Now Is The Time

Ending hunger, homelessness, and the cycle of 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. 

Seattle, Let’s Get It Together.

Over the last few weeks I’ve spent countless hours in schools, board rooms, and community centers, at dinner tables, on stages, and over drinks, talking about the crisis of homelessness. More importantly I’ve listened carefully to the questions, myths, fears, and ideas coming from our community.  I’m frustrated by the toxic behavior of some, optimistic that people are engaged, and motivated to pull this community together for the thousands of adults, children, students, veterans, seniors, parents -- our neighbors -- who will sleep rough tonight. 

I’ve talked about this crisis with people who have a lot of money, a little bit of money, and many who have none at all. 

I’ve listened to people experiencing homelessness and people working every day to house our homeless neighbors.

I’ve talked with longtime advocates and people who want to join the movement, disrupt the movement, or kill the movement.

I’ve listened to people who wish the problem would “just go away” and people want to help but don't have any idea what to do.  

I’ve debated people who are convinced we are wasting money because the problem just keeps getting worse and with people who think there is no path forward.

And I’ve spoken with plenty of people who think they have a solution or are convinced they know who is to blame because they read one report, saw a couple articles, or just think they are really smart.

Everyone wants to know:

·       Why is it so bad? The lack of affordable housing, a terrible mental health system in Washington, racism. And too few shelter beds. 

·       Is anyone doing anything about it? Yes and it would be much worse if we didn't shelter 5,000 people per night or house 6,000 last year. 

·       Who do we hold accountable? This is where we are failing. There is no one entity or person. It's on all of us.

·       What will it take to really fix it? Leadership, money, housing, policy change.

People are homelessness because they have exhausted all of their options. They can’t afford rent because it’s too damn high. They may have lost a job or had a medical emergency. Some are feeling domestic violence, other struggling with addiction. Regardless of why, they deserve better than a tent or a vehicle or a mat on the floor. 

As I’ve shared the data about the causes of and solutions to homelessness, I have been met with everything from skepticism to relief to a motivation to act.  Most people don’t hate the homeless – though local social media sites may tell a different story - they are sick of telling their kids why people are living in tents, frustrated by the garbage and lack of sanitation, and fed up with having to face the crisis where they live, work, and play. 

But it is far worse for the 12,000 people who experience homelessness on any given day. Homelessness is one of the most deeply traumatic, unjust, and dehumanizing experiences. You are stepped over, avoided, criticized, and too often in harm’s way.

People are dying on our streets, but we're talking in circles because it's easier to talk than act.  We have to get it together.

Here’s a few of the things that we need to do:

  • Leadership. Our leaders aren't doing much leading on this crisis. We lack a person and entity with the authority, power, influence, and vision to end homelessness. This is without a doubt a regional issue, but leadership needs to start somewhere.  This goes beyond coordination and playing nice. Its centralized finances, policy development, decision making, and communicating progress. It means being politically incorrect and saying that this will cost real money. Don’t like it – tough - because these are people’s lives. And holding all of us accountable for follow through and results.
  • Bold Vision: The hotly debated McKinsey&Company report clearly articulates the need for a significant amount of new affordable housing. This is not rocket science – it’s what we’ve known but haven’t collectively communicated. Even now, really smart people don’t want to talk about the significant need for more housing but it’s the biggest need we have. It's type for philanthropy, government funders, business leaders, and advocates to team up and have brave conversations about the affordable housing crisis. That includes building the policies, plans, and funding to create solutions to our affordable housing crisis.
  • People first: Programs and polices alone do not end homelessness. Good ones helps. Bad ones make things worse. We need to be responsive to where people are and what they need. This includes developing a strategy to address the increasing number of people living in their cars and making sure we are funding programs that help people of color who are disproportionally represented in the homeless population. It also means talking about housing every one - not just a specific target population.
  • Communication about Successes: We are doing a lousy job of communicating the things that are working. 
  • Follow the data:  We want all the data but far too often we only use it if it meets our needs. Let's make data informed decisions about where to spend money and do more of what works.
  •  Scale: We LOVE LOVE LOVE a pilot program. Something to test, refine, adapt. New ideas are good but when they work we need to take them to scale and that will cost money. 
  •  Urgency – That homelessness crisis was declared in November of 2015. Since then we’ve had a lot of tables, convenings, meetings, task forces, committees, reports, false starts, and some progress. We need to go FASTER because lives are quite literally on the line.

Let’s Unite to End Homelessness

Now is not the time to retreat. The optimist in me says we cam use this moment in time to educate, organize, and act.  Let’s build a campaign. Let’s mobilize those 18,000 + people who signed on to repeal the Head Tax– many who say that want to help and/or have been working on this issue for years. Let’s fill city hall meetings to demand more leadership and move HALA legislation forward.  Let’s bring caravans to Olympia to advocate for real tax reform that could fund the housing, mental health, and crisis services we need. Let’s come together with a plan to shelter significantly more people today and remove the barriers to building thousands of affordable housing units in the region. Who is in?

Dear Mom - I’m Sorry Homelessness Is So Cruel

Dear Mom,

It has been four years since they found you on the beach in West haven, CT. Without a pulse. Without a breath. Four years since that awful day when the trauma of chronic homelessness finally took its toll. I miss you more with each passing day as you are absent from the milestones, celebrations, and mishaps of life.

I miss the sweet sound of your voice saying I love you.

I miss your desire to help others and stand up for justice - even when you had nothing.  

I miss you asking about my day, my travels, and when the heck we would get married. Don’t worry, you haven’t missed that.

I miss your thirst for reading and news.

I miss sending you care packages with your favorite items. Face cream and hair dryers were important even when you didn't have a safe place to sleep.

I miss the excitement you shared when you thought about moving from the streets into your own place – the meticulous details of how you would set up the apartment, the comforter you would choose, the fish bowl you would get. Simple things that make a house a home. Simple things you take for granted when you are housed.

I miss the love you had for dad - even during the worst of times. I wish you were here to care for him during his latest cancer battle. You would be proud of him.

And I miss your hope that we could go back to the way things once were.

But we can’t go back. And as much as I miss you – I don’t miss the life you were living. Homelessness is cruel, lonely,  humiliating, painful, and exhausting. It was for you and for us.

I don’t miss the daily arguments about where you would sleep.  An emergency shelter, a hotel, a laundry mat, or outside the church in our hometown. No one should make these choices.

I don’t miss worrying that you would be arrested when you would stay in dads storage locker – that one that you set up to look like home.

I don’t miss the tears and pain of you being harassed, hurt, or arrested.  

I don’t miss the ferocious displays of anger, jealousy, and resentment brought on by your mental illness and substance abuse.

I don’t miss the agony we felt every time you went missing for days or weeks at a time.

Most of all I don’t miss the fear of you dying alone on the streets…because that has already happened.

I’ve been traveling the last few weeks and to honor your passing I visited St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. I lit candles - and didn’t even burn the place down. I marveled in the beauty of the Church and the history it has of  welcoming people with open doors. You would have loved it. I'm sorry that you couldn't see it and for so much more. 

I sorry that I didn’t recognize how much your childhood impacted your adult decisions and behaviors. Adverse Childhood Experiences shape lives and you are a prime example.

I am so sorry that you didn’t live long enough to see Connecticut open more Housing First units and reduce homelessness – that is what you needed and what you deserved.

I am so sorry that you don’t have the opportunity to go home. To a place where you could learn, care, and grow old.

I am so sorry that you aren’t here to share your story and most of all that your story didn’t turn out differently. The story that homelessness can happen to anyone. That mental illness is not something to be ashamed of. That substance abuse is a disease not simply a choice. And most of all that the solution to homelessness is housing.

My promise to you is that I will keep fighting. I will keep fighting for the moms and dads and kids and veterans who experience homelessness. I will keep fighting against our current administration (you would be so angry with Trump) to protect and grow affordable housing. I will keep fighting Mom - because you always fought for me and homelessness is a battle that noone should face.

Love you more. Miss you always.