Now Is The Time

Ending hunger, homelessness, and the cycle of poverty...in heels.

In the United States more than 633,000 people experience homelessness every night.  48.9 million Americans are at risk of hunger - including one in five kids. Nearly 50 million Americans are living in poverty.  Hunger, homelessness, and poverty are devastating for individuals and our communities. This is unacceptable, unjust, and illogical.

We know that effective, commonsense policies like SNAP and EITC lift people out of poverty. We know that Rapid Rehousing and Housing First models reduce homelessness. We know that innovative philanthropic endeavors like Collective Impact and Social Impact Bonds can transform the way government, nonprofits, and local communities work together to tackle our toughest challenges. We know we can band together and create change.

Now Is The Time to get this done.

This site will feature a collection of personal reflections, original ideas, and smart thinking from around the country and the globe on the issues of hunger, homelessness, and poverty.  We'll check in with thought leaders and discuss ways we can create change. We will also highlight ways to leverage two of my favorite things - National Service and the philanthropic sector. 

Counting Vehicles. Waiting For Homes.

This morning I saw Seattle in a completely new way. Guided by a kind gentleman who lives in his RV and an amazing Road To Housing outreach worker, we drove through the streets of Seattle to count the number of people living in vehicles. Last year over 1,600 were counted.. The growing number of tents and unsheltered individuals sleeping in doorways provide a visible reminder of our homelessness and housing crisis,. But people staying in vehicles often blend into our busy streets and go unnoticed - unless you live or work (or have an awesome guide) in the area where they are parked. My guides not only knew where to look, they could name the people living in many.

The journey was part of the annual Point in Time Count of people experiencing homelessness. The annual event, newly branded Count Us In, provides an important snapshot of the most vulnerable people in our community. The count is one of several data points that help inform our policies and strategies to prevent and end homelessness.

Like many, my guide became homeless because of our housing crisis. He paid very low rent in a good neighborhood,  where the neighbors liked him and his beloved cat.  Then his landlord passed and his family sold the property. This could happen to any of us.  If you are middle class, you move somewhere else. If you are poor but have family and friends, maybe you borrow money or stay on someone's couch.  If you are poor and lack supports - you often fall into homelessness.  And once you become homeless, it can really hard to get out.

Homelessness takes away a lot. Your basic right to a roof over head, your dignity,  and too often your hope. Having a vehicle to stay in gives you a place for respite. It's warmer than a tent, more private than a shelter, and gives you some control over when and where you sleep. And while you wait to access affordable housing - by saving money, accessing a subsidy or winning the housing lottery - keeping that vehicle can be important and complicated.  As we navigated the dark streets of Seattle,  I learned about the challenges people living in their vehicles - everything from where to toss your trash to where to legally park. It's clear that we can and should do more to help folks living in their vehicles.

The Seattle Times recently published an editorial urging for Real Solutions For Vehicle Campers. I agree. Ending homelessness will require bolder strategies and substantially more affordable housing, but while we work toward that let's make it easier for people to park safely.

 

 

Thank You Vince

On September 26 we lost a colleague, friend, mentor, and leader. Vince Matulionis, the long time Director of Ending Homelessness at United Way passed away after a long illness.

I had the privilege of working for and with Vince for more than a decade. He taught me so much about what it takes to make change happen. He challenged me and those around him to never settle or take no for an answer when it comes to helping the most vulnerable.  Vince led with empathy, a quest for knowledge, and a unwavering commitment to social justice. He believed that ending homelessness was not only the right thing to do but that it was possible. And he had the unique ability to make others believe the same thing.

Early in my career I learned that the best time to catch Vince was between 7-8:30AM. Over coffee he'd have one crazy idea or another and by the time most people were rolling into work there'd be some screwball plan to make that idea a reality. The passion he exuded led those of us around him to do whatever we could to make it happen.  

  •  Build a Habitat for Humanity House in the middle of the Fremont Fair? Sure.
  • Have a big event for people experiencing homelessness? Actually let's have two.
  • Write a plan to ....end youth homelessness, end hunger, build supportive housing, Check. Check. Check.
  • Create a response to the Economic Recession - in three days? Why not!

Vince started working to end homelessness in the late 90's. He knew that it was a complex issue that needed to be solved through smart investments, good policies, and more affordable  housing. He understood that solving homelessness required preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place and addressing the vast inequities in our systems.  A community organizer at heart, he believed that creating lasting change meant mobilizing the entire community and giving everyone a chance to learn and pitch in.

Vince  saw that homelessness was a crisis long before Seattle Mayor Murray and King County Executive Constantine declared that homelessness is in a state of emergency.  He understood that we needed more urgency. empathy, and humility in our work.  Most people would grow tired and frustrated with this work. They'd be discouraged that we hadn't solved homelessness in ten years . Not Vince. Right until the end he was fighting to transform our systems and bring the thousands of people experiencing homelessness into housing -  because anything less was unacceptable. I am so sorry that he won't be here to finish this work.

So often we don't say thank you until it is too late. I always thought one of us would move on from United Way and I'd get to say all the nice things that I never found time to say. Vince deserves so very much thanks. Thank you Vince for creating a platform to end homelessness in our community. Thank you for sharing your drive, vision, and idealism with us. Thank you for inspiring donors, business leaders, and volunteers to get involved. Thank you for teaching me to ask for forgiveness rather than permission and to never let a good idea die because of a lack of resources. Thank you for challenging me to dream big and then bigger, for believing in me as a young leader, for  and helping me find my voice. Thank you for sharing your love for books and travel. And Vince, thank you for bringing so many people out of the rain.