by Mary Rychlik, LMSW –
What, when, where, and how we provide homeless assistance may change over time, but why remains the same: because we care about people, and we believe everyone deserves a place that is their home.
I attended the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) conference a few weeks ago. Although I learned about new housing interventions, nuances in System Performance Measure data, and how to cover our CoC’s entire geography, the points that resonated with me most were those that got at the heart of our work: the people we serve.
In the sessions I attended, common themes emerged from people who have been in homeless situations: “Lived experience = expertise,” ”peer support is critical,” “nothing about us without us,” and similar ideas.
Along with the philosophies came some concrete strategies:
- Ask people to share their stories of not only struggles but also strengths and successes
- If you want to know what’s working, what’s not working, and how things could work better, ask the people who are living it every day
- Don’t limit or underestimate how people can be involved in efforts to end homelessness
- It’s not enough to invite people to have a seat at the table; help us feel comfortable in our seat at the table
One attendee asked why people experiencing homelessness aren’t getting involved in their community’s efforts to end homelessness. A person with lived experience responded, “I think you’re asking a bigger question, ‘How can we get humanity to step up and care about this issue?’” Powerful words!
A similar sentiment was expressed by a person I saw one evening while on a walk. He held a cardboard sign that read, “In search of human kindness.” Also powerful words!
Speakers eloquently reminded us about other whys: that housing is a human right; we try to help everyone live their fullest lives; homelessness is an issue of social justice; and, simply, homelessness is unacceptable.
For a few days, I was out of my routine—eating different food, sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, figuring out how to navigate an unknown city… I felt out-of-sorts, irritable, and tired. My discomfort was temporary, unlike many people who face worse circumstances and for much longer. I feel fortunate that I haven’t experienced homelessness myself, but I can empathize with people who have and who currently are.
One presenter gave this advice about how to motivate other people to get involved: “We need to get people to the point of saying, ‘I believe we can end homelessness, and I believe I have a role to play in that.’”
I believe we can end homelessness. I believe I have a role to play in that. That is my why.