Every good story needs a hero. I met some real life heroes this week.
Recently, I traveled to two very different programs. In Alaska, the Cook Inlet Tribal Council is collaborating with a community based housing organization, Cook Inlet Housing Authority to develop model housing programs for people with complex medical, mental health and social needs. In essence, they are helping to shape a “safety net” movement in the city of Anchorage. Their work with Alaskan Native populations involves a strong grounding in cultural competency and respect for indigenous beliefs.
The other program I had the privilege of visiting was the Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT), in Los Angeles. Smack dab in the middle of one of the most sophisticated cities in the world, SRHT works in a 15-block area of extreme poverty and social isolation. The Skid Row community needs little in the way of introduction. Homeless and social service providers have been wrestling with how to provide the most effective means of delivering resources to the “Row” for years. SRHT, a community based housing developer, is working with cutting edge housing and supportive services to reach the most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness in Skid Row.
One afternoon in Anchorage, staff from the Cook Inlet Housing Authority and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council took our team to the city’s Project Homeless Connect event. Events like this take place in a number of cities across the country. They almost always involve an army of volunteers, a large conference facility venue, and a mountain of donated items.
What made this event different for me was the strong sense of community that I witnessed. Community was expressed in the way the volunteers interacted with the clients. Community was in the gentle smiles that abounded. Community was in the encouraging words heard over and over again. I asked one of the providers at the event why everyone seemed so happy. He said, “We are all in this together. We, clients, providers, clinicians, consumers, are all one big team.”
Walking around the streets of Los Angeles can be intimidating. Walking around the streets of the “Row” can be frightening. One afternoon, the Director of the SRHT Services in Supportive Housing program walked me around Skid Row to visit housing units available to clients enrolled in their housing first program. What struck me most in our brief walk was the seeming enormity of the problems and issues in the Row. I wondered to myself how people prevent being overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness. I asked a staff person working in one of the SRHT facilities if she ever felt like there was just too much to do. Her response inspired me. She said, “The most important thing for me in my work was learning that I can’t fix anyone. In fact, it’s not my job to fix people. What is my job - is to walk alongside them in this journey.”
The heroes of this story are the inspiring staff and service providers of both organizations, and the work they are doing everyday to serve the underserved and end homelessness.
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