Meeting with a colleague recently, we shared the overriding experience of helplessness we both feel. They work in direct services, I work in journalism, but we shared the sense that there was a lot more we needed to be doing and that what we have to offer simply isn’t enough.
It’s a hard feeling to have as I announce that I am leaving Real Change. I started out as a reporter in November of 2011 and eventually became editor.
Looking backward at my nearly seven years here on the job at Real Change, I see the ebb and flow of progress in the work we have done here. At this time I am leaving — thankfully to continue my career in journalism, editing at the South Seattle Emerald — I see a city that is in the grip of struggle.
Some of the progress many worked hard to achieve fell to pieces in the last few months, and the overwhelming negativity and divisiveness pervading our national conversation has found its own brand of vitriol right here in Seattle in our discussion of how to help people living on the streets.
When you work at a place like Real Change, you want to feel like you left the world in a little better shape than you found it. But it’s hard to feel that way, despite the many successes this organization and our newsroom has accomplished. It’s hard because homelessness grows every year, our solutions fall short of what’s truly needed to bring everyone indoors, and the answers feel just a little bit further out of reach.
Early in my time at Real Change, I took our former Board President David Bloom out for coffee. He was a friend before I came to Real Change, and I had a simple question for him: “How do you keep doing it?”
I wanted to know how — after decades of service in churches, nonprofits, political spheres and campaigns for public office — he keeps going with this work.
The answer was simple and complicated. He simply looked forward and moved forward and kept doing it. But the take-home message he had for me was to exercise. Because we can’t keep at it if we’re not taking care of ourselves.
We can’t keep at it if we’re not taking care of ourselves
It strikes me that the ability to keep moving forward has to do with relationships. Because the lie we tell ourselves when we enter service jobs is that we’re going to save the world. We can’t.
In the last 13 years in this field, I have learned what a lot of journalists had to coming out of school: I’m no Woodward or Bernstein, and the likelihood of me taking down a president in my career is slim at best.
I can’t fix the world. But I can make a connection and a difference to a few people. We may not, alone, be able to solve the great challenges that face us. But we can make great change with a few people. That can have a cumulative effect.
We may not, alone, be able to solve the great challenges that face us. But we can make great change with a few people.
Facing Homelessness Founder Rex Hohlbein has been talking this line for a long time. The organization’s catch-phrase is “Just say hello.” Because saying “hello” builds a connection, which can turn to help, which can become a friendship, and suddenly we’re off to the races. Suddenly the homeless people in our midst are not these enigmas but our friends.
Connection is what we offer at Real Change. It’s a reader offering to help a vendor repair their car. It’s a vendor bringing in food to share with staff and volunteers. It’s a community pooling resources to support a vendor who was blinded by a violent attack. It’s an article that opens your worldview in a way you never expected. It’s vendors, volunteers and staff in the street, calling for change and seeing it happen — or holding each other up when it doesn’t. It’s vendors speaking in their own voices, in issues like this edition of Real Change, sharing their own solutions and imagining a better world.
Staff members come and go from Real Change. So do vendors. It’s a mark of what this organization has become that the connections have not gone away.
It’s the lesson I’ll be taking with me wherever I go with my career — at the South Seattle Emerald and everything else facing me in my future.
Have a story idea? Email us at communications (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Check out the full July 18 - July 24 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.