Homelessness is trauma. Most of it goes unseen. We’ve seen the numbers go up and up and up, and with that, we see more visible misery on our streets. More tents. More people in cars. More people living their private lives in public.
And yet, we barely see what’s out there. We see what’s in front of us — and often not even that.
We don’t “see” that about one in 13 kids enrolled in Seattle Public Schools are homeless. Or that 87 percent of these 4,280 kids are students of color. We don’t “see” the multiple system failures that create that reality.
We don’t “see” the social abandonment that leaves more than 5,000 people in King County sleeping outside every night.
We don’t “see” the vulnerability, anxiety, fear and trauma this creates. We can’t.
Numbers numb. When anything feels too big and overwhelming, there’s a defense for that. We avoid. And when avoidance isn’t enough, there’s always blame to take things up a notch.
Blame the homeless people. Blame the human service providers. Blame the politicians who care. So goes our city’s debate about homelessness.
All of which just makes things worse.
If we’re ever going to really solve homelessness in this city, we need to stop pushing it away.
Solutions to homelessness begin with ourselves and our own sense of community. It begins with looking at who we care about and don’t and why.
Here are a few things that we can do. None will solve the problem, but none are hard or take much time, either. Each moves us a little bit outside ourselves and asks us to care when caring isn’t easy.
1.) Just Say Hello. The pain of homelessness is about isolation. There’s a simple remedy: Just say hello. That’s the goal of Facing Homelessness, a nonprofit started by Rex Hohlbein. Facing Homelessness’s Facebook page tells human stories and lets us know how we can help. Nearly 50,000 members have responded to help people with the things they need.
This idea has spawned similar pages across the world, all with a simple message: Recognize the person in front of you as a person and respond with love and kindness.
2.) Support Survival Solutions. As affordable housing in Seattle has become increasingly elusive and the emergency shelter system has failed to keep up with the need, homeless people and their allies have responded with direct solutions to build community and keep people safe. You can learn how to directly support these efforts by visiting the SHARE Seattle Facebook page or LIHI.
3.) Get On Some Lists. Every budget session — state, county or city level — is an opportunity to push for real solutions to meet human needs. This year, for example, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA) is pushing to expand the State Housing Trust Fund and expand basic survival benefits. Sign up for advocacy alerts from WLIHA, and at the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, and with Real Change. You don’t need to be an expert to help solve homelessness. You just need to care.
4.) Show Up. Once you know how you can support political change, the next step is to show up. Your voice matters. Your emails, phone calls, lobbying and public testimony at hearings matter, and legislators listen more to those who aren’t the “usual suspects.” Find your voice and weigh in. People’s lives depend on it.
5.) Have Breakfast With Real Change. Come celebrate 24 years of people treating people like people by attending the Real Change breakfast at the Washington State Convention Center. RSVP online and join 500 of our closest friends in celebrating our vendors on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 8 – 9 a.m. We promise an inspiring morning of myth-busting information, connection and hope. Tickets are free, and the recommended donation is $150. Please attend, and support our work in any way that fits within your budget.
When we do these things, we put down a little piece of armor that keeps us afraid. We open ourselves to the pain and beauty of the world. We become a little more whole. What’s not to love?
Tim Harris is the Founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded street newspaper Spare Change in Boston while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace.
Check out the full Aug. 8 - Aug. 14 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.