Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change

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Changing the Conversation

Courage in Times of Chaos

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I was asked recently to give a talk to a group of homeless service providers and advocates on “Courage in Times of Uncertainty.” In preparing, I realized there was no way I could address that subject. I believe fundamentally that we are not in times of uncertainty, but times of chaos. Each day in America, the headlines overwhelm us. Horrific school shootings. Escalating threats of nuclear war. Tax cuts for the wealthiest among us. People dying daily from opiate overdoses. Profound disrespect for women, immigrants, people of color, and LGBTQ people. Willful ignorance about climate change. Rampant homelessness and a public that has become used to it.

Chaos.

In the face of such chaos, our national leaders have abdicated their responsibility to guide and protect the nation and its people. In some cases, they are guilty of neglect. In just as many, they are guilty of cheerleading race hatred and dissension. In other words, it is not just that they refuse to fix the problem; they are the problem.

How should we respond?

It is all too easy to feel paralyzed—to wait, to bide our time—but we do not have that luxury. It is critical not to be discouraged. There is too much work to do.

Doing Better for Veterans

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As we celebrate and honor our nation’s Veterans, many businesses will offer discounts and free coffee or meals to those who have served in the military. While these are nice gestures, it isn’t enough.

The 2016 annual homeless assessment report from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that 39,471 Veterans are homeless on any given night, 9 percent of whom are women. It also estimates that roughly 45 percent of Veterans experiencing homelessness are African-American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 10.4 percent and 3.4 percent respectively of the Veteran population. Other research shows that Veterans spend an average of nearly 6 years homeless, compared to 4 years for non-Veterans.

Our country is experiencing an extreme shortage of affordable housing and jobs paying livable incomes as well as barriers in access to health care—all of which contribute to homelessness. In addition, a large number of displaced and at-risk Veterans live with lingering effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance use, which can be compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. Military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some Veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment. Approximately 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are eligible for disability compensation. However, the average wait for a disability claim to be processed is eight months, and the benefit can be as little as $127 per month.

Racism & Homelessness: Justice is Not Something You Pray For. It’s Something You Implement.

These remarks were delivered by Marc Dones [MD] and Jeff Olivet [JO] of the Center for Social Innovation at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, DC on July 18, 2017 in response to U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s address.

MD: Data drives specific and appropriate responses. And our national understanding of homelessness has been missing a critical dimension. There is a blind spot in our collective analysis, and therefore in our collective response. Our local and national strategies to end homelessness have not acknowledged the racial realities of homelessness—that structural racism is a major driver of homelessness. [Read more about "Fixing the Structural Causes of Homelessness."]

Closing the Chapter: A Man’s Recovery Journey with his Dog

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Hello old friend. We're here in this most beautiful and familiar place, you and I, sharing a quiet moment together in the yard. For 15 years, we've been sitting with each other, side by side. I've stroked your now fully-greyed head every day, and still it rises in anticipation of each new soft caress of my hand. You're close to leaving, I know. You're preparing me—in the most loving and compassionate ways—and as usual, putting to rest for me any argument about the intelligence of your species. I know you know, and I know you understand all the things I must now do for you to keep you safe, comfortable, and happy until you tell me it's time.

As I sit here with you, I'm taken back to our first meeting. You were a tiny thing, terrified of the noise and bizarre surroundings of the animal shelter. I know this terror, I have spent time in similar places, and our shared lived experience of this trauma bound us instantly. I saw you, your eyes met mine, and instantly, we knew…kindred spirits. Remember when the lady asked us if we needed time to "bond" before you went home with me? Oh, how we silently laughed as I told her, "We've already taken care of that."