Housing Status

 In Reflections
Reflections from the Front Lines

Housing Status

Does not determine human rights.

It’s the 21st night of September… hoping we dodged Monkeypox, tomorrow is the first day of Fall. It’s been 13 days since my last post and 43 weeks since losing my sense of smell.  No change on the olfactory front. As of late, I am wondering if I really ever smelled before? Have I forgotten the aroma of my favorite things, coffee and chocolate?

And I’m humming the Earth, Wind and Fire song, “Do you remember? The 21st night of September.”

The calendar says tomorrow is the first day of Autumn. The Weather Channel says it will hit 93 degrees in Phoenix tomorrow. Since last night, we have had a bit of rain. I even used my umbrella today. The humidity will be dropping. This weekend at the Human Services Campus we will remove some of the “heat relief” items that are outdoors.

The HSC outreach team counted 805 unsheltered persons yesterday in our neighborhood, while 900+ slept shelters in our buildings. The brutal Phoenix summer heat did not diminish the number of unsheltered. People often ponder whether there is a “summer effect” on homelessness, meaning temperatures must drive people to the mountains of Flagstaff or farther beyond. That doesn’t seem to be true this year.

We barely discuss COVID at this point. We continue to wear masks indoors with clients. Personally, I struggle with the increase of in-person meetings, conferences, and gatherings. I have not yet mastered a way to avoid the handshake. Those I have shaken hands with, my fingers are light and limp to prevent tight grasps and transmission of germs. The best tactic seems to be carrying a lot of things – a purse, mobile phone, pieces of paper, sunglasses. Can’t shake hands if your hands are full!

Back to the weather and the unsheltered. On the mornings after it has rained, the sogginess of people and their possessions is staggering. One man has lost his tent. His personal items are stacked on a piece of nylon tarp. He sits in a folding chair reading. Sometimes reading out loud. This afternoon as it began to drizzle I asked him if he wanted to walk over and sit under the heat relief tent. He said no. I noticed a few hats sitting amongst his collection of things. I asked if he would like to put one of his hats on. He said, “yes.” He shoved and adjusted the hat onto his head and continued to look at his paperback book.

I walked back into my office. When I left again it was raining harder. I didn’t take an umbrella to walk to my car. It felt offensive to those who were outside, with maybe a hat. Maybe with nothing. The drenching of the cool water started to dampen my blouse and my hair. The five-minute or so walk became a faster pace. By the time I was in my car I was mildly uncomfortable, and I told myself it would be short-lived. I wouldn’t be sitting in, sleeping in, or living outdoors in the rain. I drove to my destination, away from unsheltered people, and there I did use my umbrella for another short walk.

Humans. The unsheltered are human beings. Many times conversations about why people fall into homelessness lean heavily on reasons of mental illness and substance abuse. And the language shifts to placing blame and the words start to become stigmatizing and de-humanizing. “Solutions” at times include words like “arrest,” “incarcerate,” or “force treatment.”  We don’t use those words when we talk about housed people that have mental illness and addictions. They keep their housing and their jobs, and their friends, and their human rights. There are more people who are housed with mental illness and substance abuse than there are unhoused people.

Being unhoused and unsheltered does not mean that people lose their human rights. Housing status does not determine how many and which rights a human being has… housing should be a human right, though.

The reader on the street corner in the rain from above has the same right to housing as me. He didn’t lose that right when he became unhoused.

I wish everyone had the opportunity to spend time talking to people who are unhoused and/or unsheltered. They have hopes, dreams, talents, pets, pride, and feelings.

Several weeks ago as I was walking across our parking lot to the office, there was music playing at a decently loud volume. I heard “And I’ll hang around as long as you will let me. And I never minded standing in the rain. But you don’t have to call me darlin’….”

I was walking through hearing these lines, starting to sing to myself in my head. And a woman passing by me from the other direction was singing along out loud finishing the lyric, “darlin” You never even called me by my name.”

And then I was inside, smiling. Because for that few moments it seemed the street was “normal.” A sing-along. An old-school Country jam.

Today the lyrics came back to me, “And I never minded standing in the rain.”

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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