to apply for the funding that will let us build housing for those that need it most.
During this process I will review hundreds of possible locations, go look at dozens of property and run the numbers on the ten or twelve projects that look most likely. Before we are done, my co-workers and I will spend many hundreds of hours working on a project and tens of thousands of dollars that are raised painstakingly from generous donors, all so we can prepare an application for funding to the state—where less than one in three proposals get funded.
I will negotiate with skeptical property owners (“You want me to take my property off the market for a year? So maybe, if you’re lucky, you can buy my property next fall?”). I will meet with angry neighbors; be vilified, perhaps threatened (I have been in the past); cajole lenders; beg to foundations; work weekends; and spend many sleepless nights.
I will probably fail.
Over the past five years, Central Dallas CDC has made three serious efforts to put together a permanent supportive housing project and succeeded only once. Two out of three times we have failed. Even at that, we have the best record in the City of Dallas. I know at least two other organizations have tried hard to put together three different permanent supportive housing projects and haven’t succeeded yet at any of those efforts. There may have been other failures that I don’t know about.
I know that the only success in more than fifteen years has been our CityWalk@Akard project that will open in sixty days. Other than that, the people of Dallas seem content to let men and women sleep on the streets.
I know it sounds like it, but I am not really complaining about the work I do. Later, as I work longer and harder on a particular project I will convince myself that we will succeed—it’s hard to throw your heart and soul into something if you believe that most likely you will fail. But I also think it’s good to face reality once and awhile; to let your head tell your heart the truth.
Later, when people hate me and scream at me, because I believe every fellow human being deserves a place to live other than the streets (and I can’t respond in kind because that would end any chance of winning them over), I couldn’t keep going if I didn’t believe that we would succeed.
Sometimes I ask myself why I continue to do this work, but when I meet the people we are trying help, I know the answer. It’s the in the people, like this morning when I met a women with a two-year old child who had worked herself up from the street to a job and school in the time since she became pregnant. She needs a place to live. Her child needs a place to live.
I do this work because someone has to.