Thursday, January 8, 2009
The Bridge: Holes in the system
The reality of what is happening at The Bridge is much different from the description given by The Bridge management.
Volunteers and partner agencies alike who are working with the homeless population know the reality of what is happening at The Bridge and it is much different from the description given by The Bridge management. As taxpayers and citizens of Dallas, it is not wrong of us to demand and expect accountability on how our tax dollars are being used for those who are the "least of these." This is an important issue and speaks a lot about our city. Do we take care of our fellow citizens or pretend they don't share the same rights or have the same needs as you and I?
After conversing with many homeless individuals the past few weeks and I am hearing this: they need consistency at The Bridge. They want the doors open for them to have the nutritious meals they were promised when it opened and if it takes a pass to accomplish that, then streamline the process so they are not in line for hours trying to get one. This one day pass may get them a meal or it may not and they must go through this same process every day IF they can get in the gate to even try. How can it be claimed that intake only takes 15 minutes when those who have actually done it report that it takes 3 to 4 hours? And with the meal numbers down so drastically, there must be a problem with the process that cannot be denied. If it is so easy to get a day pass then why are so many people missing meals and a 38% decrease in meals served? The decreased numbers provided by Second Chance Cafe meal services tell the story.
No matter what some are led to believe, all shelters do not serve meals and all shelters are not open during the day. Most shelters wake up the homeless early and have them vacated by 6:00 am. They might have breakfast for them or might not. Some might serve dinner but if you arrive too late for dinner you go without and some do not serve dinner at all. Further, if there are plenty of shelters beds, why are individuals being found sleeping outside of the doors of the shelters because they are told it is full after they had been sent there from The Bridge? Until consistency is met by all of the The Bridge shelter partners, including meals for all who are not eating at The Bridge, the homeless need to know how or where they are going to eat and sleep. In the meantime the homeless risk criminal trespass violations and jail if found sleeping outside on private property and street feeders risk fines if they feed those who need a meal. We appear to be drifting back to conditions as they were before the facility opened and with some conditions worsened. Many of the target population The Bridge needs to be serving are not getting in.
There are holes in the system that should be acknowledged so the public is not mislead into believing that all is well at The Bridge. It is not. Sometimes when you plug a hole in a dike it just springs a whole new leak. The same applies to bridges. The large P.R. campaign launched before The Bridge opened was regional and drew people from neighboring states and areas. The evaluation done by PATH Partners after opening determined that of people staying overnight in the courtyard and pavilion, 50 percent were not homeless, and instead they exhibited predatory behavior toward the homeless. Advice to The Bridge staff, given by people involved in the program design and with experience working with the chronically homeless was strongly against The Bridge services opening with a splash; they recommended a phased-in, "soft," opening. Services at The Bridge were never adequately in place and were quickly overwhelmed within 24 hours of opening, and The Bridge has never recovered from this. Management has been in reactionary mode ever since.
It is apparent that the current problems are a result of the poor planning from the very beginning complicated by freezing weather. There are too many individuals being turned away at the gate now, at times even when they have an appointment with a service provider there. When you leave it to an employee who demonstrates indifference or uses inconsistent procedures towards the population needing help you have a problem and that is what too many are finding when they come to the Bridge to access a meal or services. The first place to start with accountability must be at the front gate with improvement in allowing consistent access to the homeless individuals needing help. Why are so many of the chronically homeless individuals refusing to go to The Bridge? Because they gave up hope trying to get the services promised, they had poor experiences at The Bridge and are fearful of staying there, they are tired of standing in line for hours to get passes or they cannot get past the gate.
This is not to say that nothing has been accomplished at The Bridge. There have been some success stories and there are more to come. Let's hope with continued monitoring and expected accountability, service should and will get better for those who need it at The Bridge, not worse. In the meantime, the citizens of Dallas must continue to watch over and listen to those who are suffering while management at The Bridge continues to plug holes.
Articles of Interest:
Dallas Morning News: Charities that feed homeless fear changes in Dallas services
Pegasus News Content partner - Street Zine