1. Educate Yourself
I spent over a year learning about homelessness, and in the first 6 months I went down several different paths thinking each one was the best. It took me a lot of time to develop opinions that I am confident in.
Fortunately, I’ve done a lot of the homework for you! The 20 minute Houston compilation is a wonderful place to start. Mark Putnam’s interview from Seattle is a great next step. Follow that with Lisa Halverstadt’s interview about what’s happening in San Diego, and you’ll be well on your way to knowing that… you have a lot more to learn ; )
Then delve into the National Alliance to End Homelessness website. And finally, read the Strategic Framework report and strategy. Read the recommendations created for Seattle for more discussion of many of these things San Diego is implementing. Also, learn about a $900 million bond measure for low income housing that supports our regional efforts.
2. Get Involved
When I first started researching this topic, I felt like an outsider. And then I heard about the Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH). But it wasn’t clear from their website how to get involved, so I started going to their monthly meetings. I’d show up early and stay late to mingle. After three months, I felt like I had built the relationships and understanding needed to truly be involved.
Go to the RTFH meetings. Come early. Stay late. Talk to people. These are the people planning a truly transformative system of housing and services that can address homelessness for decades to come.
The meetings are the 3rd Thursday of each month at the County Administration Building (1600 Pacific Hwy). They are in rooms 302 and 303. There is free parking in the underground garage under Waterfront Park. Enter from Ash St mid-block when going towards the waterfront.
People tend to demand kneed jerk band-aid fixes when they seem something that outrages them. But with large, societal issues like this, the name of the game is long-termed sustained advocacy and a demand for real solutions, not knee jerk reactions.
What is the best way to advocate? Get a group of 6 to 10 people together representing different parts of your community. Assign one or two people to speak. Schedule a meeting with your elected official or their staff.
Your first and most important targets are your County Board of Supervisors. Next you have the mayors of our 18 cities. Lastly you have your city council representative who must support land use decisions when low income housing developments are proposed. Make them watch the HBO mini-series Show Me a Hero.
4. Help People
Rather than doing something small for a large number of people, try getting involved in the life of one person. Or, if you have the time, the lives of a few people. By doing this, you can make a long term difference in someones life instead of just keeping them just barely surviving on the streets. Get to know them, earn their trust, find out what they need, and help get them off the streets.
This may mean paying for a month or two of rent or letting them camp in your yard while they get back on their feet. Or if they have bigger issues, it may mean helping them navigate the very complicated system that can get them housing, disability income, health care, and more. Through this, you’ll learn a lot about how our system is currently inefficient at getting people off the streets. And you’ll understand how important it is to improve this system by fully implementing the regional plan. But most importantly, you’ll be making a difference in the life of an individual in need.