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Homeless alliance redefines community

MIKE McGEE | 6/1/2015, 1:23 a.m.
“Will work for food,” “Why lie? Need money for weed,” “Sorry for being a bum.”
Stephen, a homeless man who attended the Re-Defining Community: One Conversation at a Time forum at the Central Dallas Library, describes what it feels like to hold a sign similar to one he has held in the past before he moved into a local shelter. Mike McGee

The Dallas Examiner

“Will work for food,” “Why lie? Need money for weed,” “Sorry for being a bum.”

Tattered cardboard signs being held by homeless people across the nation relate the attitudes, humor and frustrations of the men and women who display them, stated Willie Baronet during the Re-Defining Community: One Conversation at a Time forum held at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library on May 15. Baronet, a Stan Richards professor of creative advertising at SMU who has roamed the country for more than 22 years collecting such signs for his traveling art installation We Are All Homeless, also proposed that the objects represent a body of folk art that points to a hidden-in-plain-sight population that has fallen through the cracks of the larger, more stable community.

The professor was the keynote speaker for the forum – a first for the library – and part of its ongoing Homeless Engagement & Leadership Program, which was created to provide meaningful social interaction to those on the fringe of society. A near-capacity audience that included attendees as diverse as the current homeless to a member of the Downtown Safety Patrol gathered in the auditorium to hear from Baronet as well as from Shavon Moore of the aid organization Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. Moore began the program by clarifying the subject for the listeners.

“Homelessness can be defined not only as a person sleeping outside or in their car; but it also includes those within shelters … using programs, and those facing eviction,” she affirmed.

Moore’s definition also included folks who have spent more than 30 days in the hospital or jail but have nowhere to go upon release, or those fleeing domestic violence.

“If we know and understand why a family or a person is homeless then we know exactly what types of services to provide to them.”

To illustrate the scope of the problem in the county and add impact to Baronet’s art installations, Moore relayed some statistics from the January 2014 MDHA homeless census.

“Dallas is seeing a new wave of homeless people,” she confirmed.

There were 3,314 homeless individuals within the city according to the census data. Of that number, 62 percent of individuals were Black. Furthermore, of the 697 homeless adults who identified themselves as veterans, 10 percent of that number were Black – the largest ethnic category out of all of the homeless veterans.

“Last year’s report revealed that 35 percent of those who entered into homelessness entered into it for the first time.” Moore indicated those who are displaced are most likely to return to self-sufficiency within the first 12 months of becoming homeless.

“After the first few years of being homeless, homelessness can become a way of life, thus making it harder to escape,” Moore mentioned as she emphasized the importance of early intervention in situations of homelessness.

The numbers from the 2015 census were released the week after the forum was presented. Details were posted on http://www.mdhadallas.org.

While Moore spoke of statistics, Baronet spoke more introspectively.