Pay attention to what’s in front of you.
It’s been ten days since my last post and more than 29 weeks since losing my sense of smell. No new scents on top of bleach, citrus cleaning supplies, and some chemicals, still not able to smell beloved coffee and chocolate.
And, I’m housed and sheltered. I’m privileged to sit in a home with air conditioning that at times makes me feel a chill. While an excessive heat warning across the Valley lasts for days, I cannot complain. I do have pangs of guilt. Driving away from the encampment of nearly 900 people around the Human Services Campus is heartbreaking and soul-crushing. At times I think I should stay and keep working around the clock. Exactly what I could do faster and more efficiently that would create housing and end homelessness, I’m not sure.
Sometimes when I’m driving I catch myself looking in the rearview mirror for what feels like too long. Maybe it’s for looking at the sky behind, or the car that seems too close. My mind snaps back to the mission it’s on to move forward safely down the road. I talk to myself “pay attention to what’s in front of you.”
At a meeting this week the introductory question was to share a challenging professional moment. An intentional looking in the a rearview mirror, yet for me the answer was, right now. In any other career I could problem solve, talk to an expert, hire a consultant, change jobs and move onward. In this career, I can’t walk away, and I can’t quickly create solutions. I can’t stop the inflow of people into homelessness, and I can’t rapidly increase the outflow into housing.
I can’t explain to people who call and send emails inquiring about their housing applications why it takes so long. I can’t promise the 65-year old woman with her dog when she will get an answer about her voucher application. I can’t shield the nearly 900 people from the blazing heat.
I can’t erase the past trauma. I can’t magically refer people to housing. I can’t convince public officials that homelessness is a public health crisis 365 days per year, not only when there is a pandemic or a heat warning.
The last ten days have been like that. As the temperatures increase, our efforts at the Human Services Campus to create more shaded spaces increased. Shade on the lawn and in a parking lot. Tables, chairs and evaporative coolers in the shade. Staff handing out water. Buildings stocked with ice packs and frozen towels. Challenges to staff to be creative and bring as many people inside as possible.
And today a decision made with Circle the City to move from “pandemic mode” to an endemic response. With much guidance from County Public Health and the closing of the isolation hotel on June 30, there is agreement that the best we can do for COVID positive clients is to support them in ways to stay distanced from others; we continue to wear masks indoors; testing will still be available; we will monitor positivity rates; and we will do our best to keep spaces clean and sanitized. The unwinding of the pandemic planning and execution is upon us. We didn’t know when it would happen, just like we didn’t know when we would have our first positive client in 2020. We did all the planning, and then we waited. We were ready and from May 5, 2020, when the first client case was diagnosed, through June 10, 2022 we all did our very best to keep as many people as healthy and safe as possible.
I remember we thought this might last six months, then we thought maybe one year. We lost people along the way. I recall times I thought to myself, “I can’t do this.” Looking in the COVID rearview mirror can be really overwhelming and emotional.
And here we are. Survivors. All of us determined to live through the “endless now.”
And I’m still determined. For all the things I cannot control and cannot do, in the bigger picture I, and we, can do a lot. I’m facing forward, glancing at the past for lessons learned, and spending more time looking ahead, focused on the future. Working on the answers to those questions I can’t answer today, disrupting systems and creating urgency to address the housing crisis. Thousands of people are counting on us, from their cars, their tents, bus stops, and sidewalks. They deserve to put homelessness in their rearview mirror.
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.