Six years ago I received the awful news that we lost my mom. Her body and soul could no longer keep up with the devastating impacts of chronic homelessness. Her will to live was compromised by the lack of hope and help. Her legacy cut short. Her dreams unfilled.
I think of my mom often, but lately I have been thinking a lot about how brave she was. We often talk about bravery when someone fights an illness or persists through a life struggle. But think about the bravery it takes to wake up every day – on a bench, a street corner, behind a church, in a stranger’s house, in a shelter, or on a bus.
The courage it takes to get through that first night without a roof over head. To work through the pain, abonnement, and exhaust of homelessness.
The audacity it takes to continue on – when most people won’t look at you and those who do shake their head with judgment, pity, and disgust.
The bravery it takes to enter yet another rehab facility. To will yourself to go through the steps again and again, knowing that when you leave you don’t have a home to return to
To courage to share your story – your life - with another case manager or social worker.
The audacity to help a friend, who needs even more than you.
The bravery it takes to beg for help when you’ve spent your whole life giving to and providing for others.
The courage it takes to smile when you see a rainbow or any glimpse of hope.
The bravery to say no – even when others don’t understand. To say no to an unsafe shelter, an unhealthy partner, or help that comes with unwelcome strings.
The audacity needed to still dream – about a house, a family, a future. My mom used to dream a lot about have a goldfish. Boy do I wish I could give her that goldfish!
My mom was one of the half million people who experience homelessness on any given night. She was privileged to be white and despite awful conditions not have to deal with the racism that so many others experiencing homelessness deal with. Think about that. While most of us curl up in our bed, more than 500,000 people are homeless in America tonight. She was pretty special and I’m darn sure that many others share her courage, audacity and bravery. How else would they go on?
But I’m not so sure that those of us who want to help share that courage. That audacity. Or that bravery. As neighbors, voters, social service workers, advocates, philanthropists and civic leaders, we have failed to give these very brave people the rest and respite they need.
I’ve been working on ending homelessness for more than a decade (shutout to those who have done so for many more) and you often I hear:
- That can’t work.
- We tried that before and it didn’t work. Or did it?
- That’s too expensive.
- Let’s assemble a task force, work group, advisory committee, or steering committee. Better yet maybe an innovation group who can create an app for that!!!
- Can’t they just be more accountable?
- What does the consultant say?
- Who will pay for that?
- Not In my Backyard.
- Yes In My Backyard…..except for that shelter, supportive housing building or safe injection site.
- Why don’t they just go home?
- It’s their (anyone but me) responsibility to pay for it.
- Can’t we just put them on a cruise ship? An island? Or anywhere but here? (NO!)
Ending homelessness isn’t rocket science. It’s about providing people with housing and the income (earned or unearned) they need to keep that housing and access to other resources they need to thrive. This is America – of course we can do that for our neighbors. If my mom - and hundreds of thousands like her - could mobilize the courage, audacity, and bravery to survive on the streets to New Haven, CT for many years, why can’t we be braver in our approach to homelessness?
Why do we allow a local neighbors in LA to block housing from moving forward? Why do we allow Seattle to get bogged down in the “Seattle is Dying” narrative rather than build more housing and shelter now or debate whether we need more resources (WE DO!)? Why do we allow our Presidential candidates to not prioritize this issue? We do we allow the NIMBY advocates to define this issue?
Let’s be braver. Let’s have the audacity to say that we need to invest in housing solutions at the scale of the problem. Let’s have the the courage to call out those who disagree.
Let’s bring our neighbors, our families, our moms and dads and kiddos inside.