Remember. Reflect. Recommit.
It's impossible for most of us to imagine what it would be like to experience homelessness. The fear, embarrassment, isolation, and anger is overwhelming. Now consider the loneliness of dying while living on the streets of Seattle, Philadelphia, Boston, DC, or West Haven.
Despite some progress on ending homelessness - more than 570,000 Americans will live without permanent shelter. Without shelter people die.
Each year on December 21st communities come together to remember those who died while experiencing homelessness. National Homeless Person's Memorial Day is commemorated on the longest night of the year. It is a time to remember the names, stories, and contributions of people who are gone too soon. People whose stories are often forgotten because they died without the dignity of a roof over head.
Each year I find this memorial to be both beautiful and deeply disturbing. Beautiful that people - often strangers - take the time to reflect and remember our homeless neighbors. Disturbing that we continue to allow people to die without a home. The CEO of the Center for Social Innovation wrote about his outrage this week. He argues passionately that death by homelessness is a "direct result of bad public policy and misplaced budget priorities"
Death by homelessness.
Over the years that my mom experienced homelessness, I can count on one hand the number of people who knew about the gravity of her situation. Despite working in the field and trying day and night to help her - I was embarrassed, frustrated, and at times hopeless. I feared that she would die alone on the cold streets of Connecticut. Ironically, I'd allow myself the relax a bit in warmer weather - she died during the warmer month of July. Without shelter people die. There are hundreds of thousands of people just like me. Each and every person who falls into homelessness has someone. A mom, dad, sister, brother, son, daughter, niece, nephew, best friend, or long lost cousin. Someone who cares - even if they don't know how to show it - but who doesn't know what to do.
What if those people - the friends and family of people who have struggled with homelessness - came out of the shadows? What if we became the advocates, voters, and change makers? Too may people feel that we can't end homelessness. The complexity of poverty, mental health struggles, broken institutions, and growing inequality can make it seem impossible for us to make significant change. The battle is big but too important not to tackle. It's time for those of us who have stories, outrage, and solutions to share to make our voices heard. We need to organize, act, and lead. Can we work together to reduce the number of people who dies on the streets in 2015? I'd love to hear from you.
In the mean time - here is some inspiration from of one of my favorite West Wing moments. Toby organizes a military honor guard and burial at Arlington National Cemetery for a homeless Korean War veteran. Happy Holidays!