Hitting My Stride

 In Reflections
Reflections from the Front Lines

Hitting My Stride

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It has been nine days since my last confession/reflection.

At the Human Services Campus we continue to serve about 800 individuals every day. This week nearly 500 individuals were identified and engaged by our Outreach team. These individuals are unsheltered. Our shelter spaces remain full. And they remain full with COVID adaptation – mask wearing indoors, ongoing testing and vaccine clinics. They remain full as daily temperatures have dropped from the blistering summer highs. They remain full because the safety net for our community is frayed and holey.

In some ways, it feels boring to write that again each day is different. We ride the roller coaster of good news and bad news. Of life and death. The cycles of new people falling into homelessness and people moving into their new homes. Every day full of success and unmet need, continuous learning and adapting. Some days news of new funding. Big news on the horizon about an investment that will allow us to renovate buildings, to design with a human-centered approach, to improve access for people with disabilities; to improve access for the aged population that use mobility assistance devices. Episodes of homelessness “age” people.

And every day the calls and emails fill inboxes. People seeking rental assistance, housing assistance. People from every walk of life. People with nowhere left to turn. People with no family remaining. People who start strong and assertive in their messages and the longer they talk, their voices crack. I can hear the silent tears. Without wanting to become numb to their humanity, I quickly triage and forward message to Campus staff and partner organizations, flagging most as “urgent.” Isn’t it urgent for a medically vulnerable woman who is also pregnant and running out of money for a motel to be connected with more stable options for housing?

While my eyes may be full of tears. My heart remains full at the same time. I am beginning to see this less as duality and more as the unity of sadness and happiness. It is a “both and” experience. My heart is full with the people who smile when I say “hello” and ask how they are today and ask their name.

My heart is full as the anniversary of my birth was yesterday. The cards, calls, text messages, and Facebook posts reminding me of my circle of friends and family. And for me, birthdays cause me to pause and reflect. Lately I have been thinking about a program I completed in 2010 with Leading for Change (then named Center for Progressive Leadership). It is one of the programs that I still refer to the training binder often. I use the root cause exercise at times, and as it was on my mind I went back to look at my root cause tree from 2010. On the trunk of the tree, an issue or challenge is written that a person wants to address. Surprise, surprise, my tree trunk says “HOMELESSNESS.” The roots are labelled with possible root causes of the issue. My roots say things like, chronic homeless, youth, families, meaning their need for housing, eviction prevention, the mental health system.

For 11 years I have been working on this tree. Working on solutions. Some days I feel like my writing in a non-sugar coated manner is because I “don’t care” about the implications or consequences. That I “care less” about how the words affect people in positions of influence or power. What I now realize is that my writing and expression is because I care MORE. I care more about systems change and addressing the root cause because it’s been 11 years, because I am now 52 years old, and it is incredibly sad to think that we haven’t implemented systems change, and that we haven’t created sustainability in the interventions that we know work, and that we haven’t take to scale the interventions that are most needed to prevent and end homelessness.

So at the end of my 52nd year, I closed my laptop last night after reading the last Facebook birthday message, and I said out loud “This is 52. I made it.” Many people don’t make it to 52. Many people with long periods of homelessness don’t make it to 52. My Dad passed away at 57. I don’t expect to or plan to die at or before turning 57, however if I only have five years remaining, I will spend it caring more. I will continue to write, advocate, work, lead, influence and encourage the real systems change – the addressing of root causes – to prevent and end homelessness. Not for myself, for everyone who deserves a healthy life, a life expectancy of longer than 52 or 57; everyone deserves safe, affordable, accessible, permanent housing.

If you have read this far, thank you. And if you thought I might be getting to old for this, slowing down, or growing quieter, nope. I am just hitting my stride. It’s an honor to have the Executive Director role at the Human Services Campus, to serve alongside employees who will do whatever it takes to end homelessness, to live up to the legacy of our champion Mike McQuaid.

We care more.

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.

View the 2020-2021 Annual Report

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