All of this is wonderful. I am a big advocate for low barrier housing, because asking people to get everything in their life together before letting them access housing is just not a solution. But I am also aware that housing alone is not a solution to homelessness. Now, I do understand that the Housing First model is not simply getting people into housing then walking away, but comes with support alongside of that housing. But often that "support" is given by people already quite busy with case loads and other things. Even the best run housing first models can only go so far.
Which is why I was so glad that Pendleton said this:
“You need three things…Champions for homeless citizens, Collaboration between agencies, funders, social services, government and faith communities and Compassion for those experiencing homeless."
Now, it must go deeper than a nice statement, but at least this is pointing to the fact that if our communities are going to really do something about the reality that people are sleeping on our streets, we have to do more than housing. And I think these three things speak well about how we can do that.
First, we have to be champions for those living outside. Now, I really don't like the way this is phrased. I would much rather create spaces for those who are living outside to be their own champions. Because they are human beings who have their own agency. Too often we "do" things for folks in poverty, who have the ability to do the same thing for themselves, but simply lack the resources, tools, or space to do them. But I like the heart of what he is saying. We must walk alongside those who are living outside. We must help them in the various ways that we can, as fellow neighbors and citizens.
Which is why I love that next he mentioned collaboration. Rather than simply help those who live outside get into housing or whatever else they might need, we should collaborate with them. This involved each person bringing what they have to the table. This is why one of our core values at Our Common Ground is collaboration: because we believe each person is a pretty good expert on their own life, and has something to offer in a situation. I also believe that, as he said, agencies, organizations, faith communities, etc. should also be collaborating. Each bringing what they have to the table. How can a small community like ours work with larger housing programs to support each other? I think these are great questions to ask.
And third I think compassion must be woven through all of this. It is amazing to me how many of the myths of those living outside - that they are all addicts, they are lazy, they are violent, they are dangerous, etc. - are perpetuated by people who have never taken the time to get to know people who have lived on the street. People do not just end up on the street one day. That is the result of a series of numerous other events and situations. And until you know those stories, it is sometimes hard not to buy into those myths. Even those few who do fit some of those myths still have a story and deserve compassion. The deserve to be treated like a human being. No one wakes up and says today I am going to stick a needle in my arm and go steal stuff to make it happen. There is deep pain and life events at the core of that story. And we need to listen. We need to care.
And lastly, I would like to add a point of my own: Imagination. We need better imagination as to how our communities can engage the reality that for too many people are sleeping on our streets. We need to imagine how we can fight homelessness while treating those who are experiencing homelessness like fellow neighbors and human beings.
We at Our Common Ground want to be a part of this in our community of Everett, and join with others who are also tying to imagine better. We would love for you to join us!
Let's imagine, and work toward, communities where ALL are welcome, where all can thrive, and where no one is forces to sleep on the street. Because housing is not the end game here. Community is. So let's work toward that community.