Sheer Determination

 In Reflections
Reflections from the Front Lines

Sheer Determination

It’s a survival skill.

It’s been nine days since my last post and 22 weeks since losing my sense of smell. I did smell bleach today. Not super helpful. Maybe it’s a sign that better smells are to come. I really miss the aroma of coffee in the morning. I’m convinced now that the experience of drinking coffee in the morning is 100 times better when the scent of it brewing fills the kitchen, and with the first sip, it provides a caffeinated warmth. Maybe someday I’ll have that again.

On the unhoused front, the Human Services Campus outreach team has counted 1,000 or more individuals weekly for five weeks in a row. While 700-ish individuals are sheltered on the Campus. The tents, tarps, and collection of items fill sidewalks, streets, and the chained-in easements. The humans occupying these spaces have been hot and cold this week, dirt-blasted by high winds, and likely wheezing from “spring” seasonal allergies.

The new Respiro program in our fresh Sprung Structure is really, really close to opening. Final touches are underway, and temporary certificate of occupancy was issued by the City. The City is also funding a mobile toilet facility that we plan to open this weekend for anyone on the streets who needs a restroom; there is a hand washing station as well. Potable water to follow soon.

These basic essentials that most housed people take for granted…. the things that give us dignity, allow us privacy. The lowest part of the safety net. With the number of people experiencing homelessness, we literally need more of everything – more shelter, more toilets, more water.

People continue to ask me how I do it. When I’m asked, I have to pause to process what they are asking me about because I go through my days committed to the work, not thinking about “how.” This morning though while fighting a sinus headache, I had a moment of asking myself, “what are you doing and how are you going to get through the day?” Some days and nights are long. The progress feels so slow. The urgency is stalled by things out of my control. The politics, the differences of opinion, and the 1,000 unsheltered people. It can feel like running into a brick wall.

And in my answer to myself, the “what” I’m doing is following my vocation and my belief that we can find a path to housing for each human being. And the “how,” well today the answer was “sheer determination.” And some days it really is based on being determined.

Maybe that’s what I relate to when I look at our unhoused and unsheltered, determination. Today I saw a woman push herself in a wheelchair down a city block with one leg, in order to get dinner. I watched and listened to a group of three people in wheelchairs discussing how to coordinate their efforts to get to dinner and to shelter. I heard a man yelling to me, “open up those parking lots again.” In all of them, their eyes were tired yet resolute. They are determined.

Some will say “there are people who choose to be homeless.” I don’t believe that is the choice people are making. What I see and hear is people may have made choices, or choices were made for them, or unfortunate crises happened, and they lost their housing. And once housing is lost, the mental and physical toll is tremendous. The daily, toxic stress compounds and people may make other choices that are deemed unhealthy. Those choices may make it harder to find the path to housing. And then the path may twist and turn, it may become long, and gnarly. Some will lose their way and some will lose their life, yet the majority are determined to survive.

Sheer determination. It’s a survival skill.

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

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