I just got home from participating on a panel to discuss the politics of homelessness and big picture solutions. I have to admit that my insight was very different from the other panelists. I had a very personal story to share and my “solutions” had more to do with the heart as opposed to advocating for one specific model.
The experience was both engaging and disengaging. On one hand I understand that part of the solution-making process is to consider the various opposing views, but I felt as if nobody was acknowledging that this was an issue of the heart. That there are very complicated feelings and personal experiences that can also be a barrier to assisting those on the streets.
As I listened to the various perspectives in the room, I felt this nagging pull to share my heart’s experience in watching my father’s life unfold on the streets. I abandoned all reservation and started off by sharing the view that this is about people. It’s about feelings, lives, wanting to be validated, and valued. I shared my initial feelings of guilt and embarrassment… hoping to shed light on why many families stay in the shadows. Their voices are so critical to this discussion.
There were a number of members in the audience who are currently homeless or have relatives on the streets. One woman shared her story of wanting to take care of her son, but not having the resources to do so. I could see and feel her pain. Another man, dressed very nicely in a white collared shirt and tie, shared that he is currently homeless. And another woman came up to me afterwards and shared her struggle in trying to find a place to stay because the folks at the airport are kicking them out.
They each have a story. I wish we had had more time so we could include them in the discussion. I would have loved to hear more about them and their struggles, so we could find a way to help. Throughout the discussion there was a lot of talk about politics and policies… models and frameworks and systemic approaches. All of it was relevant and I appreciate the efforts of those who were there today — whether it was from the standpoint of our tourism economy, our faith-based organizations, our state, and grassroots efforts.
When asked about ways to solve the issue of homelessness, I shared my view that this is just as much an “issue” of going inward as it is outward. What does that mean? Our energies are so focused on creating solutions that are measurable, worth funding, data driven, and we use words like “eradicate,” “defeat,” and “war” when describing our goals to address homelessness. I have done the same thing in creating a Kickstarter to fund my own efforts. But at the same time I know that nothing I do will “defeat” homelessness.
We are all doing our part and I believe it is important to acknowledge this. I have learned that acceptance is key in continuing on this road to help others. Sure — we can debate over and over again how money should be spent, or if this is a “good” law, if passing certain legislation criminalizes homelessness or if it’s really just compassionate disruption. It will go on and on and on. Whatever solution we end up with, I believe that it is important to accept that there is no perfect solution. We are doing the best we can.
As long as our hearts and minds are in the right places, and we’re really doing this to help the homeless (and it’s not just lining the pockets of middlemen), I think we should go with it. We can’t stop progress. We will continue to redefine our laws and standards… our expectations of what is considered the “ideal,” but I find an unusual peace in recognizing that nothing I do has to be perfect. There was a lot more said and I think someone recorded the whole thing, so you may be able to view it somewhere online. I cracked a few jokes, made people laugh, made a reference that I was like a “bobblehead” because I couldn’t stop nodding every time someone said something I agreed with. The good stuff all happened afterwards when I was able to hug the folks I knew needed it most — the mother who was in pain because her son is homeless on the Big Island, the well-dressed veteran who has a beautifully complex and genius mind, the woman whose eyes showed the depth of heart’s longing to be understood… and the panelists who acknowledged our “work.”
I was the last to speak and all of the panelists had such wonderfully substantive solutions that intrigued me. I wished I knew more about the actual processes of their fields. I felt a little embarrassed that my last remarks weren’t policy-oriented… I shared:
“There is no perfect world. We are born, we die, and what happens in between is largely up to us. We each have our talents, skills, and strengths… it’s up to us to use them to help others. And the most important thing I’ve learned from doing what I do is to validate the feelings of those who are out there, see them as people, and help them when you can.”