The Simple Questions Matter

By LIFT on January 8, 2016

Categories: First Person Perspective, Our Work

On November 12, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) hosted the discussion, “The street homeless: Who are they, how do they survive, and how can we serve them,” with panelists, who currently or previously worked in community outreach and service. While the discussion was open for the audience to ask questions, the panelists also gave a brief introduction into their work.

Officer Deon Joseph of the LAPD was part of the panel not as an officer, but as a concerned community member who has helped homeless people living in the area of Skid Row, a Los Angeles community of homeless people at risk of being victims of crime and drug abuse. Christy Respress from Pathways to Housing DC was able to provide a small perspective on what survival for homeless people looks like and what strategies have worked to help people find housing. Philip Mangano explained that nonprofit, community service organizations cannot do the work alone and that federal and local government must get involved in the process of creating plans and budgets to best help those in need.

Throughout the discussion, the panelists emphasized on the fact that every homelessness experience is not the same. Every perspective explained was different in terms of access to resources due to health and/or geography. This explanation may seem obvious and unnecessary, however, Mangano explained that this has been a barrier for the local and federal governments to take action in helping aid this epidemic. By not understanding the various perspectives, the government and even some community organizations have not been able to comprehend or ask about the different needs that pertain homeless individuals and families.

As a community advocate and intern at LIFT, I understood the explanations and advice from the panelists. Thinking back to my training in and outside of the office, the importance of member-led meetings could not be overemphasized. While I could personally work with members by leading the meetings and prioritizing their goals myself, I do not believe that it is a way to address members’ needs. If anything, I would be ignoring any goals and hopes that a member would like to achieve. My experience at LIFT has showed me that by asking the simple questions, I can effectively advocate for my members.

After the panel I was able to ask Ms. Respress from Pathways about the new Homeward DC: ICH Strategic Plan, which was put into effect this year and includes ambitious goals, such as ending veteran homelessness by this month, December 2015. She believes that this plan would not have worked eight years ago, but due to the new connections and improvements made from previous plans, she is hopeful that the local government and community organizations are better educated and prepared to work with homeless individuals and families.

While the discussion seemed a bit heartbreaking, there was also a strengths-based attitude towards the topic. The panelists brought up many issues with the systems and communities that several homeless people have to deal with everyday, but they also expanded on what can be done better. Although the talk was over a month ago now, I still remember Philip Mangano’s words: “If we’re still doing the same things we were doing 35 years ago, shame on us.” His words were blunt; nevertheless, they were correct.

This post was written by Leslie Campos, an advocate at LIFT-DC.