For me, the choice is to act with love.
On December 5, 2022, I wrote that there were 800 unsheltered people around the Human Services Campus and over 900 sheltered. I wrote that I was conscious of sounding like Debbie Downer and would move towards a positive message before the I am Home Breakfast.
And here I am again. Our team counted 166 unsheltered people around the Campus last Tuesday, November 28, while 900+ slept indoors in buildings on the Campus.
The work is complete as ordered by a Judge for the City of Phoenix to remove the encampment of human beings living on streets and sidewalks, in tents and makeshift structures. The sidewalks themselves are once again visible. The dirt between sidewalks and fences is barren. Nary a tent nor tarp is attached to a fence post or tree.
The short days of Winter are here. The afternoons darken and people shuffle with collars and hoods up, hands in pockets. For the non-Phoenicians, it’s not freezing and yet with clouds and a “feels like” temperature in the 50s, it’s chilly. It’s not comfortable for hunkering down and sleeping. And once the sun is completely set, it’s an uncomfortable atmosphere for sleeping outdoors. The desire to start a fire for warmth is not unexpected.
There are 7,462 adults in Maricopa County who have completed housing assessments and are putting things together to pursue a housing plan, however finding vacancies, and ones with affordable rents is a most audaciously difficult task.
Those are my Debbie Downer observations. The data that demonstrates the unending demand for services, the unpredictable future as to the number of people who will lose their housing, and the challenges of providing shelter and referrals to housing.
On the upside, there are people who move into housing every single day. There are folks we divert from homeless and help to reconnect with family or friends. Every day there are positive outcomes. They get lost in the intensity of the struggles.
And there is the humanity. The interactions with staff and clients keep me focused on the end goal. The woman I met on a street corner with her young dog, a friendly brown pup who stood on hind legs to essentially hug me. The woman discharged from a care facility whom I assisted in finding the Welcome Center to connect with services who smiled through the physical strain she was under. The young man who stopped writing graffiti when I asked him kindly to not write on our sign, as if he only needed to be asked not to do it. The passing faces that allow me to make eye contact and say “hello.” The sad and neutral faces that light up through conversation.
The simplicity of being kind and treating human beings like human beings. “Do unto others….” And lately, I think about how all of the resources we seek to help move people from street to home and to prevent people from losing their homes in the first place. Those resources are increasingly harder to find and to ensure they are sustainable. And one thing that we do have that is limitless is love.
Maybe it’s age. If only I had realized decades ago how many different types of “love” exist. And that there is no maximum capacity on how much love one human being has and can give. And we can show love regardless of feeling or receiving any love in return. Love doesn’t have to be exchanged at some equitable rate. There is a personal return for me in demonstrating love without any reciprocal act.
Love. We can work on all of this with love. That’s the balancing power to the never-ending need. Not in a pollyanna-ish manner. People closest to me will confirm I’m not the “eternal optimist” living in blissful ignorance and expecting magic or miracles. For me, the choice is to act with love.
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.