Thursday, September 15, 2005

Homing in

Yesterday's homelessness forum was a success. It was well attended, the speakers were inspiring, and the notion of "housing first" got a good airing. Since the first of these forums last fall when the idea of creating our own 10-year plan was initially raised, I think there's been an increase our collective awareness of the seriousness of the problem and the many levels on which it needs to be addressed. All the talks were compelling, but I want to share Mayor Foy's remarks, because they were exceptional.

To talk about ending homelessness is ambitious. What we’re really looking at is jobs. We live in a capitalist society, and we’re probably not changing that any time soon. We need jobs available to create adequate income--jobs that pay wages that can support some kind of healthy lifestyle, which leads to the issue of health care. Health care is unaffordable for virtually everyone in our society. And then education. So there are at least four things that are really undergirding the effort to end homelessness.

Hurricane Katrina really shows us some things about us, some ugly things, but also that the American people have great heart and great love for our fellow human beings. And that’s represented in this outpouring of help and humanity that we have all participated in as well as witnessed. And it also shows the vastness of resources that we have in our society--and we’re very, very stingy. We’re very, very, very selfish as a society.

I heard on the radio this morning an economist say that 200,000 people being absorbed into the Texas economy is minuscule, it means nothing, it’s easy. It is? I mean, that’s news to me. People in North Carolina don’t have jobs. People that live in Texas don’t have jobs. There’s a big disconnect between what we accept and what could be. Because the economist was really just talking in terms of numbers, not making any kind of moral judgment; he was just saying our economy is so huge, sure, 200,000 new jobs is a blip on the screen. But that’s not how we conduct our lives. We say people are always going to be living on the margins.

So our challenge is to make an enduring difference. That’s another thing the hurricane helps us put into perspective. We have witnessed extraordinary generosity, we have felt extraordinarily generous, but how long is that going to last? We’re talking about a 10-year plan, we have to work to make sure it’s a difference that matters in the long term. And so what I think we are all saying by being here, by being interested, is that we don’t expect that the federal government is going to handle homelessness, or the state; we expect that we are going to have to do something about it. We take it as a personal challenge and make a personal commitment. Those of us who live in this community together make the commitment.

We have beacons of hope, the IFC, the land trust, and so I think it’s true that we are able to make a difference in this local community, that it is an ambitious goal, but that we can achieve it. There has been a lot of chatter and analysis about moral values. It seems to me that the basic moral value is, it’s not us and them, not us and homeless people, it’s all of us. The fundamental moral value is that we are all brothers and sisters and we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters.

And so that leads me to what I’m supposed to talk about: where are we now? I sort of think that is where we are, but here’s the data. We expect to complete the development of the 10-year plan over the next 12 months and that we’re going to have a project administrator to coordinate the efforts, a steering committee of elected people, service providers, business people, homeless people. The development process of the plan is that we’re not creating something new from whole cloth. There are a lot of examples of what we can or can’t do from other parts of the country and state. Over the next several months that’s what we’re going to be doing. I urge all of you to participate to the extent that you can, but also to keep in mind and to believe that it is possible to have a society as rich as ours based on moral values that does not accept that some people just will be homeless.

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