Change the systems and end homelessness
It has been 16 days since my last post. I always feel like it’s stating an agnostic confessional when it’s been more than a week that I write something.
Part of my silence is due to taking a much needed vacation break for a week. While it is difficult to be away, the change of scenery and perspective is proving to be refreshing and mind cleansing. With my “reset” button engaged, the week started yesterday per usual, as a up and down, emotional ride.
The number of COVID positive cases on the Human Services Campus seems to have decreased and plateaued again, thankfully. We remain diligent in following CDC guidelines to ensure the greatest health and safety for everyone on the Campus, client and staff alike.
Media coverage over the last couple of weeks causes a stir and questions for me about street cleaning. I don’t mind the questions. I’m not sure that those asking don’t mind my direct answers.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote the word “vulnerability” on my calendar (yes, I use a printed calendar book; it keeps me organized and honest and is a back-up to technology that fails me at times). “Vulnerability” has been on my mind as my blog entries have become more public. While I am grateful that people want to read them and glean whatever they do from them, I realize that this is the most publicly vulnerable I have ever been. And part of that vulnerability relates to being “direct.”
I have said before and feel more strongly now that there is neither time nor space to sugar coat the issues, challenges and solutions to addressing and ending homelessness. As I have also said, people are dying unhoused and unsheltered every single day. If I cannot be direct and vulnerable, then I am not doing my job. And my job is not to put Band-Aids on the systems that create and maintain “homelessness.” My job is to End Homelessness. We could pick apart those words and say “ending” homelessness isn’t possible. We should be able to get pretty dang close though. We should be able to achieve what is termed “functional zero” on homelessness, which would mean that our crisis response systems can meet any “inflow” into homelessness quickly to create efficient “outflow” into housing. It would mean that people don’t experience homelessness for long periods of time and that they don’t return to homelessness. There would be stasis and not dramatic swings in the rates of homelessness.
If my sharing in a vulnerable and direct way garners attention, support, effort, and even disagreement, I’m good with that. My team, Board and spouse know that I will do whatever it takes to end homelessness, as long as I don’t go to jail or prison; and I might be willing to go to jail if it resulted in media coverage and systems change.
Sometimes when I say “systems change,” I lose people. This may sound complicated, and it’s in some ways beautifully simple. Change the systems that create and maintain “homelessness.” The challenge is really that is difficult because requires time and effort. It won’t be easy, and it’s certainly possible. It’s also logical. If we prevent more homelessness, sustainably create and support affordable and supportive housing, then this social impact sector “serving the homeless,” could redirect funds and efforts to solve other complex social issues, rather seeking annual investment in a service churning machine that really “manages” homelessness.
And this daily work of serving each individual and working on broad systems change is what makes me love my “job.” It’s really my vocation. It’s why I am OK with being vulnerable and spilling all of this out into the blogosphere.
I only wish that I had come to some of these conclusions earlier in my life. The Pink song, “All I Know So Far” continues to resonate with me. “I wish someone would have told me that this life is ours to choose.” and “I wish someone would have told me that this darkness comes and goes.” and “Stay unfiltered and loud, you’ll be proud of that skin full of scars.” “That’s all I know so far.”
If I had known the difference it can make, I would have been more vulnerable a long time ago. Maybe we would have “ended” homelessness by now…. if we all dropped our guard, had honest conversations, worked together instead of competitively and didn’t fear achieving our mission statements because it might mean we wouldn’t have a job. I promise that if we End Homelessness, we will all be employable because we will have demonstrated our strengths and skills that can be applied in many other areas.
That’s all I know so far.
About the Human Services Campus
Founded in 2005, the Human Services Campus is a collaborative force of partner organizations united on one campus to end homelessness. Located just west of downtown Phoenix, 16 independent agencies on the Campus see nearly 1,000 individuals every day, offering a holistic range of client services including: reunification with family and friends; mental, physical and dental health; shelter; employment; meals; legal services and housing. Having all of these resources in one location with intra-agency communications makes it more feasible to provide a customized engagement for each client to help end their homelessness. For more information, visit www.hsc-az.org.