As the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy Jazz Band set up downstairs for the 10th Annual Soup’s On! Luncheon at the Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station on Tuesday, January 31, early arrivals like Honorary Co-Chairs Margie and Ray Francis had a great opportunity to check out the items in the silent auction in the Stationmaster’s Lounge.
Over in the main ballroom, it was a totally different setup from years past. Luncheon Chair Heather Sauber and Stewpot Alliance President Julie Marshall had changed the arrangements. The stage was facing the window with two large screens on either side. Due to the setup there were a couple of tables that were going to have to rely on 52” flatscreens to see the action on the stage. After all, the event was so very sold out. Even the main service line between the rows of tables seemed on the thin side. Hopefully, the serving team was all a size two.
The same tight situation was slated for the parking to fit 300 projected cars in 150 spaces.
But Heather was bound and determined to make this Stewpot Alliance fundraiser a moneymaker. She even managed to save on the speaker’s fee by having a panel of local leaders address the homeless situation that has been making headlines with the closure of tent cities.
For the panel discussion, there would be no table and stiff-back chairs. Instead the panelists (Mayor Mike Rawlings, Dallas Morning News VP/Editorial Page Editor Keven Ann Willey, The Concilio President/CEO Florencia Velasco Fortner and Dallas Police Sgt. Jeff Tooker) and moderator DallasNews.com Managing Editor Robert Wilonsky would be in comfy brown easy chairs on stage.
With the sun shining and the temperature in the early 60s, it wasn’t one of those must-have-soup days. But it was a day when the Dallas homeless situation was the main course with soup and salads at the tables thanks Soup Chief Chef Brian Luscher and his team of area Souper Duper Chefs (Melody Bishop and Dennis Kelley of Lark on the Park, Andrew Chen of Monkey King Noodle Co. and Monkey King Banana Stand, Andrew Dilda of Independent Bar and Kitchen, Omar Flores of Whistlebritches and Casa Rubia, Scott Girling of The Graph, Danyele McPeherson of 80/20 Hospitality, Janice Provost of Parigi, Jeramie Robison of Uchi Dallas, Abraham Salum of Salum and Andrew Swanson of Wolfgang Puck).
As Brian reviewed the final preparations and presentation of the soups and chefs in the kitchen, the activity out front was heaping. It was one of Micki Rawlings’ first outings since having back surgery on Friday, January 13. In four days, she and husband Mike Rawlings would be heading to Mexico for son Gunnar Rawlings’ wedding to Gabby Gutierrez… Robin Bagwell reported that husband Norm Bagwell had given her the best Christmas gift ever, despite agreeing not to do Christmas gifts. He created a charitable trust for her!…Jennifer Clifford had flown in from North Carolina for the lunch. Despite husband Joe Clifford’s taking his new role as head pastor at Myers Presbyterian Church in North Carolina back in August, Jennifer just completed her tenure with Communities Foundation of Texas in December… She also thanked Abraham Salum for making the Clifford son’s senior graduation dinner “so special”…Renowned for his Hermes ties, David Nichols was tieless. Since scaling back on his residential realty responsibilities, he was going for the more casual look…. Allison Salas and Kelly Donohue were receiving congrats on tackling the 2018 Soup’s On! as co-chairs.
As for the program, Rabbi Debra Robbins provided the invocation and was followed by emcee former WFAA anchor Gloria Campos who asked, “Remember me? I retired. I didn’t die.” The rest of the program was a bit overwhelming with a parade of speakers —Heather, Julie, Margie, Ray and Stewpot Executive Director Rev. Dr. Bruce Buchanan extolling their sincere commitment and admiration for The Stewpot.
Bruce admitted that one of the issues close to his heart is The Stewpot I.D. Program, which helps the homeless establish legal identities. The Stewpot provides “documentation assistance to more than 6,000 persons annually, which is essential for jobs and housing.”
They also recognized the founding board member of the Stewpot Alliance (Karen Ware, Jennifer Clifford, Catherine Bywaters, Marty Coleman, Margie Francis, Nancy Gillham, Jan Hegi, Kathy Jackson, Martha Lipscomb, Martha Martin, Joan Mason, Suzanne Palmlund, Micki Rawlings, Carolyn Walton and Trish Weigand). Thanks to these women launching the Alliance, $2,367,500 had been provided for The Stewpot’s mission of helping the homeless with meals, healthcare, counseling, case management and therapeutic and vocational activities.
Stewpot factoid: The Stewpot serves 364,792 meals a year.
The panel discussion eventually got underway, starting off with former Dallas Homeless Czar/Mayor Mike saying that he wanted to create an inter-governmental program that would be accountable for housing the homeless. In the coming weeks, he hoped that announcements would be made regarding such a government undertaking, but it had to go through the Dallas City Council and Commissioners Court. While he admitted that there are a lot of people working to solve the issue, “We don’t have an integrated strategy.” Having a City Council person, a County Commissioner, the head of Parkland and the head of the mental health provider network have a plan, instead of various plans, would be a major step forward.
Keven Ann shared her frustration about the situation, saying that the Commission on Homelessness came out with a report including “a variety of ideas…I’d kinda like to see two or three cases out of that report that could be accomplished in the next eight, ten months, so that we can begin to see tangible progress.”
Mike said that he would like to see the November bond election include a million dollars for housing. While he admitted that it would be a big step, he added that it would make a big difference.
(Editor’s note: While the call-out for support of the Dallas bond election was praised, it was interesting to note the number of Park Cities types who won’t be able to support the effort.)
Jeff admitted that putting the homeless in jail doesn’t help the problem in the long run. He told how officers drive around with clothes in their car to provide for the homeless, but he added that “We need to do more than just say, ‘Would you like a ride to The Bridge?’” He added that for the homeless, just making their way “through the system” on their own can be overwhelming. That’s why organizations like City Square can help provide the assistance and direction to get off the street. He also said that just placing them in an apartment was not always a solution. One homeless person told him that he felt safer on the streets than living in some apartment complex. He admitted that while the police need to enforce the law, “We could do better to create better relationships and a rapport with the homeless.”
However, Mike admonished the audience, recalling former Dallas Police Chief David Brown’s message that, “We ask too much of our police.”
Florencia said that The Concilio’s infrastructure was not made to serve the percentage of homeless Hispanics.
Mike told how the numbers reported by the Task Force on Poverty were “shocking.”
Kevin Ann returned to Mike’s bond election and asked what was needed. Mike responded that people needed to let their City Councilperson know that the homeless issue needed to be included in the bond election.
In conclusion, Robert asked for the panel’s wishes:
Florencia asked that people get more involved and to think of the homeless as real people.
Jeff said that you could have a bond proposal, but “there are so many people, so many of us that can make a difference. It’s not just about money…that’s a big part of it… it’s about service. There are a lot of great people who are homeless and we need to reach out to them.”
Keven Ann suggested leveraging current funds to hire more caseworkers, who really make the biggest difference and give people the services that they need. Also, to get landlords to be more receptive to programs that benefit the homeless.
Robert suggested people should get involved with the “Point In Time” Homeless Count next year.
For the closing remarks, International Human Rights Activist Peggy Callahan congratulated the number of folks who had been involved with The Stewpot for a couple of decades. She also made a case for financial support for The Stewpot and made the final request for donations for $100,000 that would help 25,000 people.
For more photos of the 2017 Soup’s On! champions, check out the MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.