Audio: Fade in Hallelujah by Guitar Mark
Welcome to our podcast, Where People See People. I’m Gracie Quinn and I’m Charlotte Roberts. As a reminder, each month we will produce a podcast on a teachable topic. Today follows a topic, fighting for vulnerable communities. In this podcast, we will explore the context, issues, connections, and solutions for building community within the realm of homelessness.
Audio: sound effects of chains clinking
Let's start with some context. As humans we have an innate sense to belong to a community. A sense of community revolves around membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and a shared emotional connection (McMillian & Chavis, 1986). Think about where you find your sense of community, how you established that community, and what it feels like when that sense of community starts to transform. Often we might not realize the different communities of support that surround us…Yeah I totally agree. When I got to college, I found a circle, I picked my people. Now, my circle is changing, a lot of my friends are moving on after graduation and it’s uncomfortable. Over the last four years, I have turned to my community. We laugh together, we cry together, and ultimately, we share life together. I think that a lot of times we forget that people need people and we all have that desire to belong. So when we look at homeless and recently sheltered communities, why would we look at them any differently? Right, all humans desire connections and a sense of community. Many circumstances exist around why housing results in a failure or success, and in situations that fail we too often try to fit individuals into a broken mold rather than address the overarching issues.
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When we started this project last year, we asked ourselves a lot of questions. We wanted to know why people stayed on the streets. As many people do, we thought that we would find a cut and dry response, maybe it was drugs and alcohol or maybe it was mental health. What we were met with was a web so intricate that we are still untangling it. Some of the biggest issues are still not being talked about enough. One of the main issues that Gracie referenced revolves around the lack of respect for a sense of community. Typically, when individuals are placed in housing, the housing remains spread out around the county. Those placed in housing remain separated from their chosen family and friends and often lack transportation. Not having transportation leads to increased feelings of isolation which can lead to greater drug, alcohol, and mental health concerns. Or, if they are close enough to being around friends, they let those friends into their house. This often jeopardizes the ability to maintain housing. When houses get overrun by too many people eviction represents the next step. I can’t imagine someone coming up to my door and crying for somewhere warm to sleep when it’s -30° outside. How do you say no to that? Especially when you have been on the other side of that question, turning someone, a friend, away feels nearly impossible. We must address many issues with the current housing system and remember that the people getting housed are humans, not just names on a list.
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All of the issues that we discussed continue to resonate with us as we complete more and more interviews. We hear people share some of the most difficult experiences of their lives and it connects us even more to the community of those we aim to understand. We all share similar human qualities, just with different life experiences. One of our most recent interviews was with an individual that had lived on the streets off and on for the last 30 years. He shared how he could never say no to someone because he had been on the other side of that so many times before. He knows everyone’s name and he finds gifts for his family that he thinks they will like based on their interests. His heart belonged to the community that has had his back and shared in laughter and hardship for the last 30 years. I loved that interview! There is something so pure about individuals who do not possess personal belongings, but still find ways to reach out and give of themselves. Another interview that shined a light on the desire for community followed the life of a young woman who loved to cook. She would cook huge meals for her friends because she knew they didn’t have a place to go for the holidays. She told us “my door is always open” and that captured the power of the community. We look at people on the surface a lot and make judgements and I guess the whole goal of this project is to try and break down those barriers. For me, sitting down and hearing stories that I could never imagine experiencing breaks my heart, but then they ask me if I have seen one of their friends and how they are doing. Compassion extends beyond the heartbreak and family extends beyond the streets.
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So what about solutions? While the issues remain complex, the solutions can be simple. The first and most important thing we can do is validate the community. We need to practice empathy and show that homelessness does not define a person and all individuals still have the most basic desire to create connections just as we all do. When we show people that we understand others and we hear them, we can start to work together to solve issues. A lot of times we forget to ask the people we want to help what they need. Try asking an individual experiencing homelessness or someone that recently was housed the hardest part about being housed or the biggest stepping stone to obtaining housing. The answer might surprise you. Involving a population in decisions that directly affect them represents something our nation can work on in more ways than one. From here, we need to validate and then we need to get creative. If we keep thinking about housing in a traditional sense, the cycle of homelessness will continue. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel; other areas have done some incredible things. We linked resources of some really amazing things that have been done in the United States at the bottom of the transcript. Some of these ideas include tiny huts, dormitory style housing, and other more communal type living. There are a lot of options if we open our eyes and understand that just because something has been done for so many years doesn’t mean it is the only way to do it. Life hands us new challenges every day, I wouldn’t want to handle them alone, why would we let anyone?
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Thank you for tuning into this month’s podcast by People Seeing People. I’m Gracie Quinn and I’m Charlotte Roberts. The place where people see people.
Audio: Fade out Hallelujah by Guitar Mark
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