The 75215 the zip code is the poorest in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. It is also the home to City Square, a public/private partnership of faith-based non-profits and government organizations committed to helping their homeless and working poor neighbors.
The Reverend Jonathan Grace, the organization’s neighbor relations specialist, led a group of UD students and faculty on a tour of the City Square campus on November 19, 2014. “We offer our neighbors the four ‘H’s’–health, housing, hunger and hope,” he said. “And we try to help them restore some of their power. They, too, have graces and gifts to offer.”
City Square’s open and inviting campus houses a variety of services in one location, including case management, job and life skills training, food assistance, and housing assistance. “We take a multi-faceted approach to our neighbor’s issues,” Grace said. “You can get someone a job interview, but you have to give them a place to shower beforehand.” According to Grace, something as simple as a clean, safe place to use the restroom is a necessity.
“You know the old adage?” he asked the group, “The one that says if you give a man a fish, he eats once, but if you teach him how to fish, he can eat for a lifetime? Well, you have to do both.”
City Square not only connects its neighbors with vital housing and job skills training, its staff and volunteers also help the chronically homeless successfully integrate into society. Grace showed the group a kitchen the size of one found in a typical apartment. “We want to show them how to cook the healthy foods they get in our food pantry. Sometimes we have to remind them which kind of soap goes in the dishwasher and how to use a plunger,” he said.
City Square also provides health screenings, along with literacy and GED classes, Grace said. And a new organization devoted to teaching IT skills to the unemployed and underemployed will open soon.
The organization’s long-term plans include Dallas’ version of the “housing first” approach to addressing the needs of the chronically homeless. Grace said, “We have identified the fifty most expensive chronically homeless of our neighbors, those who cost the system–and taxpayers–the most money. Homeless, they cost the system up to $150,000 a year. We can house them for $15,000 a year.” According to Grace, The Cottages, a group of fifty single-occupancy homes, will also provide the residents with a sense of community that the homeless often miss when they are placed in remote housing.
During the tour, a client stopped Reverend Grace to ask him a question. Grace introduced him to the group as his friend, Diesel. “This guy helped me out so much,” Diesel said. “Me and my girlfriend were sleeping under the bridge. He came walking up and my girlfriend said, ‘Here comes Jesus.’ And he came right over to us and asked to help us. And now I’ve got an apartment because of him.” Grace’s long hair and beard invite the comparison, and his warm demeanor sets his neighbors at ease. “Social justice is part of faith,” Grace said. “God invites us to participate in making life better for our neighbors. We have to love them where they are right now.”
University of Dallas students can volunteer at City Square in a variety of ways. Click here to visit their website for more information.