From Tragedy to Action - Home and Hope For All
Two years ago I sent a bouquet of flowers to a women's shelter in CT. My mom came in soaking wet from the pouring rain to find a bit of beauty in her dark world. And while flowers may seem like an unpractical gift to send to a homeless shelter, I wish I could send a big bouquet right now.
Today would have been my Mother's 58th Birthday. My mom, Fran, was a sweet, soft-spoken woman, who would do anything for others but struggled to care for herself. I've never met someone with a bigger heart or a deeper love for her family. Yet for decades she struggled to move through life's transitions. Her chronic mental illness and substance abuse were ever present but often untreated.
Today, she should be celebrating with her children, enjoying her flowers, nagging my father, and planning for the future. Unfortunately none of that is possible. And one simple thing could have changed that - A Home.
She died because she was homeless
As many know, my mom died without a home and without hope nearly two years ago. She was one of the nearly 600,000 Americans without a place to call home. She died because she was homeless. Unfortunately she is not alone. The CDC reports that people experiencing homelessness have a mortality rate four to nine times higher than those who are not homeless.
As someone dedicated to ending homelessness and poverty I've looked high and low for innovative solutions to the problem of chronic homelessness. And while the issue complex - the solution is simple. It isn't a sexy app or a new program - though I always like to hear about them. The solution is Housing. There are many ways to get to more housing - even some within existing resources - but in order to solve a problem of this magnitude we simply must advocate for and build more affordable housing. Legendary homelessness advocate, Bill Hobson, recently shared a similar opinion on the United Way blog.
Homes Save Lives
I have a fascinatingly tragic case study in my own family. My father also experienced homelessness for a brief period of time. Cancer and other illnesses left him unable to work and years of supporting my mom (and two expensive kids) left him without a financial safety-net. As someone who worked two+ jobs most of his life, being without work was unbearable. But unlike my mom, he had friends and family to support him (we're far more accepting of diseases like cancer than alcoholism). They stabilized him until he was able to turn to the Veterans Administration which had the golden ticket - a housing solution in the form of a VASH Voucher. That voucher has kept him housed for years. Despite a recurrence of cancer and many health challenges we just celebrated his 59th Birthday and anticipate many more.
I often imagine what it would be like if my mom had found that golden ticket to housing. She would likely be here today enjoying those flowers. She'd also have a goldfish and pretty pillows - things she dreamed about while sleeping on the streets. She'd likely still suffer from panic attacks, and drink more than anyone should, but she'd have a place to call home. A place where she could manage her illnesses and continue to live and hopefully thrive.
To honor her birthday, I'm pledging to spend the next year accelerating my commitment to giving women like my mom access to a home and hope. Isn't that what we all deserve? It's a big election year locally and nationally - I hope you'll join me for the conversation. Send me your thoughts and ideas. #home&hope
Happy Birthday, Mom. Love you. Love you more.