I turn 50 on November 15, 2014 and you are invited to my party. It’s a celebration of my life and a fundraiser for Safehaven Ministries of Sacramento, a ministry to people experiencing homelessness in the Sacramento region. Being an “Autumn Baby” born in southern Ohio, the changing of the leaves and anticipation of the year-end holiday trilogy has always been very special to me. Thanksgiving turkey with an over-stuffed table announce the brisk anticipation of Christmas cheer and the cold and snow that I could choose to play in at will. Founding Safehaven has given me a different perspective. Supportive services for the homeless often dwindle during these months, and beyond the photo-ops of soup kitchen service on these days, many of our friends on the streets go without food or warmth and even more so, hope. I want to do something special beyond myself as I start my 50th year. So, I am throwing a “Seasoned with Life” birthday party/fundraiser for Safehaven. Please consider coming. If you can’t, please “Pass the Hat,” that is, contribute something toward the effort. You can do either by registering or donating here. Safehaven needs to raise $15,000 before the end of the year to end the year in the “black” and to anticipate the greater demands on its services during the upcoming holiday season. Thank you in advance and God bless!
I left my Capitol view law firm, HMS Law Group, LLP last week, launched the Law Offices of Don F. Harris and am preparing to return to the Victorian my consulting company once occupied in the “40 Acres” complex in Sacramento’s Oak Park community. I have a lot of history there. The late Joe Serna, Jr. represented this area as a Sacramento City Councilman, and for a short season, I served as his Administrative Assistant. Then, 35th & Broadway was the seedy Woodruff Hotel. I remember the citizen complaints about hypodermic needles and syringes littering the ground. After law school at UC Davis, I returned to Oak Park as a freshly minted Associate Attorney with the former McDonough, Holland & Allen law firm, this time representing US Bank in its efforts to establish a bank branch in the community. Early notions of what became Nehemiah Corporation of America actually started here as my old friend Jim Quaschnick, Jr., then facilities manager for US Bank and I contemplated strategies to address the boarded and vacant houses that pock-marked the community at that time. In fact, we, in collaboration with Antioch Progressive Baptist Church, formed Nehemiah Progressive Housing Development Corporation 20 years ago this month to, among other things, undertake what we then called the “Park Project” to address abandoned houses in Oak Park. We even hired a young “radical” named David Deluz to help us research the project. Later still, when my tenacious and visionary friend, Mayor Kevin Johnson, decided to return to Sacramento to give back to his community, Nehemiah’s meteoric rise resulting from the national expansion of the Nehemiah downpayment assistance program enabled it, through its newly created Nehemiah Community Reinvestment Fund, to commit the initial external capital for the development of what is now known as “40 Acres” anchored by the a true community cafe, “Old Soul.”
This is my 49th year. I am settling in to what I hope to be a “wise counselor/seasoned explorer” phase of life. Sort of an Indiana Jones, professor (or in my case, lawyer) by day, adventurer by night kind-of thing. My latest “adventure” is to lead a homeless ministry in the heart of Sacramento’s skid row. Why? Maybe it’s because I know that places like that and the people who are in them have the capacity to be better and to do better. Syringes can become flowers. Abandoned houses can become homes. Empty fields in forgotten places can become vibrant community centers and even brand new communities. There is despair, yet there is hope. Collectively, I have watched communities rally to aggregate resources and know-how to solve basic human problems. Sometimes it just takes a catalyst and someone who is not afraid to get to “close to the fire.” These are the kinds of people and organizations that I tend to represent as an attorney. And to think, I get to do this for a living.
-P.S. Let me know if you have any furniture that would work in a quaint Victorian office.
“… I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink …”
It is 1.5 miles from HMS Law Group, LLP, my law office overlooking Sacramento’s prestigious Capitol Mall, complete with corner office overlooking the State Capitol to Township 9, the emerging flagship development project of Nehemiah Corporation of America, a nonprofit organization I founded in my early 30’s. It is another 1.0 miles from Township 9 to Safehaven Ministries of Sacramento, a homeless ministry that I founded in my late 40’s. Geography can be deceiving. The “roads” I have traversed to connect these waypoints are the things that books and movies are made of. This, however, is a blog.
And yes, this blog is going to end by asking you to help a lawyer by donating to a homeless ministry, so if that offends you, please stop reading now.
Tonight, I am working late at the law office. Tomorrow morning, Sunday, February 16, 2014, I will get up early so that I can get to Safehaven to help put on the coffee, set up the pastries, set out the welcoming “a-frame” signs, and turn on the inspirational music. Our lead Chaplain, Joe, is taking the Sunday off, so I am pitching in. A small group of “people on the street” will be forming outside our warehouse entrance, waiting to walk the hallway to the Chapel, our “church in a box,” complete with pews, a Spartan AV system and all the hot coffee and day-old pastries one can (or should) consume. Safehaven’s mission is not about feeding the body. We leave that to our award-winning (though sometimes controversial) friends across the street, Loaves and Fishes. Our mission is to feed the soul. And yes, contrary to popular belief, lawyers do have them (although in various shapes and sizes.)
I am told that the key to effective influence-broking these days is to answer the “why” question. So, why did I start Safehaven Ministries? I could say that it was the urging of our landlord, an affluent and philanthropic Iranian-American Muslim named Mohammed (I am not making this up) who chided me about what Jesus would be doing about homelessness in Sacramento if he were here now. Or I could say it was a serendipitous encounter with Ruth Graham (Billy Graham’s daughter) urging the church of America to be “authentic and relevant.” Maybe it was the intellectual challenge to take on another nonprofit cause. Nehemiah Corporation was a national billion-dollar phenomenon that assisted a now-fading middle class to buy homes. Safehaven is a local, fledgling ministry aspiring to assist an undeniably permanent and growing category of citizens in the wealthiest nation on the planet, the homeless.
Perhaps all those dynamics played a part, but I don’t think any of them are my “why.” My “why” is two-fold: (1) as sure as I am that human beings lack the cognitive capacity to comprehend the entire universe, I believe that there really is a God who is best understood through the Christian message, and (2) I believe that the greatest “proofs” of God’s existence are compassion, philanthropy and charity. These human tendencies are incredibly divine. It is amazing to be able reach beyond one’s self. Extending a cup of cold water (or hot coffee) in His Name is like reaching into the sky and touching the Hand of God.
Safehaven hosts worship services for the homeless every Sunday. Please consider helping to support our cause.