By Lisa Gustaveson, Faith & Family Homelessness Program Manager

553830_10200650804746093_599565699_n[1]In the spring of 2002 I was offered a six-month contract to manage the development of a local plan to end homelessness. I quickly accepted – I love project management and come on, the goal was to end homelessness!

Eighteen months and a ton of gray hairs later, I proudly stood by as the planning committee adopted a 57-page plan, A Roof Over Every Bed: Our Community’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in King County.

Many people don’t know or remember that the 10 Year Plan represents countless hours of research, meetings and then, more meetings. A broad coalition of people from local government, service providers, faith communities, advocacy organizations and people experiencing homelessness created the first Committee to End Homelessness (CEH) and the Staff Circle. Throughout the project hundreds of people offered ideas and suggestions at community meetings. At times it was easy for the committee to agree, but more than once tough compromises were made to move the plan forward. Draft versions of the plan circulated between committee members; each word was carefully chosen to clearly convey our intentions. The final plan represents our collective vision; using the resources we had available at that time.

I tell you all this to explain why it’s hard for me to hear people say the plan has failed. You see, ending homelessness is PERSONAL to me – and many others in the community. When I hear about a family who finally finds housing I feel great. When the numbers of people experiencing homelessness go up… and up, I feel responsible, and take it personally. It’s personal when a family tells me they’ve been living in their car while waiting for a space in a shelter. It’s personal when I drive by a makeshift shelter on the side of the road knowing a person who was, or is someone’s child calls it home.

It’s not like we don’t know the problem exists. Show me a city in the region where you don’t see homelessness in plain sight. The topic of homelessness is all over social media and local news stories.  Recent coverage includes Jon Stewart’s tongue in cheek “The Homeless Homed.” The Dean of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, Mark Markuly, contributes through his February 19th Seattle Times Op-Ed, “Seattle can solve the homeless puzzle by learning from other cities,” and the Seattle Times followed closely behind with their February 25th straightforward message from the Editorial Board, “Cities should use the Golden Rule when dealing with homelessness.” Just this week our local radio station, KUOW, probes deep into the issue through their well researched six part series, “Seattle’s Homeless: No End in Sight.”

So, what to do? Throw up our hands in despair? Or, do we pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and start again?

We are tough Seattleites – we don’t give up that easily. This year CEH is working hard to migrate from the 10 Year Plan to a community-wide Strategic Plan. The Plan will guide policymakers, service providers, advocates and the greater community as we recommit to our goal of making homelessness rare, brief and one-time. The Plan’s strategies build upon local success and national best practices, and offer clear guidance to the organizations and individuals who make up the Homeless Services System.

The Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Emergency Shelter Program serves more than 4,000 men and women each year, providing safe, secure shelter, meals and a day-time safe haven from the streets. DESC’s outreach efforts help people stabilize their lives, and ultimately get permanent housing. Photo by Gabriel Rozycki.

Photo by Gabriel Rozycki.

What is new – and in my opinion game changing – is the acknowledgment that success will continue to elude us until the crisis of homelessness is made personal to each King County resident. I think we are closer than ever before; when the new plan is adopted CEH plans to offer specific actions for people of faith to take to be part of the movement

That said; you don’t have to wait for the new plan! You can make a difference today by taking one step… just one. I’m making it easy for you – look at the list below, pick one thing to do, and see where that leads you.

Then, let me know when solving homelessness becomes personal for you.

  1. Volunteer for, or donate to, an organization that helps people who are living in poverty. In addition to the speakers you heard today; check out United Way of King County’s great volunteer database uwkc.org/ways-to-volunteer/
  1. Gather a group and watch SU’s American Refugees: four short films on family homelessness, especially “The Smiths”. Download the discussion guides and reflect on ways you can get involved americanrefugess.org
  1. Use the power of the Internet to advocate for affordable housing and an end to poverty and homelessness. Stay up to date on what’s happening in Olympia through Action Alerts on social service policy and budget issues:
  1. Join Firesteel, the statewide platform for social change led by Washington YWCAs. Sign up at firesteelwa.org
  1. Learn about the policies that affect poverty, housing and homelessness by reading a blog such as “Schmudget.” budgetandpolicy.org/schmudget
  1. Make sure your local school has appointed a homeless education liaison who can help get children connected with the services they are entitled to. Contact the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for more information: k12.wa.us/HomelessEd/default.aspx  
  1. Support low income and homeless newspaper sellers by buying a copy of Real Change from an authorized vendor. Find your local vendor: realchangenews.org/index.php/site/vendor-map
  1. Participate in a Poverty Simulation to learn experientially about the incredible stresses and challenges faced by those living in poverty and experiencing homelessness. (Check out our “Upcoming Events” feed to find the next one in your area.)
  1. If you’re one of the thousands of board members of Washington state social service nonprofits, get involved with advocacy to end poverty and homelessness. standforyourmission.org
  1. Write letters to your elected officials, newspaper Letters to the Editor pages and others about the causes of poverty.
  1. Spend time reflecting on the impact of poverty on people in our community. How do their struggles affect the greater community? What responsibilities do I have to address the causes of poverty in my community and nation?

3 comments

  1. Thank you Lisa for this personal and touching witness! I appreciate the depth of your compassion and longing for justice!

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