In a long, hot summer, when violence and discord seem to be heating up everywhere, it’s important to remember the good news that too often goes unpublicized.

Good news, for instance, such as the program veteran San Antonio Police Department officers Monty McCann and Joe Farris Jr. started a year and a half ago, after training with SAPD’s excellent mental-health unit. The downtown bicycle cops went above and beyond their regular duties. They established relationships with the homeless and connected them with services to escape the spiral of hopelessness.

The patrolmen termed their initiative HOPE, or Homeless Outreach Positive Encounters.

McCann and Farris haven’t sugarcoated the work they do, which includes helping the homeless obtain identification and birth certificates.

They call their mission “compassionate accountability.”

The word “compassion” has seen an uptick lately in San Antonio. It seems significant the very first City Council act following recent elections was to endorse the international Charter for Compassion.

In January 2014, I wrote about this movement and the local organizations working with it.

One of the people I spoke to about the movement was the Rev. Ann Helmke, a co-founder of the peaceCENTER and longtime advocate for compassionate action. This spring, Helmke, who most recently was director of spiritual services at Haven for Hope, began a new calling. As head of San Antonio’s new Faith-Based Initiative, she endeavors to connect faith-based and secular groups with the city, to help the most vulnerable among us. Building community strengthens us all.

Speaking of the council’s resolution to support the compassionate-cities charter, new Mayor Ron Nirenberg noted the “important foundations … on issues of resilience, equity and fairness. This is an issue of our place in the world, to make sure we’re building not just a city that’s strong, but that’s strong for its future.”

Some might suggest compassion denotes weakness. In fact, it’s just the opposite – it’s a passionate, strong commitment to treat others as we would be treated. That doesn’t imply a lack of discipline, but it does imply understanding – the kind of understanding that led officers McCann and Farris to create HOPE.

“The HOPE program is an innovative approach to an extremely difficult problem,” Nirenberg said. “This police effort offers important assistance to our community’s neediest people, and can actually change lives for the better.”

No matter how many great officers the Police Department has, as Chief William McManus has repeatedly said, we can’t arrest the problem of homelessness away. Nor can government alone solve poverty, lack of education or mental illness.

Together, though, different organizations and individuals can make a difference. It’s already happening in San Antonio, and can happen in many more ways.

There are those who would classify HOPE as a drop in the bucket. It is. Also, others might call the compassionate-cities program a meaningless gesture. A gesture, yes — but one with great power when it leads to action. Just one such action will take place Aug. 11 and 12, when the city’s Faith-Based Initiative presents Pathways to Hope, a conference on mental health and faith, at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. It’s just one of many community programs to make us stronger.

San Antonio has the compassion and the hope. As we keep growing bigger, let’s keep growing stronger.


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