IF WISHES WERE HOUSES, Part II
“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”
H. D. Thoreau
“Conscious, careful selection of those activities, situations, or people to whom we’ll devote attention is all that separates centered, serene people from harried men and women… The temptation is great to attend to first one thing and then another, passively and superficially. However, our lives are enriched only when we commit ourselves to a deeper level of involvement, and to the few, rather than the many.”
THE PROMISE OF A NEW DAY by Karen Casey & Martha Vanceburg.
In 1990, a particularly low point in my life, when scarcity characterized so much I saw around me, I stumbled upon this passage in Barbara Kingsolver’s ANIMAL DREAMS. “The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for, and the most you can do is to live inside that hope.What I want is so simple I can hardly say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat. Enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed.” The passage hit me nearly like a brick in the heart. “Yes. That’s it.” I thought. “Enough to go around.” A lack of scarcity… This would be the hope in which I resolved to live. My commitment was fixed in the direction of… if not plenty, then, at the very least, “enough to go around.” At the time I had no idea where this commitment would lead me, but, daily, as I watched from my porch or window and as I strolled my neighborhood, I saw the scarcity that blighted the lives of the many homeless individuals in my community. For years I wondered how it was that people found themselves in such dire circumstances in our country and community that possessed such a wealth of resources. I had some peripheral awareness of shelters, sober houses, Section 8 Vouchers and housing projects and began to wonder how an individual or family in need would access these resources. In Fall of 2010 I Google-d the term homeless, St. Paul and through a rather circuitous route landed upon a Ramsey County/City of Saint Paul structure called The Homeless Advisory Board. I did a bit of research into the structure and agenda of this board, sought out an application, filled it out and was appointed by the Mayor as a community representative for this collaborative group that worked under the moniker HEADING HOME RAMSEY. In 2013 the Board restructured as the Ramsey County CONTINUUM OF CARE. What had once been, largely an information sharing group became a true collaboration between provider organizations, service agencies, philanthropic agencies and other funding sources, along with local government and ties to State, Regional and National initiatives to end homelessness.
In last month’s column I described the concept of the Continuum of Care and its gateway, Coordinated Entry. Data is shared, compiled, evaluated through the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) housed at Wilder. Through this collaboration we are able to conduct an exhaustive assessment of the resources necessary to prevent homelessness, the particular and varying needs of people experiencing homelessness and the availability or scarcity of those services and resources. We can capture the entire scope of the need in quantifiable terms and attach to this the very particular services, facilities, staffing needs and costs. It’s not unlike the process a sports franchise undertakes when they identify the desire or need for a new stadium or arena. Basic business planning questions like these are asked: “What do we want this to look like?” “Who do we want to serve?” “What particular needs/services do we want to provide?” “Who is likely to benefit?” “What are the costs /savings associated with the project?” “What will be our return on investment?” “How will this project benefit the larger community?” In communities throughout the country where the Continuum of Care and Coordinated Entry structure has been employed there is emerging and strong evidence that housing the homeless and bringing stability to their lives is a winning strategy for a vibrant, prosperous and healthy community. When we begin to look at how we all benefit by lifting people out of poverty and need instead of viewing people in need as a drain on our resources we show ourselves to be living deeply within that hope of enough for all and plenty to go around.