Curbing hunger and homelessness is a tough business.
It’s an undertaking that requires resources of all types – financial, physical, emotional and, maybe most importantly, the gift of time.
And during a holiday season that has been severely impacted by COVID-19, helping the less fortunate has become more important than ever.
More difficult, too.
In an effort to try to support and bring awareness to some of the Dallas area’s most important and impactful nonprofit organizations, the Dallas Mavericks had their third installment of the HUDDLE series on Wednesday, focusing on homelessness and hunger.
One message was overwhelming.
“If I were looking to invest a million dollars, maybe I’d ask a corporate CEO,” said Dr. John Siburt, president and chief operating officer of CitySquare, a diverse organization that is the largest nonprofit provider of affordable housing in Dallas. “But if I’m looking at how to manage a hundred dollars, I’m going to go to the single mom in the ’hood that understands how to stretch a dollar and how to be a good steward.
“That’s really what nonprofits are. We’re like that single mom. We know how to stretch a dollar. But being a nonprofit, we need financial support and volunteer support and people to mobilize and invest in what we do.”
The Mavericks presented the fight-hunger-and-homelessness HUDDLE event with Siburt, Minnie’s Food Pantry founder Dr. Cheryl Jackson and city of Dallas interim director of office of homeless solutions Kevin Oden to talk about what it takes to help the less fortunate of our community, especially in these times of health crisis when Christmas cheer can easily turn to holiday stress and distress.
Michael Finley and Nick Van Exel, two prominent former Maverick players, are board members of the HUDDLE initiative (Honesty, Unity, Diversity, Dialogue, Listening, Equality) and joined the panel, which was expertly moderated by Mavs’ CEO Cynt Marshall.
The virtual event had a simple message: help, however you can.
“Since the first day I opened Minnie’s on my door, it’s always said a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King,” Jackson said. “He said: ‘I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere deserve three meals a day.’
“And we say at Minnie’s: If you can’t feed 100 people, feed just one. As you go around in this holiday season, look into the eyes of the people and say, let me feed just one. If every one of us feed just one, we can resolve this hunger issue and we can move on to bigger things. But look into the people’s eyes because there are some hungry people everywhere you go. Feed just one.”
Jackson said the lines at Minnie’s, based in Plano, are longer now than they’ve ever been because some people who used to donate now are in line for food.
Usually, the food distribution organization supplies 1.4-million meals per year.
This year, since the COVID-19 shutdown in March, they have dished up nearly 5-million meals.
Texas food banks estimate 80 million pounds of food per month are needed, just to keep pace.
“These issues are near and dear to my heart,” said Marshall, who grew up in low-income housing in the Bay Area of northern California. “My mother always use to say: I’m not hungry. She would feed us (six) kids. We found out years later, of course she was hungry. But she didn’t have enough to feed herself.”
The urgency is similar among the homeless population, Siburt said. These are basic human needs: food, water, shelter.
Marshall pointed out some of the alarming numbers: More 300,000 Dallas residents lived in poverty in 2019. Almost 600,000 lived in housing-distressed households.
More than 200 new unsheltered homeless individuals are identified every month. And in all those facts, the number of people of color is disproportionately high.
And as much as the nonprofits need help, they hope that those who need the nonprofits will speak up.
“There’s no shame in needing help,” said Dr. Siburt. “It’s OK to not be OK.
“We need a broader sense of community that everybody’s rich and everybody’s poor in different ways. We all need one another. All of us at times need to ask for help. Part of being in a community is relying on that community. I hope all our neighbors and friends will know it’s OK to not be OK and raise that hand and say, hey, I need some help.”
Said Marshall: “It’s about unity, which is of course the last five letters of the word community. It’s about us all being in this together.”
Oden said that the city has made major strides to deal with the homelessness problem, including increasing available shelter beds, providing shelter during inclement weather, rapid rehousing and adding new units.
COVID-19 has thrown curveballs in all of those areas, but the areas of rapid rehousing and adding units have been particularly important, Oden said.
“Rapid rehousing is taking a person that’s experiencing homelessness and quickly placing them into apartment-type living, paying a subsidized rent and providing that case management, whether it’s workforce development, mental health, substance abuse, you name it,” he said. “I’m happy to report that at this point, we’ve rehoused more than 300 persons experiencing homelessness in our city under that program.”
And the new units are coming from a unique provider.
“The city council approved the purchase of three hotel sites in our city that will be used immediately to help with the need of COVID-19 isolation,” Oden said. “We take for granted that if I get COVID, I can go home and isolate and be OK. But persons experiencing homelessness have nowhere to go. It’s difficult to do isolation in a shelter and obviously you don’t want somebody on the street where they can do additional community spread.
“So we’ll use these sites immediately to be able to continue to provide isolation space as they work their way through COVID and get over it and get them back to stable housing arrangements. And then long term, those three hotels will equate to 340 new units of housing in our city that we’ll be able to use to end homelessness.”
It’s all a part of being the solution, he said.
“Anyway you can be a solution – how you think, give or do – that would be my challenge to everybody,” Oden said.
As Marshall added: “We can either be a part of the problem, or we can be part of the solution.”
And that includes everybody from individuals who can help to corporations and even the government.
“Us, as a country, have to realize that hunger and homelessness is a problem,” Finley said. “And it’s a big problem. As one of the richest countries in the world, there’s no way that our hunger numbers and homeless numbers should be as high as they are.
“I know there’s a way that government could help assist these nonprofit programs we have across the country. If the country gets involved, it can make a bad situation a little bit better.”