Creating a division of the “deserving poor” and the “undeserving.”
It’s been 12 days since my last post and 45-ish weeks since losing my sense of smell. No changes on the olfactory front. I’m not sure things will come back the way I imagine them… today there was rain, and I didn’t smell the desert. That used to be one of my favorite things.
And oh well. I shall not complain. I am not homeless.
The ebb and flow of life and activity continues at the Human Services Campus. The count of unsheltered humans last week was 1,006. This is an increase of 201 since the week prior. And the last time the count was over 1,000 was in May of 2022. We suspect that as additional emergency shelter beds opened in May and June, the count went down. Those beds are still operating. This increase in the count means an increase in homelessness.
Today the situation had me on the verge of tears. As I sat in my office with a view of Madison Street and 12th Avenue, I saw the sky darken and wind starting to lift tents. Plastic bags began to fly through the air. Voices were hollering. Humans scampering to hold their possessions in place. Cell phones started making the obnoxious alert sound to notify a dust storm alert. The news just now reported wind guests were 40, 50, and 60 miles per hour in various parts of the Valley. I had emails to send, phone calls to make. And I stared out the window. I walked around to look out several windows, watching a woman using a wheelchair fighting against the gusts with squinted eyes. I felt hot wind and dirt blowing under the door of our 80+ year old building. I watched to see if anyone seemed injured.
I sat back down again, talking to myself. Asking myself what I could do. Right then, in that moment, what could I do? And nothing. I realized I could really do nothing. It was too late to do anything meaningful for the 1,006 unsheltered individuals. In my agnostic way, some might pray, I could only ask to the big universe that they not be injured, or worse.
Last week I had the privilege of attending the Arizona Health Equity Conference. This was my second or third time attending this event. I appreciate it for several reasons, one it moves me out of my bubble of “homelessness” to interact with people who work in different sectors. Many attendees work in public health. Another reason is their focus on the Social Determinants of Health. Knowing that many in the healthcare field recognize and discuss the fact that clinical care affects a human’s overall health by 20%, health behaviors by 30%, socioeconomic factors by 40%, and physical environment by 10, gives me a bit of optimism that one day everyone will be talking about the lack of housing as a public health issue. Housing is part of the physical environment. Without housing, people cannot be healthy.
I set a goal for myself to submit a presentation for next year’s conference. The Housing component must be lifted up.
The number of people who experience homelessness in a year in all of Maricopa County is really a very small number, meaning it’s less than one-half percent (< .5%) of the total population (4+ million). We can do this. I have heard from some people that homelessness is an intractable problem. I disagree.
There may be areas where homelessness looks intractable, or unsolvable. Seeing 1,000 people camping in public spaces looks impossible. And sports teams manage attendance in the tens of thousands, moving people in and out of seats and parking garages. Streets and highways see tens of thousands of vehicles traveling daily. Arizona Department of Transportation reports that 10 BILLION vehicle miles are traveled in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area annually.
We, human beings, are capable of solving big problems and managing massive systems. Preventing and ending homelessness does not occur at a rate that is “intractable.” It occurs at a rate that is inequitable, tied to systems that filter out those that are negatively judged. Creating a division of the “deserving poor” and the “undeserving.”
Humans. They, we, are all humans.
It’s one of those days where I sit shaking my head. And recalling the “Human” song again, by Rag’n’Bone Man:
“Oh, some people got the real problems. Some people out of luck. Some people think I can solve them. Lord heavens above. I’m only human after all. I’m only human after all. Don’t put the blame on me. Don’t put the blame on me”
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.