Floating on a Raft

 In Reflections
Reflections from the Front Lines

Floating on a Raft

There are bright spots and success stories every day.

It’s been 22 days since my last post and 37 weeks since losing my sense of smell. More phantom smells pop up, like something is burning; and I’m pretty sure the scent of dog feces was real… so yes, nothing super pleasant is returning to my olfactory system.

In the last week of July, I was privileged to attend the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference in Washington, D.C. with hundreds of others from around the country. A group of 20+ people from Arizona attended. The return to an in-person conference was re-energizing. Key take aways, centering the voice of lived experience is critical and more than trendy, it’s necessary. And it takes a twist of skill for leaders and managers. Listening, really listening without judgment or continual questioning can be challenging. And listen we must. Then we must turn what we hear into application of our service delivery systems and design of shelter and housing. We have to put trust into those who have so much to teach us. We also must center race equity in all of our conversations, planning, design, service delivery, and advocacy. There is no ignoring that people of color are over-represented in the population of people who experience homelessness. And, as someone who has attended this conference many, many times, I am now one of the older attendees, and it was uplifting to see the new faces, the younger faces, to listen to their questions and comments. I’m not ready to be replaced, and I see a future of leaders and changemakers, disrupters, and systems builders that are ready to put an end to homelessness.

At the Human Services Campus, it finally feels to me like the 2+ years of treading water has become more of a floating on a raft sensation. It’s the lightening of the pull from an unknown depth, when we all were wondering how long the COVID pandemic would last. The exhaustion of keeping our heads above water, taking gulps of air, holding our breath, and exhaling with anxiety. A life raft has been thrown, and we are all on it. There is still uncertainty over the stability and how far are we from a shoreline. The questions over Monkeypox, and if staff or clients contract it what do we do about it, are like waves from the result of an unpredicted wind. And we have some space to breathe more deeply, to pause and scan the horizon. We have gaps of time to start moving back to strategy rather than operating in crisis response mode.

The demand for services continues, with sheltering about 900 people per night, there are still more than 800 unsheltered people in our neighborhood. We are in the process of compiling our fiscal year data, which at first glance shows that the work HSC and its partners does is ending homelessness, it is reunifying people with family and friends, it is connecting people to transformational services. There are successes each and every single day. While it’s easy to only talk about the problems and the high demand for help, there are bright spots and success stories every day.

Per usual, this work is all things at once – happy and sad, positive and negative, overwhelmingly challenging and amazingly successful, depressing and inspiring.

Personally, I can find my way through the myriad of emotions through music. I recently really, really heard a lyric in a song, and it brought me a new, grateful perspective.

“After the tears have washed your eyes.”

I thought, “wow, that is a fantastic way to find gratitude in crying.” Tears can wash the eyes. Sometimes that’s what is needed to carry on. For the full song, listen to “After the Rain has Fallen,” by Sting.

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.

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