Practically Fearless with Chris Girata: Episode 1, Dr. David Woody III
“Practically Fearless with Chris Girata” highlights leaders who overcome fears and obstacles to better the world around them. In this inaugural episode, Chris talks with President and CEO of The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center in Dallas, Texas - Dr. David Woody III. The two discuss the ongoing mission of The Bridge to serve the homeless, the challenges the Center faces and the personal challenges Dr. Woody has overcometo better help those in need. Visit bridgehrc.org for more information about The Bridge.
Q&A with Dr. David Woody III
Chris: What does The Bridge do for Dallas and the surrounding communities?
Dr. Woody: The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center is a facility that's been in place now for 15 years. We will celebrate our 15-year anniversary in May. We are an important low-barrier shelter in downtown Dallas. Our work is to meet the needs of folks who would otherwise be sleeping on the concrete. We are trying to build just enough trust that they would come onto our campus and at least contemplate what an exit from homelessness might look like. Our model is, on our campus, having several collaborative relationships with institutions that meet the needs of homeless and vulnerable citizens in our community. We have a clinic that's facilitated by Parkland Hospital and Health Systems. We have a clinic that is facilitated by Metrocare Services for behavioral health, mental health, and substance use services. Often, those issues are critical in terms of a citizen becoming homeless. And, we have three care management teams that ultimately craft an exit strategy; a care and housing plan team that facilitates their returning to the community; and a team dedicated to helping the person be able to manage a homeless solution of their own.
Chris: How do you surround the homeless with good, local community resources?
Dr. Woody: many of the individuals who will come to our campus are folks who would tell you that, if they had access to some of the resources that we have free of charge on our campus, if they had those resources in their community --that perhaps they would never have made this pilgrimage towards homelessness. We’re able to serve three meals a day, we have resources for hygiene, clothing, a library, and folks can do their laundry. There is a percentage of the homeless population that has a companion canine. We even have a kennel canine kennel on our campus. So, we want to wrap our arms around folks, provide them with all of the basic needs that they would possess, and then begin to have that conversation about: what does an exit from homelessness look like for them such that we can build within them? The skills, talents, and any needs necessary so that, when they do find a home, they can manage it on their own.
Chris: Walk us through how an individual could actually make a difference right here in Dallas or right here in North Texas, whether it's through The Bridge or through any other organization that is trying to meet the needs of the people who are so desperately in need right here in our community.
Dr. Woody: A couple of things to consider. One is, and an important part of my role, educating people on homelessness. There are a lot of stereotypical things. A lot of myths out there about homelessness. So, our organization is heavily data-driven. Our messaging, the way that we engage our guests, reflects our sensitivity to the data. So, asking folks to immerse themselves in the community, to do it safely, but to engage folks where they're at. We are in the midst of the optic of homelessness being fairly pervasive. Especially on the heels of the pandemic, when so many folks were affected with respect to their physical health. In terms of their employment capacities. A job may have gone away. They may have had trauma as a result of the pandemic with the loss of a family member, and how it is that getting the Coronavirus may have affected them personally, both physically and emotionally. So, there are many dynamics that made folks, who are otherwise vulnerable, one issue away from being homeless. That has come with issues regarding evictions and folks losing their housing, and the cost of housing in our community increasing dramatically. There are a lot of folks who are really vulnerable to the experience.
So, the first thing I often ask folks is to take a step back and be able to think critically about what it might be like for you to have lost some of the critical pieces of what makes you who you are. Often, that's what we experience with our guests and building just enough trust for them to tell us what that is about. That influences how we talk about what their strategy is because we learn what some of the bumps in the carpet may be that we have to try to smooth out so when they're back on their feet -and on their own- they have some skills internally, to manage their lives.
Chris: It’s so important that you name the trauma of becoming homeless because, for so many people, it might appear to be just a technical problem. But, the technical problem is perhaps even smaller than what goes through the trauma of the individual and their self-identity. What do you do to take stock of the individuals who come to you so it's not just an issue, like a top-line issue? Or a technical issue? It's a person who needs this kind of help. So, what do you all do at The Bridge or what have you seen done in other communities that make that kind of difference for the individual?
Dr. Woody: There's a couple of things that are what we describe as kind of evidence-based approaches to engaging someone who might be homeless. The first is to think about how it is that you communicate with them. There's an evidence-based practice, it's called ‘motivational interviewing.’ [It means] to actually be present with a person. To come across as non-judgmental and open to the uniqueness of the person is really important. On our campus, we also implement what we describe as a trauma-informed care approach to our work. The notion of just being homeless is traumatic, but you may have all of these other environmental experiences that just enhanced that trauma. That could block how you communicate with folks. So, approaching folks with that trauma-informed perspective kind of opens folks up to the potential of just enough trust for them to be able to share with you how it is that they've come to their place. And to be open about this. [For example] ‘Well, if I had a dream, this is what I think I would like to do.’ One of the ways that we try to allow folks to even experience that on our campus is to help us we have a great relationship with the stewpot in terms of preparing our meals. Folks will come and actually help us to deliver a meal service. That's bigger than just preparing a food tray or filling a cup of water. That also offers folks an opportunity to simply sit down and be in the presence of folks who have been homeless, and homeless folks are extremely respectful. They are very open to telling their story. To have listening ears and to be able to take that in… For many of us, our lives are busy. We're always thinking about the next thing. But, to take on some of what we want for The Bridge environment to be, which is one of respite: take a deep breath. Think about what's going on around you and engage the guests through serving a meal. Think about what has your life been like and talk with them about ‘Where is it that they would want to be? What are their goals?’
Chris: You mentioned myths earlier about the way that people find themselves in homelessness. I'd love for you to talk about the number one myth that you have debunked.
Dr. Woody: Let's start with the notion of fear. There are many folks who come to our campus, and we tried to do the best job possible in terms of describing to them what our environment is, how it is that we will engage them at the gate, our safety and security, responsibilities, and roles that we take very seriously to make the experience safe and secure. Nonetheless, as you described, most folks come to the campus with fear, and they won't share that. I can typically see it in people's faces. So, what I often do is ask them how they are feeling just about coming up. When you come up to my office, probably one of the things I said was, ‘Well, how are y'all feeling?’ That often allows folks to talk about, ‘Well, I don't know about this. I don't know what's happening here.’ This allows folks to express that in such a way that they're not going to be judged about that. Because even as Christians, often we're not supposed to judge that. That's what people say, but we may come to The Bridge with preconceived notions. What I try to do is engage folks in a conversation about those things. I'm pretty certain that when we do go out and walk about, they're going to be shocked at what it feels like. The fact that folks will just walk up to me and say, ‘Dr. Woody, I need your help with this.’ I would listen even with folks being around me, and I would ask them, ‘Well, who is your care manager?’ because that's the relationship with whom you probably need to be caring… So, having someone to come and engage on our campus, accepting the notion of fear, and allowing us to wrap our arms even around you as a visitor, and address that. Most folks will, they won't say, ‘well, actually, I was really afraid when I came on the campus,’ but they will say, ‘it wasn't what I thought it was going to be,’ with a deep sense of, I guess, relief, but also a passion about ‘Okay, what's next? What, what can I do to help to know that I don't need to be afraid.’
Chris: Something I say to my congregation all the time is, ‘What’s the first thing that angels tell humans in the bible? Do not be afraid.’ For one reason, because I think angels are probably scary. The other is, fear is such a motivator, a human motivator. It can keep us bounded from one. It can keep us on an issue level rather than on a personal level. What I hope that the people watching will do, is to actually go [to The Bridge] and take this issue and make it human because that exposure matters.
Dr. Woody: We’re in an environment now where so many folks are being led by things that they've heard, passionately shared with them and that kind of thing, as opposed to feeling empowered to check something out on your own and having the confidence, the courage to do that. What I would say is that, because we're asking our guests to take that risk, we have to have a staff in an environment that offers a soft landing for folks who would take that leap, that risk.
Chris: So, if there's a person who says ‘I actually want to do something,’ what is that ‘do something’ that you would invite them into?
Dr. Woody: I talked a little bit about serving a meal. Yep, I have other things. As I'm thinking just off the top of my head: we have clothing that we get daily, we have an inexpensive clothing closet, so to come and assist with that. We get so many in-kind donations, that primarily do a couple of things. Number one is when a guest is housed, they leave our campus with excitement, but also, we offer them a welcome basket, with all the basics that you would have when you look at housing. We get those kinds of donations regularly. We try to house at least one guest a day. That's an organizational goal, in an environment here in Dallas, where there's not enough affordable and workforce housing. So, for us to be able to experience a guest having their own key to get into their own apartment, and to offer them a welcome basket is really an important thing. So, to have folks come on to the campus and help us assemble those [baskets], to help us in terms of what we need to order to keep our stock of welcome baskets going is really important. Katerah Jefferson, who's our Community Engagement Manager, she's always looking for help in that way. We also have folks helping us who are in critical points on our campus: the services building where you came onto the campus. That receptionist has to take time for lunch, or has break times. To have someone come onto the campus and for us to assist a volunteer with actually being able to engage guests and direct them to where their next appointment is, or to make appointments with a care manager -- we want to train folks up to do that. That is such a rewarding experience for many volunteers who otherwise wouldn't expect that they could come onto campus and engage a person in such a guiding supportive sort of way. We have many of those kinds of opportunities. Come and walk a dog or help clean. We have a group of experiences called ‘guests giving back’ on our campus. Folks who are making or close to making a transition into their own housing are asked to donate one to five hours a week in giving back to the campus. For guests to help us with that, we have so many opportunities to help out with that kind of thing. Folks may have talents like data entry, we need help with that. We track every service that we deliver. We need help with getting that data entered and then analyzing it. You may have a talent or a skill that you think wouldn't be transferable to The Bridge. I can assure you that there's some way that we can transfer that skill. That's something that you're comfortable with and put that to great use in terms of what we offer our guests.
Chris: Where do you seek out hope in your life? Where do you find those little nuggets of courage, those little bits of hope that, when you go and face such a daunting challenge as homelessness in our city, you get refilled, and you find your own rootedness to keep on with that hope to make a difference?
Dr. Woody: I would say, first of all, I make a long trek to The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center every day. So, when I get to The Bridge, the first thing I do is, I'm prayerful, and I look to the Bible, I read a Bible verse. That's what I do when I get there every day. And folks know that they see me in the office, they won’t interrupt. That, for me, is grounding. I would say a second thing for me is the ability to put someone else's needs first. I talk a lot with our staff about the notion of humility. Where many of our guests are at, I could experience that one thing that tipped me into homelessness, and awareness of that and appreciation of that is important. Also, going back to my upbringing and thinking about the notion of giving back, that was big in my family. My parents talked about it a good deal. To know that I'm giving back in a way that I never would have thought would have such an impact…Today, we probably saw 550 guests on our campus, but then I've got 100 employees who see me modeling that and would come alongside me to do the same and have such an incredible impact on our communities -- it's invaluable. I don't have a way of even conceptualizing how good of a feeling it is that I can go to prayer and say thank you to God for what he's allowed me to do.