Monday, February 9, 2015

The Fight To End Homelessness

Brett Tucker

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take place in Chicago’s annual point-in-time homeless count. One night each year, volunteers canvas all of Chicago in order to count and locate the city’s homeless. This information is then used to help determine what funding and resources local agencies will receive. During the count groups search hospitals, bus stations, alleyways, homeless shelters, and more during about a five-hour span. All volunteers receive training before the count begins, and so I gathered with 15 others at the Night Ministry in Ravenswood, where we discussed techniques and tips as well as divided into our groups for the evening. I was assigned to the Lincolnwood neighborhood, along with former FOA volunteer Patrick and Dave, a city employee. The three of us headed out at about 9pm, with stacks of surveys and a box full of gloves and scarves in hand.  

We arrived at our location and began driving the side streets in search of anyone who might be homeless. After about 30 minutes, it became apparent that we weren’t going to see anyone on the streets that night. Our area was highly residential, several blocks from any restaurants, businesses, or other public areas. We ended up driving for over two hours without recording a single homeless person.

Instead of letting this discourage us, Dave took the time to give us an overview of homelessness in Chicago. As an employee of the city’s Department of Family and Support Services, Dave has taken part in the count for the past several years. Part of his job includes researching homelessness for the city, so he provided a unique insight into how homelessness operates in Chicago. He talked about the approximately 6,000 homeless individuals in the city, and the how the majority live on the streets, unable to find space in a shelter. He also talked about the various challenges homeless individuals often face, from mental health issues and physical disabilities to employment challenges and language barriers.  

As Dave spoke, he reminded me of the conversations I’ve had with the other full time volunteers. We talk often about the need for collaboration, for organizations to focus on what they’re good at and to allow others to work according to their strengths and passions. No one can end homelessness alone; we all have a part to play. The end of homelessness will be closest when we realize this fact, and share resources and collaborate with others who ultimately have the same goal that we do. 

Throughout my time at Franciscan Outreach, I’ve often been frustrated by my inability to give someone housing or provide them with a job. It’s easy to feel like we do little to help our guests in a meaningful way. My conversation with Dave helped me connect my role to the larger fight to end homelessness. The support we provide through meals and conversation is a vital step in helping someone end a life on the streets. I may not be able to give someone housing, but I can provide a little comfort along the way. We all have a part to play, and I’m beginning to see how my work here is part of the larger picture.