Homelessness -- Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

Homelessness, a challenge composed of many issues, spans our globe. Because homeless people seem to be everywhere, many of us feel that homelessness is too big an issue to be solved. And because of the complexity of the issues of homelessness, we may feel too overwhelmed to affect change.

Sometimes we use these feelings of powerlessness as excuses for failing to develop plans or to take any action to help homeless people. Thus, our feelings can literally create a paralysis in our thinking and acting to end homelessness.

Actually, we needn't feel overwhelmed by the challenge of homelessness. We have conquered major issues before.

Do you remember when we felt that the issues of reducing waste and protecting our environment were overwhelming? We adopted the slogan, "Think Globally, Act Locally," which reminds us to address these global concerns by reducing, reusing and recycling discarded items at a local level. Educational facilities encouraged its students to educate their families. Through common practice, we accepted our civic responsibility to protect our planet.

In much the same way, we have the power and ability to solve other complex global issues, including homelessness. Recognizing the widespread issues of homelessness, each of us can act on a local level, together and individually, to affect real change. Some of us are already thinking globally and acting locally as illustrated by the many participants in conferences about homelessness.

For example, since 1997, the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) has been holding conferences twice a year -- a national conference each July in Washington, D.C., on homelessness generally and a West Coast conference specifically about youth and family homelessness.

On February 9 and 10, NAEH had its 2012 National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness in Los Angeles. At this conference, there were presentations, panel discussions and conversations about

• Implementing rapid re-housing (and maintaining those programs as HPRP [Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing] funding expires);

• Coordinating with larger 'mainstream' anti-poverty programs to multiply impacts, especially by providing help with employment;

• Strengthening families and promoting reunification in order to end homelessness for youth;

• Preventing homelessness for families and youth, including targeting for the maximum impact;

• Getting the most out of the HEARTH Act, and

• Housing families and youth with the most severe challenges, including chronic homelessness

Steve Berg, NAEH Vice President for Programs and Policy, says that these conferences enable people to learn about "good practices and approaches" to help end homelessness. They "teach trends locally and explain what federal funders are looking for" in local programs.

Steve feels that these conferences are very important because they "get people together so they can support each other, energize each other" and encourage people, now "armed with common experiences," to solve the issues of homelessness. Helping end homelessness, he concludes, "is a movement and conferences are important to keep the movement going."

In 2004, the City of San Francisco held the first Project Homeless Connect (PHC) as an innovative way to offer necessary services to homeless people. Now held every two months, its mission for PHC is "to provide a single location where nonprofit medical and social service providers collaborate to serve the homeless of San Francisco with comprehensive, holistic services."

In December 2005, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) launched the National Project Homeless Connect Partnership encouraging mayors and county leadership to hold a one-day community event by providing housing support and quality of life resources at a one stop event with the goal of ending homelessness. By 2008, PHC has been offered in more than 200 cities in the United States, Canada and Australia.

In January of this year, the San Diego Housing Commission was the lead organizer for the Sixth Annual PHC. With the help of 300 volunteers, more than 65 service providers offered health screenings, housing referrals, legal aid, food, clothing and other supportive services to 941 homeless San Diegans.

Just two months later, the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program, Inc. presented its 23rd Annual Women's Resource Fair (WRF) involving more than 100 organizations that helped more than 600 disadvantaged women and children with medical, legal and social services. As explained by Amy J. Fitzpatrick, Esq., Executive Director of the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program, Inc., "The purpose of the WRF is to gather lots of resources and services for disadvantaged women (primarily those who are homeless, victims of domestic violence, and those fighting substance abuse) under one roof where that assistance can easily be accessed on one day in one place."

Rosemary Johnston, Executive Director of the Interfaith Shelter Network, is an active member of the planning committees of both San Diego PHC and WRF. She explains that these events "are important to the homeless community and to the wider community because they increase access to services in a low-demand environment; there are no obstacles to access these services." Continuing, she shares, "It is very important to put a human face on the homeless population, particularly to people in administration who don't normally meet with homeless people."

Rosemary confirms that conferences are important to keep up our momentum in our efforts to help homeless people: "I appreciate the opportunities these events provide because I don't want to lose touch and it energizes me to return to work with renewed passion to serve these people in need."

So, please "think globally and act locally" to help end homelessness.

I look forward to your comments.