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[The following is an exchange regarding "Abandoned in Durham," the lead story of the June Prism].
Michael Steinberg's response
Letter from Milton C. Jordan, PR& Education Coordinator, DCSH, Inc.:
From January through June 1996, the administration and staff of DCSH, Inc., dba The Durham Community Shelter for H.O.P.E. transformed the organization from a traditional homeless shelter to Durham's first and only Life Rebuilding Center.
Re-inventing this no-profit corporation from the inside/out poses the same challenges, obstacles and difficulties for us that it brings to any company or other organization, but we try to avoid, or even worse, ignore the forces driving change to our own peril.
Price Pritchett, Chairman and CEO of Pritchett & Associates, a Dallas-based firm specializing in organizational change, described the issue this way in a recent article: "The winds of change keep building. Blowing harder. Hitting more people. Reshaping all kinds of organizations and altering the way they operate. Business, government, educational institutions, NOT FOR PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS (Emphasis Mine), the military - you name it. Change is as far-reaching as it is rapid, cutting across all sectors of the economy....Some organizations will ride the winds of change, seizing the opportunity to go far...very fast...and sail past the competition. Others that are unprepared for the wind's force, and that mistakenly think their safety comes in bracing themselves against it, will find their rigidity a fatal stance. They will be shattered...As for those that think they can lie low until the storm passes, they will be left behind..."
As we more clearly understood and clearly saw these forces shaping ahead of us at DCSH, Inc. we launched a Comprehensive Change Concept in January, and have worked daily to complete it , while continuing to serve our clients, currently referred to as "members of our organization."
Thus, we read with marked displeasure the story, headlined: "Abandoned in Durham, Shelter System Harsh on Homeless" in the June 1966 issue of The Prism.
Not only was the story by Michael Steinberg factually inaccurate in a number of ways, its overall context misinformed your readers about our mission, our philosophy, our objectives and strategies.
Consider first several factual errors:
*Your writer wrote: "The shelter...is operated by the county..."
*The truth is: A private non-profit corporate operates the organization that receives money from Durham County government as do more than 20 other non-profit organizations throughout the country.
*Your writer wrote, quoting a former DCSH client: "The shelter creates people to live in the jail.
*The truth is that many of the clients who come to DCSH, Inc. are already criminals, some of whom come directly from prison here. We work with them because we believe: "...that all individuals possess incredible human potential and can, with well-focused and concentrated assistance, "come to see" that potential and begin to work to achieve it. We also believe that a person's yesterdays and today's do not undermine the value of the person's tomorrow."
Simultaneously, however, we carefully explain to new members that: "...DCSH, Inc. does not exist, however, because of any 'right' a person has to emergency shelter or life rebuilding assistance...but we exist to serve those who come to understand that their lives are "broken," and who learn to believe that they can rebuild their lives, and also believe we can help."
In the rules and guidelines we recently adopted as fundamental operational principles for "the Center, the DCSH associate members (staff) covenants with our residential members (guests) to:
*work with you and in your behalf to assist, as best we can...the life rebuilding process you choose to undertake.
*always predicate our work with you on your personal dignity and respect...
*position ourselves to learn from you and your individual experiences, even as we help you learn and understand concepts of change.
*always represent you, as we work in your behalf with others, from a perspective of your potential for success.
*focus on your personal empowerment as a principal objective of all our work with you."
*Your writer wrote: "Flyers posted ominously at the shelter's entrance had already given me a foul warning
*The adjective "ominously" (which means threatening or menacing) is obviously your writer's unsupported and unconfirmed opinion, as is the adjective "foul": (which means offensive to the senses as to be revolting).
While the sign was a poorly worded effort by a staff member who did her best, it was neither threatening nor revolting. The $5 refers to the organization's Personal Investment Element. We explain to our members that: "The Personal Investment Element serves as a daily symbol of our commitment to change. Experience proves that change is extremely difficult and since you trigger our commitment by your own, we need some visible and continuing indication that you remain committed. The $5 per day is not rent! It's not the same as 'pay to stay.' It is, as we've named it, a Personal Investment Element. By personal, we mean: "...to commit (money) in order to gain profit or interest. To utilize for future benefit or advantage. By element, we mean: "a fundamental, irreducible constituent..."
Your writer could have avoided each of those errors by simply following a fundamental principle of quality journalism: thorough reporting. Award-winning journalist and now college professor, Carole Rich, outlined this concept in her recent textbook Writing and Reporting News: A coaching method. She wrote: "Collect: This is the reporting stage. You interview sources and gather AS MUCH INFORMATION AS YOU CAN ABOUT YOUR TOPIC. DON'T RELY ON ONE SOURCE; SEEK SEVERAL POINTS OF VIEW...GATHER AS MANY DETAILS AS POSSIBLE..."
Mr. Steinberg did not indicate in his story that he spoke with any of our clients who have used the organization's programs successfully. He did not talk with the Executive Director, Mrs. Maggie Lee, or myself to get any of the information included in this op-ed piece, or other supportive materials, all of which were available in May 1996.
Thank you for the opportunity to set the record straight. We will be happy to share with your readers more about our exciting and productive transformation in future issues if you desire.
Subsequent to writing "Abandoned in Durham", I participated in weekly servings of free food carried out by Food Not Bombs. We gave out the food at the old bus station on East Main and Dillard in Durham, directly across the parking lot from the Community Shelter, each Sunday. A few flyers we put up in the area drew a crowd of over 50 the first week, and all the food was gone in about 5 minutes.
The next week was June, and I asked some of the people we served if the Community Shelter really was charging $5 to get in the door now, with no exceptions. A woman named Linda said this was true, and that she formerly had stayed there, but no longer could afford to. Instead, she told me, she was staying in a nearby abandoned building with a group of other homeless people. "Lord, I have to wait until dark before I can shut my eyes," she said.
This development, and the response by DCSH, make it painfully clear that this institution is no longer a shelter and no longer serves the homeless community. The winds of change there, as represented in their communication to the Prism, demonstrate that nothing is blowing in the wind but hot air.
As a human being who has been homeless more than once in his life, and as an investigative journalist with more than 15 years of experience and publication, I stand by my story - and with those who remain abandoned in Durham.
It's worse than we thought.
First, let me say that we agree with Milton Jordan that the article we ran last month had clear journalistic shortcomings. We, as editors, were responsible for those shortcomings, as was the writer. Michael Steinberg did try to contact representatives of the Shelter. The article should have, at the very least, indicated the attempt. The editors should have addressed that deficiency.
However, we stand by Steinberg's depiction of serious problems with DCSH. The more we find out, the more troublesome DCSH's reputation and policies become.
In a response unprecedented in the six year history of The Prism, two people called The Prism about a single article. These Durham women called spontaneously and independently to express support for the article. One, who has helped the homeless before, was "very moved" by the article and wanted to find Alice Suggs, the homeless woman, to offer help. She told The Prism that a homeless man she'd helped (who now has housing) confirmed that there were problems because of DCSH policy.
The other caller, who had worked at the Shelter for five years, wanted to express that the $5/night fee was "uncalled for." The caller also said that on one occasion, she and other members of her church committee served 40 meals to homeless people in the parking lot of DCSH, who were unable to enter because of the fee. A friend of the caller tried to phone a resident to offer a job. A staffer answered that the resident couldn't receive the call - nor a message - because he didn't pay the $12 monthly phone fee.
The worst aspect of DCSH's change, evidenced in Milton Jordan's piece, is the determination that those most in need will be tossed out into the cold. As a mental health practitioner, I'm well aware of the necessity for guidelines and criteria for the provision of human services and how difficult it is to deliver treatment in this hostile economic climate. But DCSH's answer seems to be to adopt hostile corporate management philosophy whole-heartedly. I'm reminded of "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers," in which the one of the "pod people" is pitching the protagonist to "become one of us" because it's an irresistible force. If the economic trends are shattering people, let's join in the carnage while dressing it up with goofy business hype: "Life Rebuilding Center," "Personal Investment Element, etc."
We have not done any evaluation of the efficacy of DCSH's program. Their residents may benefit greatly; we hope they do. But as for the many homeless persons who, by the nature of their plight, simply don't have a piece of the P.I.E. ($5/night=$1820/yr.), DCSH's message seems to be: drop dead, there's no place for you in Durham.
Although we certainly don't want to detract from whatever helpful assistance might be provided by DCSH, I believe that The Prism's founding philosophy is diametrically opposed to the current sentiment at DCSH, which appears to deny the validity of the human right to shelter and which defiles the dignity of the homeless by calling them "broken."
We urge Durham residents to ask the County Commissioners, United Way and other funding sources, "Since DCSH won't provide shelter without an entrance fee, what provision can be made for the many homeless who cannot pay?"
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