One Part of Me Just Needs the Quiet

“One part of me wants to tell you everything
One part of me just needs the quiet.”
-Toad the Wet Sprocket

Frightening can be the revelation that life has changed. When it isn’t as it was before.

In the space between revelation and full appreciation of new discovery, I choose to exploit the silence – the awkwardness of all that is quiet and unsettled…where the breath of anticipation is a whisper not yet revealed. In the depths of this sometimes lonely place is where we come to appreciate that we are not alone.

Sometimes we expect fireworks and cartwheels of gratitude, but are met with the hesitation of exuberance – the pregnant pause before the crowd realizes they can laugh or that they should clap…the beat the best comedic actors feed off of under the pressure to perform. Pinch me – is this real? I dare not speak for fear of awaking from the dream.

We can say too much.

We can interrupt the quiet prematurely.

It is not that there is a lack of desire to share. We will get there. But there is safety in the quiet…in the absence of revealing. The silence is the place where wisdom can be found…the recollection of past memories or words shared by trusted elders or good friends.

The air is always softer without words. The wind never feels as harsh when it is silent. Words will come when they are ready. In the meantime, the silence is the reassurance that we can hear our own breath without hearing our own voice…that the pumping of our heart is audible within our chest. We have the means of strength to hold it all together if only we can listen and not speak until we are ready. And when speech comes, it will be with words well considered and something worthy of being said.

 

(When I instruct people on Excellence in Housing-Based Case Management I walk training participants through the home visit technique of learning to listen and the importance of silence in order to encourage others to fill the space with their own voice. I have been reflecting more on the importance of silence and the quiet times that we share in our engagement, especially in the early stages of home visits or more intensive engagement with people during outreach. This blog was inspired by thinking more deeply about the importance of the silence.)

Guardians of Stories

This is a guest blog by Jeff Standell who is a full-time intake specialist and works part-time for OrgCode doing SPDAT training and advising. On top of that, he is a stand-up guy who teaches me loads about patience and the privilege of service. I am a better person for knowing Jeff. If you like the blog, reach out and send him a note jstandell@orgcode.com or hit him up on Twitter @jstandell

 

I attended a funeral today, and I realize that by the time this blog reaches the light of day my today will be long past. The funeral in question was not for a loved one, family member or friend, not for a past colleague. I came from a funeral of somebody who used to be homeless, and after crossing my path, and that of other people in our community who battle daily to end homelessness, was not homeless when she passed away.

 

My job as a centralized intake worker involves meeting people when they are in difficult situations, sorting through their story, and trying to help navigate them to the appropriate supports. Sometimes this is housing first, sometimes rapid re-housing, sometimes to an emergency shelter, sometimes to government offices to try to gain some support. During my time with them, at our initial meeting, I generally complete an SPDAT with them, should that be appropriate. However, in the early minutes of our time together I often ask other questions. This serves two interests, first, I find it helpful in establishing rapport, and second, and perhaps more importantly, I’m genuinely interested and honestly care. When our interaction is done we part ways, sometimes briefly until a program space opens up, sometimes forever as they move on, either to find housing on their own or perhaps into the wind. Regardless of the outcome, that interaction impacts me, it stays with me. Many hundreds of times in the past three years my life has been impacted by these interactions. I have described my position in many ways to many people, but my favorite descriptor is that I am a guardian of stories. Our housing first providing agencies only ever hear the stories from those few who make it into their programs. We, during the intake process, get to hear them all, and I feel it is our duty to make sure that these stories are heard, treasured, and never become just another number.

 

And then I went to a funeral, and my perspective changed. For all of the rapport I had built with this woman, for all of the times we sat across a table from each other, and there were numerous interactions in the past three years, I learned that I really knew nothing about her at all.

 

There were over a hundred people in the room, I knew the handful of other service providers, but I didn’t know any of her friends and family. When we had last spoken, about 5 months prior, she shared that she had isolated herself from her supports. Clearly that had changed.

 

Another thought entered my mind as I watched the slideshow that had been prepared. As I saw for the first time pictures of her as a baby and young child I realized, not for the first time but it is always a good reminder in our work, that when she was growing up she didn’t aspire to the life she ended up living. She had hopes, dreams, goals, and ambitions. I am almost certain that being homeless in her adult life was not part of her plan. Just like everyone else in that room she dreamed of a future, and somewhere along the way that dream turned into a reality that at times resembled a nightmare. Her life took a detour, a rocky road the details of which I cannot share without breaking the trust she placed in me, but suffice it to say it was rocky. By the time our paths crossed for the first time she was focused more on her survival than any ambitions she had growing up. Yet through it all she maintained hope and never gave up. She had found some supports, but the ability to find, secure, or maintain stable housing was, and would remain, difficult for her.

 

I pride myself on doing a good job, of being thorough while being respectful. I can reasonably believe that most of the service providers that I work with would concur. I love that I have a job that allows me to be curious and genuinely interested in people. I’m good at assessing, at gathering information that is important in determining acuity and prioritizing. I am proud to be a guardian of stories, and today I realized how little of the stories I actually get.

 

And then I wondered how often this is true of the rest of us?

 

How often do we forget that the person sitting across from us, whether it’s our boss, our colleague, our client, our best friend, our child, our parent, or just the person in front of us in line at the coffee shop has a story that we haven’t heard?

 

I went to a funeral today and saw at least a hundred people impacted by the life of one person. I thought of Girard’s Law of 250, even though it applies to sales it still made me think about the number of people we impact in our lives, and the spin off impact that they will have on others if we have had a positive impact on them. If you look at your own work, whatever role you play in ending homelessness, just imagine how many lives you have impacted. Just imagine how far the ripples extend, because you became part of all those stories.

 

I am the guardian of hundreds of stories.

 

Today the final page was written for one of those stories.

 

After I composed myself and got back to work I became a part of someone else’s story.

 

My pledge to myself is to not forget the people I serve, or forget that even my small part on their journey impacts countless others who I have never, and most likely never will meet. My challenge to you is to do the same.

Mid-Year Stats

Here we are mid-year. Just tallied up some numbers:   I have been to 47 different communities so far this year (some more than once) and other OrgCode team members have been to a dozen more.   I have logged more than 100,000 air miles so far this year. That is the equivalent of going around the globe about four times.   About 850 people Like the OrgCode FaceBook page. (facebook.com/orgcode)   About 1,100 people follow me on Twitter. (@orgcode)   More than 105,000 viewers have come to the blog. (wow)   The most popular blog of the year (so far)? 10 Things to Keep in Mind if You are Serious About Ending Homelessness   OrgCode went from two owners to one (me) earlier this year.   “SPDAT” and “OrgCode” are the two most popular terms that lead people to our website through search engines.   110% is what we give it […] Read more »

Job, Career or Vocation?

HOWDY READERS – I AM OFF THIS WEEK FOR SOME SELF-CARE. THINKING ABOUT THAT INSPIRED THIS BLOG ABOUT JOBS, CAREERS and VOCATIONS. ENJOY!   I’ve had jobs – and probably you have too – that were only about doing something for someone else in order to get paid. I have some great stories from some of those jobs (especially summer jobs during undergrad years). But when I have had jobs in my life, time off was critical – from milking every coffee break to downtime on the weekends to vacation time. I’ve had career stops when I was truly a careerist. In those times in my life a lot of what I was involved in was not as much about the content of the tasks (though I did like a lot of what I did), but more about how far I could get up the ladder and how fast. It […] Read more »

Be Awesome

When I say “be awesome” to people or as a closing to an email, it isn’t something I say lightly. I say it because I want people to inspire awe in others. Our world needs more awe. Here are some six random ideas on how I think you can be awesome: Be really passionate about something meaningful for the world (beyond your own needs). Learn the most you can about it. Practice it. Commit to get better and better and better at it. Find someone that inspires awe in you. Talk with them about how they inspire that awe. Ask them questions about their talents and the things they have learned along the way from successes and moments of painful learning. Mentorship is super cool. Make even better mistakes tomorrow. It is inspiring to watch brave attempts rather than the ho-hum of planned mediocrity and failed nothingness. Be your own […] Read more »

The Non-judgmental Practitioner

Thoreau famously stated, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” In discerning about how to write this blog – in my reflections and prayers (yes, I pray – or at least try to) – I have thought hard about how to describe being non-judgmental without coming across as, well, judgmental. Rabbi Hillel in Ethics of the Fathers is quoted as saying, “Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place.” In the 7th Chapter of the Matthew in the New Testament it reads, “Judge not, that you not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, […] Read more »

Wow – That is a Big Number

This is a short, supplemental blog to acknowledge the amazing achievement that the 100K Homes Campaign and the Campaign Communities reached today, announcing that the goal has been surpassed (101,628 of which over 30,000 were Veterans). Whether your community participated in the campaign or not, you need to learn from what they were able to accomplish. Others may outline this better than I, but here is what I have taken away from the experience:   Have steadfast fixity of purpose and don’t waiver from it. Set a target that stretches you beyond your comfort zone. Appreciate that imperfect action trumps perfect planning…much is to be learned from the art of doing. Put together a kick-ass leadership team. Create excitement amongst service providers and celebrate their awesomeness and leverage their expertise. Don’t lose sight of the people that you serve…the homeless persons that receive housing. Prioritize who gets housed rather than […] Read more »

Compassion

Those who work on social matters – by and large – are people filled with compassion, or at least initially attracted to the work because of their strong sense of compassion. ‘Compassion’ is a beautiful noun, initially born from the Latin ‘compati’ which means “to suffer with”. In essence, compassion is solidarity coupled with tenderness and mercy, and a steadfast resolve to alleviate and conquer hardship. Much has been written about the need for improved data in addressing and solving social issues – and that is a good thing. Much has been written about the need for strategic and informed programming and policy development grounded in evidence – and that is also a good thing. There is an increasing understanding of compassion fatigue and the impacts that has on helpers – and this is good knowledge to have. But we should never lose sight of the compassion that drives most […] Read more »

#YESALLHOMELESSWOMEN

I am not an expert on women’s issues, women’s safety, women’s empowerment, or women’s health, nor do I claim to have specific expertise on women’s homelessness. Like many of my male friends, the #YESALLWOMEN hashtag experience exposed me to some of the most sensitive, personal, violent, demeaning and unacceptable experiences of many female friends. It was jarring, but important learning for me on the magnitude and far reach of women’s experiences with men – and both threats and experiences of violence. Reading this helped me put some of what was happening into context. While I have intentionally applied a gender lens to matters of homelessness in specific projects, I have more to learn. I knew, for example, that women face higher degrees of exploitation and higher rates of sexual assault than males that are experiencing homelessness, but recent events caused me to look deeper into the issue. Perhaps not surprisingly, […] Read more »

On the Precipice of Advancing the Revolution, We Attack the Talented Revolution Leaders

Now, the time is now We can still turn it around Raise your voice like a weapon Til they fall to the ground Light, let there be light Without a shadow of doubt We will fight tooth and nail until Salvation is found -Viking Death March, Billy Talent   It would really be something if all voices were raised in unison to complete the radical change of ending homelessness. If there is one thing I have learned about a career in this sector where I have often been the misfit…the divergent thinker – it is that when you are making strides in change there are people that will be ready to try and tear you down. What astounds me is that this tear down happens from within the group that does comparable work and/or proclaims to share the same passion for the population. House homeless people directly from the street […] Read more »