I have several friends who have a heart for the issue of homelessness. Whether they are the Executive Director of permanent supportive housing or President of a Social Enterprise or an AmeriCorps employee working with a service provider for those without housing, they share the same heartbeat.
It’s one of love, compassion, and justice.
Many of these friends, share the same faith convictions. It’s what compels them to not be satisfied with the way things are, because they know that a better tomorrow is possible. But faith is not necessarily a requirement for those who have a heart for our friends without housing.
Quite simply, the belief– that a person who is without housing is first and foremost a human being– is enough to unify them all.
But as my friends can attest, it is not without struggle. From city council meetings from Laguna Beach to Fullerton to Costa Mesa, there has been a lot of strife lately. This struggle is not limited to just these three cities either.
It’s a struggle rooted in fear.
My aunt, who was in attendance of one of those city council meetings and is on the board of Directors for permanent supportive housing, told me some of the things she heard people say in protest to permanent supportive housing in her city.
“If they build it, they [the homeless] will come.”
AKA #NIMBY (“Not in MY backyard”). She was surprised at how many rational people agreed with that, especially after business owners had just been complaining about “they poo and pee in our bushes and sleep on our lawn.” My aunt reasoned, “Well, if they had housing, they would poo and pee in their own toilet and sleep in their own bed in their own unit.”
Yes. These are legitimate concerns, but these are legitimate concerns that will not be helped by blocking access to permanent housing solutions.
In a recent interview, Executive Director of Mercy House, Larry Haynes, echoed this same sentiment when asked:
“What about people who don’t want a shelter or transitional housing in their neighborhood?”
‘Well, in Santa Ana, when we wanted to open up our first home for single moms and their children, I got my first exposure to that… And suddenly I looked around and saw the neighborhood that I had grown up in, a very working class neighborhood with decent people. I could see fear in them, but not hate, and not prejudice… And it occurred to me as I was walking this Santa Ana neighborhood that those are very legitimate concerns. They have to be honored.’
Again, legitimate concerns do not negate the necessity for permanent housing solutions. In fact, they require it! We’re all on the same team desiring the same things, really.
Another excerpt from that same interview from Larry points to the benefit to all of society for ending homelessness:
‘If somebody is on the street there are certain costs to society that will become absolutely obscene after a while. When they’re sick, they end up in an emergency room, and even a short stay in a hospital can be somebody’s rent for a month or two. Folks living on the street drive other costs as well: increased demand on police departments, fire departments, paramedics, on and on. Then there’s the cost to local business. Who wants to enter a business when there’s someone sleeping in their doorway? There’s also the depreciation of property values when there’s a park that’s known as a homeless park across the street. So it is in our self-interest to end this because it will actually cost us less as taxpayers.’
Larry predicts that with the decrease of homelessness in Orange County in the last 25 years and the continued concerted efforts made to go with what works (strength-based approach), homelessness in Orange County can end in 4 years! You can read the interview in its entirety here.
While I can concede that statistical data for as to why we should support girl’s education or women’s development (studies have shown that investments in females yields a higher return on investment than with males) is worth something, it’s simply not enough for me. Same goes with homelessness. Or human trafficking. Or any social ill that plagues humanity.
People are not merely numbers or statistics. Or something that can be charted or graphed. They live. They breathe. They bleed. They cry. They laugh. And they are more than the sum of their parts.
Watch this and see if you don’t feel differently.
But if you’re more of a stats person, and that’s what makes sense to you about why ending homelessness is so important, that’s cool too. It doesn’t matter why you decide to join us at the table, it’s just important that you do.
And I promise you, if you pull up a chair and stay a while, you’ll be different from when you came.
As always, much love to you, freedom fighters. Thank you for all the ways in which you have welcomed me to the table.