Now Is The Time
I think about solutions to hunger, homelessness and income inequality day and night. It’s both my profession, and my passion to do so. While focusing on the complex policies and systems that need to be transformed it is easy to lose sight of individual heartache of each person struggling to get by without a roof over head or enough food to eat. For me, the annual One Night Count (ONC) is a powerful reminder of the faces, stories, and struggles of people experiencing homelessness. This annual census of homeless people is a tool used throughout the country to understand need and gauge progress.
After the ONC I joined Real Change for the 2014 Sounding of the Gong. Community members ring a gong once for each person counted outside the previous night. This year’s One Night Count found 3,117 unsheltered men, women, and children staying outdoors or in places like a car. Thousands of others stayed in emergency shelters.
I rang the gong for five minutes. I rang the gong for each of the 26 people I counted the night before and for many others counted by my colleagues. The experience was raw and humbling. It was unexpectedly emotional and a bit cathartic. As I hit the gong I pictured those I’d seen the night before:
- The lady wrapped up in a leopard print blanket in the doorway of a church
- The woman in her sixties who was wandering the streets at 3AM asking for money. She was cold, homeless, and hungry.
- The group of young people huddled under a bridge. Laughing and crying. And struggling to stay warm.
- The men sleeping inside a group of strategically placed sleeping bags in a park in South Lake Union.
With each ring I grew sadder, angrier, and more frustrated. Each of these people has a story, a family, a dream. As I sounded the gong for the last time I thought of my own mom who died on the streets last summer. Then I got fired up because now is the time for change. Now Is The Time to do more!
We have a big problem in this community and throughout the nation. No one should have to sleep outside. Last week I wrote about the many reasons to be optimistic about our ability to make sure that no child sleeps on the streets of King County. I remain optimistic but know that much more needs to be done. We need to be louder and advocate harder. We must demand more from our elected officials and harness the creativity of our entire community. We need to educate our neighbors about why people become homeless and dispel false assumptions about the reasons people become or stay homeless.
Without shelter, people die. I believe we need more resources to help people get out of the elements. But we can’t shelter our way out of homelessness. We can’t build our way out of homelessness. While some people who experience homelessness need long term support – most simply need an economic boost. That’s why I’m thrilled to see that Real Change is launching the OutsideIn Campaign – which aims to move more people off the streets and connect efforts to end homelessness with the broader fight for economic justice. It’s a great start for King County. But King County is not an island. We need to take this fight nationwide.