The US Interagency Council on Homelessness , the federal agency charged with spearheading our nation's efforts to alleviate homelessness, just posted a blog, astonishingly called "Taking Risks..." when addressing family homelessness. Read it, or at least skim it. You'll see what I mean, even if you're not from this wonky world of bureaucratic bullshit.
I picture these securely-housed, well-dressed women and men standing on the ledge of the U.S. Capitol, peering down, realizing how dangerous their position is. Then I picture the families I've known over the years, and the compounded risks they encounter every day. Who's in a riskier situation? Those who risk a "mistake" by thinking outside the tattered boxes that we've used as a pathetic national response to homelessness, or the families contemplating how to get a box to live in because their community lacks any kind of help for those without a place to live?
Ironically, or maybe not, my friend Ralph da Costa Nunez has a HufPo column today (11/7/12) too. He talks about a riskier solution, based on the abysmal reality of a dearth of affordable housing in this country. He thinks some families might be better off if they could stay in some sort of shelter environment--admittedly not the stark, in-at-night out-in-the-morning shelters in many communities. I agree with him, for reasons too numerous to list here and now.
Another friend of mine, Mattie Lord, with years of experience working with systems and shelters, recently shared with me a powerful testament to the absurdity, in some cases, of the federal approach to homelessness--something developed and promoted by the likes of the USICH. The staff at UMOM, a respected shelter/service provider in Phoenix, looked at the barriers that the hardest to serve families faced.
Let me tell you, the USICH approach to their theoretical path to end homelessness would be a big FAIL when it comes to the reality of many homeless families. USICH and friends are the same folks who have vigorously fought to restrict the definition of homelessness, eliminating the scores of families in motels and/or staying with others in precarious situations. I dunno, it's hard to trust their judgment when it comes to families/youth.
For me, the most powerful reality check when it comes to homelessness are the people experiencing it.
They'll tell you that one-size-fits-all solutions don't fit. They'll put the URGENT in your thinking. They'll move you to take risks, because every day we diddle around and debate approaches means a baby sleeps in the cold, a toddler goes without cuddling, a student sits outside school doors, a youth contemplates grim possibilities, a parent fears failure, and we as a nation lose. What's risky?(Watch the 4-minute clip of My Own Four Walls, our acclaimed documentary. Purchase this $40 DVD and share it in your community.)
HEAR US is willing to fight for those kids and families who've been ignored. Reality trumps ivory-tower-theories every time.
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