I have been expanding my unscientific information gathering in my travels. Seems just about everywhere I go I need not travel far from my hotel before finding one or more person experiencing homelessness and living outside. Later that day or the next when in a speaking engagement, I will ask housing programs and shelter staff why they think that is, and I can summarize those into five categories:
- It is the failure of the person. If they would change to conform to the program expectation or try harder, they could be off the street and into a program or housing. The problem is one of compliance.
- It is the complexities of presenting issues within the person. Their program or housing, it seems, has been designed for people with lesser needs. Serving these individuals would negatively impact their success rates, which would also sour their landlord relationships, and potentially put their funding in jeopardy. The problem is one of meeting expectations of funders.
- It is the failure of other systems: child welfare, corrections, hospitals, benefits, Veterans Affairs, etc. If those systems would stop manufacturing homelessness and/or start making it easier to get people into their resources, there would be no people on the street. The problem is one of projection.
- It is the economy (stupid). If there were jobs available and housing that was affordable, none of this would be happening on the streets. The problem is one of access or income.
- It is the requirements of service providers. The thinking goes that if service providers and housing providers were to be low-barrier (other than them, of course), there would be fewer or no people on the street. The problem is one of displacement.
And this leaves me with a gut full of pain for all those not served because of the volley of excuses that litter the landscape. I continue to cheer on the underdog because I see myself in them. I am a graduating member from the class of “Fuck off, we made it”.
No words I can write will ever get anyone to completely change their mind. No speech I give will ever rally people to transform their systems of support. No presentation I have created will ever be persuasive enough to give a facelift to what is done in the name of service.
But I refuse to buy into the culture of excuses rather than challenging myself to find solutions. We fail when we start adding to the narrative of excuses rather than trying to create solutions. I believe that hope is a glue crazy enough to hold the effort together to keep trying. I don’t want anyone to take a walk in my shoes. But I do invite you to spend a night in my pyjamas and take a look at my dreams…a dream that I firmly believe we can put into reality where homelessness is rare and most often non-recurring. And I think it is about time to attach handles to my pillow so I can hold onto my dream because people keep trying to strip it away by distorting or changing what it really means to end homelessness.