A No-Win Situation

 In Reflections
Reflections from the Front Lines

A No-Win Situation

Being unhoused is not a crime.

It has been ten days since my last post and 12 weeks since I lost my sense of smell (thanks COVID).

COVID positive cases are on the decline at the Human Services Campus. There is a collective holding of the breath in great hope that the numbers never increase dramatically again. Testing and vaccines continue, although capacity in both areas is threatened at times by wavering staff capacity and supplies. I continue to be in awe of people experiencing homelessness and their perseverance and resilience. Given all of the challenges, barriers, toxic stress, and more, their ability to adapt and live in COVID-mode is impressive.

The number of unsheltered individuals in our immediate neighborhood is staggering. By the outreach team’s count, there are four to five individuals per tent. We cannot shelter them all on the Campus. Their resilience and resourcefulness also amaze me. And at the same time, the repercussions on our neighboring businesses and residents are creating negative effects that cause detriments to their lives and livelihood. We are in a no-win situation. Calling the Police is not a solution. People would briefly go to jail, wasting taxpayer dollars and police resources. Given the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, it’s also not legal to move and arrest people sleeping in public spaces when there are no emergency shelter beds available. Being unhoused is not a crime.

There is nowhere for people to go. Shelter and housing cannot be created quickly enough. If you have a suggestion that includes tiny homes, pallet shelters, yurts, etc., please find a location to place them and funding to operate them before sending me ideas. I’m all for choices, ideas and creative solutions, and they have to exist somewhere. With the lack of “yes in my backyard” neighborhoods, I am skeptical that there are vacant spaces where any of these alternatives will be supported. I hope someone proves me wrong.

Taking the high road through all of these conversations is exhausting. My inner Zen is tested frequently. I’m fortunate to have a home in which I can practice meditation, yoga, breathing. Stepping away to walk the 13-acre Campus is calming for me. Those that can also take a breath, relax, and often nap, lets me know that given all the negativity and challenges we are making a difference. For the starfish that we can reach…. we are making a difference.

And at the same time, we work on solutions for the entire ocean. Several promising conversations about partnership and collaborating with groups in the justice system and brain injury space are energizing. We can do so much together. And we can work to build new networks and systems connectors through our joint learning and problem solving.

The undercurrent of these highs and lows, for me, is one of wanting it all to move faster. For every day that we take to work out the details, measure the risk, and assess the potential outcomes, means we lose people. We lose people to the criminal justice system, to the streets, to risky behaviors, to death.

There is much despair in the front-line work. Stories I won’t share in detail. However, I ask you, if you have a family member/friend/co-worker that is struggling, please give them one more chance. Don’t be one end of the last bridge that they burn. I can find positives and silver linings, and the thoughts that stick with me most are those of people we fail as a “homeless response system.” We can’t rescue every starfish. We need support networks; we need families to reach out to their family. We need to cast a wide, deep, diverse net for our humanity.

“Lights will guide you home. And ignite your bones. And I will try to fix you.” – Coldplay

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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