Outside it was gray and cool. It seemed rain might at any moment pepper the area, and the wind blew through the tall green trees as I walked up to the 3-acre field.
My first meeting with this field came through my first homeless friend Bunny. It was her home, where she stayed. It was where she and Sheba slept, ultimately along with many other homeless men and women.
She (and others) were kicked out of the field by the police, so the field has been more empty as of late. Whenever I would pass it on the way to the Corner, it seemed as though it was quietly, patiently waiting to be woken up, as though from a sleepy dream, for some great destiny.
Its day has arrived.
Last Thursday, on this beautiful, lonely field, because of a City, County, and private sector partnership, ground was broken for The Cottages.
The Cottages will be 50 single-occupancy homes that will house the 50 most chronically homeless people in Dallas.
Getting the homeless into supportive housing enables them to stabilize. This specific model, called "Pathways to Supportive Housing," maintains an 85% retention rate.
From a purely economic standpoint, when the most chronically homeless get into supportive housing, their cost to the City greatly diminishes. And much more important than this, with permanent supportive housing, rather than imposing on the homeless what they must do as a prerequisite to getting housed, this model actually comes alongside the homeless to find out what their goals and dreams are, and helps empower them to reach the goals they have determined are important to them.
Chairs were set up in rows on a slab of concrete, with a small stage in front of them. The sound of cars driving on a nearby below-ground highway added a faint hum. Over 100 people attended, including Mayor Rawlings, Judge Clay Jenkins, City Councilwoman Davis, among others.
Larry James, President of CitySquare, opened up the day explaining that this groundbreaking was actually the result a six-year process. For six years, people have been trying to get this project started, and although they have encountered many obstacles, the day was finally here, and it was really happening!
The project is unique. It is a project that has been borne of a lot of listening. As Larry said on Thursday, "This project has listened to people who have lived [on the streets]."
Larry tried to use the megaphone when the speaker system went out!
Often, when those who are homeless receive housing, they are separated from their community, their friends, and their family. This project, on the other hand, keeps the 50 most chronically homeless together in community, and sets them up to succeed, grow, and heal, by providing housing and clinical, psychological, and social support on site.
Perhaps the sweetest moments of the whole day were sitting and standing with our homeless friends in attendance. Whereas they would normally not be welcome in a setting like this, either due to their dirty clothes or smell or unkempt appearance, this day, this groundbreaking was for them. About 5 of them came to be with us. We sat/stood on the outer edge of the space. One of them was recovering from strep throat, so she welcomed the chance to sit down.
One of the women who spoke from the stage suddenly looked over at our homeless friends. She pointed to them, and said, "You caught my eye earlier. This is FOR YOU."
This was part of our little group!
She is absolutely right. This is for them. As Mayor Rawlings said, "Big things happen here. But it's hollow if big things don't happen to the least of these."