Sunday, October 19, 2014

What CitySquare needs from you. . .

Our numbers continue to explode!

 More and more wonderful men, women, children, families pass through our doors every day.

Frankly, the pace overwhelms our team more often than not.

Further, the waves of people seeking a better life wash over our day-to-day financial capacity producing practical challenges, especially related to cash flow.

Between 70 and 75% of our funding involves designations and restrictions that do not allow us to use these dollars to cover short term cash needs. Ironically, while our bank statements remain strong, our available cash comes and goes over the cycle of the year.
Here's what we need: long term, serious investors in the work of CitySquare. Investors who support our work financially without restrictions or the limitations of designations as to how these funds may be used.  In other words, we need general funds without restrictions.

Translation:  We need monthly donors who consider themselves "members" of the CitySquare family.

Like to accept this challenge?

Email me today at or contact me on Twitter (@lmjread) and we'll enroll you in this special "investors'" group!

As this investors' fund grows, I'll report on its status here, as well as in other social media venues.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reflections after two decades

I've been at this now for over twenty years. 

Yesterday, I moved my office from 511 N. Akard in the heart of Downtown Dallas to our new Opportunity Center across I-30 in South Dallas-Fair Park.  It is exciting to be back in a neighborhood where people are fighting hard to scratch out a better life for themselves and their families. 

Of course, the same thing is underway in our Downtown building--a 15-story, neighborhood in vertical. 

CitySquare, like the neighbors we engage, is edgy. 

I mean, we got "attitude" when it comes to poverty, how sick and tired we are of it and how sold out we are to see it diminished significantly. 

Because we live on "the edge" here in more ways than I can count, we never stop studying, listening, learning, changing, trying, innovating, questioning, challenging and battling. 

Our new center serves as our latest "Exhibit One" in this regard.

We designed the Opportunity Center to function as a "collective impact" resource for people serious about improving their lives through hard work, various training options, education about managing scarce resources and openness to willing and helpful mentors/coaches who are eager to get involved in the progress of individuals and of our larger community. 

But, we've always done weird stuff here. 

Our "standard operating procedure" includes things like:
  • Directing funding opportunities away form ourselves to other organizations, if we feel others could have more impact on the entire problem in question.
  • Listening, I mean really listening, to the very, very poor and the down and out.
  • Shaping responses to poverty based on what we've heard from the poor. 
  • Hiring people with no background in non-profit organizations or with social services, as classically understood (myself included!).
  • Experimenting with approaches, programs and investments, again and again, seeking better breakthroughs for our neighbors.
  • Starting efforts before we know everything about what we're doing.
  • Stopping things that don't work, and stopping them as quickly as possible.
  • Refusing to be silent when policy reforms are needed, even when being vocal may threaten our position with some potential or current supporters.
  • Tolerating eccentric, sometimes difficult team members because of their devotion and their effectiveness when it comes to getting the job done for "poor" folks. 
  • Never wasting time to ask for permission to do what is clearly the right thing. 
I could go on, but I'll stop here.

Reflecting helps me understand why after more than two decades I still love coming to work every day. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Giving by income level during recent "tough times"

Here's a graphic display of the impact of the recent recession on giving among various income levels with the lower earnings strata beginning on the left with earnings moving up to the right.



Monday, October 13, 2014

Google Wisdom

Over time I've learned, surprisingly, that it's tremendously hard to get teams to be super ambitious.  It turns out most people haven't been educated in this kind of moonshot thinking.  They tend to assume that things are impossible, rather than starting from real-world physics and figuring out what's actually possible.  It's why we've put so much energy into haring independent thinkers at Google, and setting big goals.  Because if you hire the right people and have big enough dreams, you'll usually get there.  And even if you fail, you'll probably learn something important. 

It's also true that many companies get comfortable doing what they have always done, with a few incremental changes.  This kind of instrumentalism leads to irrelevance over time, especially in technology, because change tends to be revolutionary not evolutionary.  So you need to force yourself to place big bets on the future.
Larry Page
Google Cofounder and CEO

from How Google Works
pages xiii-xiv

Friday, October 10, 2014

We must have more housing for those without!

From The New York Times. . .

The Solution to Chronic Homelessness? Try Homes.

When people end up on the street and stay there, it’s usually not just because they can’t afford the rent. A whole host of things have come apart in their lives.

Putting a life back together is hard, especially without a roof and a bed. The longtime practice of getting tough with people who are down-and-out — through anti-loitering ordinances and crackdowns on petty offenses like public drunkenness — satisfies a public hunger for enforcing personal responsibility. But some people cannot be punished into  self-sufficiency. For them, the cycle of chronic homelessness – shuttling between jail, emergency room, hospital, shelter and street — can be all but impossible to break.

This is why more policy makers have embraced the idea of supportive housing, also called “housing first,” which admits chronically homeless people into subsidized housing and gets them social services and treatment for health problems and addictions. This approach is more effective, more compassionate and far cheaper than withholding services and shelter while you wait for troubled people to get their acts together.

It’s working across the country, in places like Jacksonville, Fla., and Nashville. It’s working with veterans. A 102-unit supportive-housing complex in the Skid Row section of Los Angeles opened on Wednesday. It includes a health clinic and the headquarters of the Housing for Health division of the county’s Department of Health Services. The complex, called Star Apartments, is beautiful in an artsy-architectural way – its crazily stacked pre-fab units are not what we are used to seeing when the government tackles poverty. But you could also call it beautiful for what it is trying to do.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Colonoscopy, or not?

I took off earlier this week to take care of  a routine wellness screening.

If you haven't scheduled yours, do it today!

That's so very easy to say, to consider, to schedule and to afford, for most of us.

But not for all of us.

Access to quality, basic wellness strategies and health care benefits remains largely unavailable to millions of Texans--almost 5 millions to be exact.  That number represents 32% of our population, and makes us #1 in the number of uninsured in the nation.  A dubious distinction indeed. The translation, deadly. 

People talk about "death panels" in conversations about universal health coverage and its results. 


Our current system functions as one giant, pre-wired, "death panel." 

If you don't qualify for insurance coverage of some sort--private or public--you are largely on your own.  The cost of paying for treating the uncovered after their conditions worsen to the point of administering heroic, end of life treatments is astronomical, resulting in huge loses to us all. 

For example, between 2003 and 2006, 30.6% of direct medical care expenditures for minority communities resulted from health inequalities.  Eliminating health inequalities for minorities during the period would have saved $229.4 billion.   The costs of health inequalities and premature death for the same four years totaled $1.24 trillion [see "Building Stronger Communities for Better Health:  The Geography of Health Equity," Dr. Brian D. Smedly, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies].

As medical staff handled me with great care and respect earlier this week as I accessed a routine preventive procedure, I thought of the 1 of 3 fellow Texans who cannot expect such treatment or experience such options all because they cannot afford to pay

Many who finally do access such treatment will find that it is too little, too late.

Is this really the kind of Texas we want? 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Facing facts in Dallas, Texas

By way of reminder, here's a "check list" of facts that I discovered during the past several months working as Chair of Mayor Mike Rawlings' Task Force on Poverty in Dallas.

--Between 2000 and 2012, population in Dallas increased by 5%.  During that same period, poverty grew by 41%.

--Dallas competes with Philadelphia for being the 3rd or 4th poorest city in the U. S.  We go back and forth on this "distinction."

--Dallas is the poorest city in the US among cities reporting a population of 1MM or more.

--In Dallas, 38% of our children live in poverty.

--In Dallas public schools about 90% are eligible for free and reduced lunches.  That percentage is 73% for public school children who live and go to a public school in Dallas County.

--Increasing numbers of us live in area of highly concentrated poverty and the trend is spreading.  In 2000, Dallas reported 18 census tracts of high concentration of poverty (about 10% of all our poor). In 2013, that number had increased to 32 tracts (about 20% of all our poor). 

--Areas of concentrated poverty produce health and social outcomes in a context of "toxic stress," a condition that has been identified and studied in the last decade.  "Toxic stress" results from a pathological, comprehensive "surround" that confronts our very poor neighbors here in Dallas day after day.

--Name the social, community challenge and identify its presenting data, and the poverty maps overlay perfectly:  asthma, health, housing, test scores, wages, employment and access to goods and basic services.  Poverty drives all of our negative, deadly data reports.

What's the answer? 

How do we go forward? 

Any serious plan to cut into poverty must involve serious conversations about wages and tax policy.

We have neglected our human "infrastructure" for far too long.  Our short-sighted policies have caught up with us.  We must act decisively for the sake of our community's future. 

And, the operative value, the back drop for every conversation, debate and action seems clear to me:  COURAGE!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Poverty. . .a real issue

The poor among you

By Ken Camp on March 30, 2012
© The Baptist Standard
They gather at dawn at day-labor centers or designated parking lots where contractors hire workers. Some stop on their way to pick up a cheap breakfast taco at a convenience store, buying their meal from an employee earning minimum wage. At the store, they wait in line with members of a crew purchasing gas for the mowers and trimmers they will use to cut the grass of other people's lawns.

They are the working poor—people who may work more hours a week than the average salaried employee, but they do it at a cobbled-together assortment of part-time jobs without benefits. Some find themselves trapped in the situation because they lack the education or technical skills to find a better job. Others lost salaried positions due to economic recession and are working part-time or temporary jobs to try to make ends meet.

Continue reading. . .

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Wisdom at the Margins

Standing at the Margins

There is important wisdom to be gleaned from those on the margins. Vulnerable human beings put us more in touch with the truth of our limited and messy human condition, marked as it is by fragility, incompleteness and inevitable struggle. The experience of God from that place is one of absolutely gratuitous mercy and empowering love. People on the margins, who are less able to and less invested in keeping up appearances, often have an uncanny ability to name things as they are. Standing with them can help situate us in the truth and helps keep us honest.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Cottages at Hickory Crossing

At last, after almost four years, construction begins on The Cottages at Hickory Crossing!

Use the Search Tool on this page to read more about The Cottages, one of the most unique and innovative housing developments in the region.

More images and updates as we move along.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings offers his thoughts regarding the challenges facing the city related to the dramatic growth of poverty and the work of his "Task Force on Poverty." 

Clearly, there is much work to be done to recover and sustain opportunity for our weakest neighbors. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banning books in Highland Park

Of course, the headline caught my eye:  Highland Park ISD suspends seven books after parents protest their content.

As I read on, the report really grabbed me. 

I mean, one of the  authors of one of the banned looks on the list spoke for CitySquare several years ago at a prayer breakfast!

Our guest speaker on that occasion, David Shipler, one of best ever, wrote the now classic and still bestselling, Working Poor: Invisible in America. 

Here's the quote from The Dallas Morning News regarding this particular book: 

"One of suspended books — The Working Poor: Invisible in America, written by Pulitzer Prize winner David K. Shipler — is about Americans in low-skilled jobs who struggle because of economic and personal obstacles. Some parents objected to the nonfiction book because it has a passage about a woman who was sexually abused as a child and later had an abortion."

While it is none of my business what these parents want for their children and while I'm not a taxpayer in the Highland Park ISD, I must say I find this action and concern, especially about Shipler's book, fairly surprising. 

Possibly, public demands like this one explain why we are making so little real progress on confronting, understanding and overcoming poverty in Dallas and across the nation. 

What do you think?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Universal expressions of beauty

It is a very simple arrangement, or so it appears from the sidewalk about 8 floors below. 

Just a small planter bowl with a few carefully placed, brightly colored flowers. 

The blossoms grace one of the windows in a small, studio apartment at CityWalk@Akard, our housing development in Downtown Dallas. 

I'm not sure who occupies the apartment. 

It really doesn't matter because I "know" them well from countless previous encounters.  Undoubtedly a low-income person lives up there.  Possibly even a person who last lived on our streets is the current resident. 

The flowers are universal in my experience.  

Everyone loves beauty, even those too stressed to allow for it or to even recognize its presence in life at present. 

But this love, this connection, this longing attention resides in every heart and soul. 

We seem "hard-wired" for beauty. 

I observe this everywhere, even among neighbors who have no home to call their own. 

Housing allows for the necessary psychic space to "stage" or present the beauty that one appreciates or has found--thus the flowers nestled in a meagre bowl. 

To ignore the hunger for beauty that "the poor" possess is to make a fundamental and deadly error if one's intention has anything to do with connecting or engaging in community. 

The flowers up there remind me of the beauty all around. 

Beauty can't be denied or squelched, at least not for long. 

Beauty gives me hope.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ron Anderson, MD

My dear friend, mentor and hero, Dr. Ron Anderson passed away Thursday evening after a battle with cancer. 

Reports abound in all of our media outlets, as in this article from The Dallas Morning News.

But, the news items that we'll be reading for the next few days won't be able to capture the heart, soul and life of this amazing man.  He served the hospital system, within the healing culture that he constructed, for almost 40 years. 

Dallas and the world lost a dear, devoted friend in his death. 

Throughout his career as the leader of the Parkland world, Dr. Ron continued to take his rounds with patients.  He wore his trademark white coat because he never stopped being a physician and healer. 

My sessions with Ron always left me with my head spinning, my soul nourished and my resolve made stronger.  We talked about poverty as the cancer and blight that it is.  His commitment to justice and equity amazed and strengthened me. 

He was something of an expert on Native American culture.  I will always remember my first visit to  his office at Parkland.  To my surprise, his office, like mine, had a number of Native American artifact and symbols.  The sense of community and universal connectedness of Native Americans and their thought/worldview were notions that made a lot of sense to both of us.  Ron worked very hard at building community among his team and in our neighborhoods in Dallas.

He always took the time to encourage me in my work.  He was a faithful partner in our common fight for "the poor." 

A few weeks ago, a longtime staff member close to Ron called me to ask that I go by the hospital to see Ron and to pray for and with him.  Of course, I gladly agreed.  That last visit was wonderful, almost magical.  He envisioned getting out of his bed and coming by CitySquare to do some work with us.  How welcome he would have been and how I wish he still had that opportunity. 

In my almost 40 years of ministry, I've never had a patient insist on praying for me.  But, Ron did.  He wouldn't let me pray for him.  He wanted the spiritual energy to flow in my direction. 

That story really sums up the life and heart of Ron Anderson.  "I'm okay," I can still hear him saying, "Let's focus on you." 

God have mercy on us.  I will miss my friend more than I can say.

Cottages at Hickory Crossing Update: Building permits issued, at last!!!

Finally, we've received the building permits to begin construction on The Cottages at Hickory Crossing

These 50 homes will house 50 of our "most expensive" homeless neighbors to Dallas County--that is, those who consume the most services at our county hospital, our mental health facilities, our EMS services and our county jail. 

The average cost to Dallas County (not including City of Dallas or non-profit organizations' expenses) to serve a person who is on the streets is $40,000 a year. 

The Cottages project will provide permanent housing with wrap around, supportive services, including quality mental health services, all at a cost of less than $15,000 annually. 

The project will be complete by April 2015.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Friday, September 05, 2014

CitySquare AmeriCorps team at work in the heart of Dallas

Here's a report on one of CitySquare's placement sites for its AmeriCorps team members. Well-deserved recognition!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Battling poverty--the complexity

Policy makers find it very hard, if not impossible to talk to one another across the widening socio-political chasm.  This appears especially the case when it comes to poverty and its alleviation. This inability to talk in light of largely unrecognized complexities makes the following compelling for me. 

So, how do we explain and understand why people are poor in the United States?  How about this as a starting point in answering this important question?

"Despite the conflicting nature of these left and right analyses, there is a strong case to be made that they are, in fact, complementary and that they reinforce each other. What if we put it together this way? Automation, foreign competition and outsourcing lead to a decline in well-paying manufacturing jobs, which, in turn, leads to higher levels of unemployment and diminished upward mobility, which then leads to fewer marriages, a rise in the proportion of nonmarital births, increased withdrawal from the labor force, impermanent cohabitation and a consequent increase in dependence on government support."

Read Thomas B. Edsall's opinion in his complete essay, "What Makes People Poor?"

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

A respected voice not often heard. . .

Here's a word from a respected source that we don't hear from very often.

 In fact, I can't recall the last time I heard him speak.

 Clearly, we have more work to do in this nation.

 We see evidence of that reality on a daily basis in the city.

A fundamental part of our work here focuses on racial reconciliation.

This has always been true.

 I know we will continue to work at bringing people together.