According to an African proverb, "Hope is the pillar of the world." A stronghold of sorts in environments filled with ever-changing circumstances.
As it turns out, hope has been positively linked to everything from medical recovery to academic achievement, and pretty much everything in between.
One of those in-betweens is the bitter cycle of homelessness, typically a temporary circumstance, according to the National Coalition for Homelessness. And while that vacillation makes for difficulty in measuring the number of people on the streets or in shelters, a recent report, "The State of Homelessness in America 2014," stated that on a single night in January 2013 more than 610,000 people were experiencing homelessness.
The report, prepared by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, also points to trend lines showing that, overall, homelessness is on the decline among every major subpopulation -- families (7 percent), chronically homeless individuals (7.3 percent) and veterans (7.3 percent). A more granular look, however, reveals that differences exist among states across the country, with some reporting rising homeless populations.
What makes the difference?
Any particular reaction to the problem, according to the authors, who offer an optimistic outlook: "Shifts in the way communities respond to homelessness have primed the country to make great strides in ending homelessness nationally."
One such community is Palm Beach County, Florida -- both a bastion of privilege and host to its share of disenfranchised homeless adults, children and families.
There, The Lord's Place (TLP) -- a nonprofit, nonsectarian organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of homelessness -- has been providing innovative, compassionate and effective services for more than 30 years.
TLP's dynamic leader, Diana Stanley, and her team, including chief program officer Daniel Gibson, who transcended his own childhood school of hard knocks to graduate from Yale University and earn a master's degree in social work, have responded to wide-ranging health care system obstacles facing the homeless. The hurdles this population confronts include long wait times for appointments, impersonal services, transportation problems, confusion over complex diagnoses and medications, lack of access to preventative care, inability to pay and difficulty enrolling in health insurance plans.
Diana and Daniel's approach?
Deployment of a "CARE Team" (counseling, access recovery, and education) made up of psychiatric nurses, therapists, case managers, vocational and peer specialists and financial coaches. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, they meet to break down traditional silos and provide an internal continuum of care for their clients.
TLP believes that health - both physical and emotional - is just as important as housing and employment.
Based on the Assertive Community Treatment model of psychiatric care, TLP's work features campus housing, employment services, case management and direct engagement with homeless individuals and families making the decision to leave the streets.
"What we really do is provide a foundation of hope," says Gibson. "And hope comes from opportunity."
For TLP's clients, that opportunity can be found in model job readiness programs that may evolve into apprenticeships in TLP's own social enterprises, which include catering, retail and, soon, landscaping. Down the line, TLP's "job developers" help clients find prospects for employment with local businesses while "job coaches" prepare them for interviews.
Gibson adds, "We get a lot of people with dark histories." Indeed, TLP reports that, among its clients, 82 percent are disabled or medically vulnerable, 52 percent have a history of using psychotropic medications, 29 percent have severe and persistent mental illness, 53 percent are ex-offenders, 55 percent are chronically homeless and 77 percent abuse substances.
"Those who grow up in the inner city or come from poverty don't always see opportunity even when it exists. Our job, our mission, is to make those opportunities real and achievable," explains Gibson, pointing to a 50-year-old client who believed she was destined to return to a security guard position she both hated and feared. Now she is planning on earning a degree in social sciences.
Beyond many stories of success, the statistical results speak for themselves. TLP cites the impact of its CARE Teams in reducing, across its residential facilities, emergency calls (75 percent), unsuccessful discharges for "high psych need" residents (45 percent), and substance abuse relapses (27 percent). Just as important, its Tomorrow Fund focuses on homeless youth, raising money to provide entrepreneurial training and leadership development.
The Lord's Place, a harbinger of hope for the holidays - and every other day - in Palm Beach County ... and across the land.
African Proverbs. (2010). Kwanza Guide. July 23, 2010. http://kwanzaaguide.com/2010/07/african-proverbs/ (17 Dec. 2014).
National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2014). The state of homelessness in America 2014. May 27, 2014. Endhomelessness.org. http://b.3cdn.net/naeh/d1b106237807ab260f_qam6ydz02.pdf (17 Dec. 2014).
National Coalition for the Homeless. (2009). How many people experience homelessness? July 2009. http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/How_Many.html (17 Dec. 2014).
National Public Radio. (2012). One scholar's take on the power of placebo. January 6, 2012. npr.com. http://www.npr.org/2012/01/06/144794035/one-scholars-take-on-the-power-of-the-placebo (17 Dec. 2014).
The Lord's Place. (2012). Breaking the cycle of homelessness. Who We Are. http://www.thelordsplace.org/ (17 Dec. 2014).
Valiente, C., Swanson, J. and Eisenberg, N. (2012). Linking students' emotions and academic achievement: when and why emotions matter. June 2012. National Center for Biotechnology Information. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3482624/ (17 Dec. 2014).