With the Mayor Murray recently declaring a state of emergency on the homelessness issues in Seattle, it might be worth mentioning why I find Renton's approach to this issue such a breath of fresh air. Our solutions should always correlate with our diagnosis of the problem. So what is the driving problem in regards to homelessness?
I would say that homelessness is not a resource issue, it is a relationship issue. It is not to say that shelter doesn't matter, because it does... in fact, we provide that at REACH! But to give someone a house and then say that they are no longer homeless is not dealing with any of the root issues. Many of the folks we work with every day have high levels of trauma, abuse and neglect. We find that very few of them have the safety net of other people in their life who can help them out. I often hear people say, "I'm just one step away from being on the street myself," but I think the more accurate statement is, "We all encounter difficulty and tragedy in our lives, which is why our families, church communities, friends and neighbors are so important."
The struggle with the chronically homeless population is that often those relationships are not there; mental health, domestic violence, addiction or whatever has burned some of those bridges, or their original community has burned them for them. They then rely on their street community for support, which is a community that is in the same boat in terms of needing to survive. In fact, a lot of additional trauma is experienced on the street, as you can imagine. This deepens the personal/relational brokenness that needs addressing.
So what do we do? The beautiful thing about REACH is that it is made up of the community itself! Churches, businesses, non-profits... people. If the diagnosis is broken community and broken relationships, then the solution needs to provide community and healthy relationships. If you really want to know how to help, leave room to make a new friend, walk with someone, come down and serve, learn a name... then learn their story, share yours and see what God does to provide healing. In my experience I have found that everybody needs healing, and that this action you took to help someone else may actually be exactly what you needed. It turns out that we have the same diagnosis. This is why Jesus focuses on loving God and loving neighbor. The antidote to broken relationships is love.
Six years ago I lost my job, my house, my rental house, and was very discouraged. Because of my church, and my family, being on the street was gratefully not a concern. There is a reason that we use the word "homeless" and not "houseless." Shelter is surely one part of the problem, especially on a cold night! But let’s move as a community toward the lasting solution of healthy relationship for our brothers and sisters. We all need it!
Chris Gough is a REACH board member.