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    t3 Threads: Changing the Conversation

    Jeff Olivet

    Jeff Olivet
    Jeff Olivet is the CEO at the Center for Social Innovation. He is a national leader on homelessness, poverty, affordable housing, behavioral health, public health, and HIV. He has been a street outreach worker, case manager, housing director, coalition builder, writer, teacher, and activist. Jeff is a recognized expert in bringing innovative technologies and solutions to complex social problems.

    Recent Posts

    Coming Together to Address Racism & Homelessness

    This blog is the transcript of a talk delivered by Jeff Olivet in San Francisco on October 17, 2016 at the kickoff of the Center for Social Innovation’s national racism and homelessness initiative, SPARC (Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities).

    When I began as a street outreach worker two decades ago, I was told that homelessness was a problem of affordable housing. It certainly is that. I was also told it was a problem with access to mental health care, addiction treatment, and healthcare for all. In some ways, it certainly is that also. The impression we got was that homelessness was somehow a type of person, a personal failing, or a choice...all of the stereotypes that each of you hears in your everyday work.

    It soon became very clear to me that there is something more going on.

    Open Our Eyes, Open Our Mouths: Do Something about Racism & Homelessness

    This blog is taken from a transcript of a talk given by Jeff Olivet at the African Meeting House in Boston on April 14, 2016, in which Jeff was joined by Marc Dones from the Center for Social Innovation and Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health, Dr. Monica Bharel.

    We Have a Problem
    What an amazing thing to be in this place. A place where powerful voices and powerful leaders and powerful thinkers and powerful activists have changed the world...abolished slavery...fought for equality and human rights. It is a profound experience to stand up here at this podium. And it’s hard for me to say, but I’m here to tell you that we’ve got a problem. We got a problem that we don’t talk about a lot, so we’re going to talk about it now.

    4 Simple Ways to End Homelessness

    Our national consciousness has shifted in recent years from “managing homelessness” to “ending homelessness.” Federal, state, and local policies have focused on specific subgroups, such as veterans, people experiencing “chronic homelessness,” and, more recently, families and youth. In many communities, these efforts have been useful in bringing together new partners, galvanizing public and private support, and shaping public awareness of what it takes to end homelessness.

    Fixing the Structural Causes of Homelessness

    When I began working with people experiencing homelessness more than two decades ago, I viewed homelessness as an isolated social issue. I, like many, thought that the causes of homelessness had to do with unemployment, mental illness, addiction, and domestic violence. What I quickly learned—in large part from the people I worked with in shelters and on the streets—was that individual vulnerabilities were not root causes. These were individual risk factors that helped determine who might slip through the cracks into homelessness. The root causes had more to do with the lack of decent affordable housing and our frayed (or non-existent) health and human services safety net. I came to understand that ending homelessness for an individual or family requires permanent housing coupled with services and supports to maintain stability.

    Homelessness Is a Symptom of Racism

    The United States faces a deeply troublesome, maddeningly persistent racial gap in income and wealth -- a gap that is growing, not shrinking. According to McKernan and colleagues at the Urban Institute, the income ratio between whites and blacks is approximately 2:1, a number that has remained essentially unchanged over the past three decades. More troublesome is the 6:1 wealth ratio between whites and blacks. This suggests that white privilege dominates and results in greater financial prosperity for whites, while leaving black families and individuals out of the nation's economic growth and recovery.

    Homelessness, Racism and Social Justice

    Homelessness is not a social issue. It is not a research question to be studied. And it is certainly not a type of person: someone who ends up on the streets through a series of bad choices or personal flaws. Instead, homelessness mirrors everything that is broken in our society. It reflects our biases, our meanness, our lack of compassion and our views of each other as fellow human beings.

    Say a Prayer for Massachusetts

    8:42 p.m. January 26th. Cambridge, Mass.

    As I write, New England is hunkering down for what the TV meteorologists are saying will be an historic storm. A swath of the east coast from Philadelphia to Boston is bracing 2-3 feet of snow in a 24-hour period. The predicted storm has already caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights--including several for our own staff. The governor of Massachusetts has declared a state of emergency, banning drivers from the roads, closing the state, and predicting hundreds of thousands will be without electricity.

    Too Many Candles

    Cambridge, Massachusetts. December 21, 2014. The first day of winter. The longest night of the year.

    Last Friday I participated in the annual Homeless Memorial Service at the Church on the Hill in Boston. Prayers were said, songs sung, silences held, and names read. To be exact, we read 98 names—the names of people who died in Boston over the past year while experiencing homelessness. In addition to those 98 names, the audience added a dozen more in the silent space between readings. For each name, we lit a candle.

    Not One Child. Not One Night.

    December 2014. This is the time of year when newspapers and television programs pay attention to homelessness again. Unfortunately, homelessness doesn’t begin at Thanksgiving and end at New Years. For all too many men, women, children, and youth, homelessness is a painful, traumatic daily reality. America’s Youngest Outcasts, a state report card on child homelessness from the National Center on Family Homelessness, recently reported that 2.5 million children in America experienced homelessness over the past year. That shocking number, 2.5 million, means that 1 out of every 30 American children have been homeless in the last year. 2.5 million is roughly the size of the greater Kansas City metro area, or the population of Birmingham, Cleveland, Portland, and Albuquerque…combined. Imagine that: a city of 2.5 million people filled with children experiencing homelessness. It is hard to comprehend.

    ANNOUNCING Threads: Changing the Conversation

    Homelessness is devastating. First, it is a painful, often terrifying, traumatic experience for people who become homeless and for those who love them. Second, homelessness is an overwhelming social problem—one that weakens us as a nation and lays bare the underlying injustices that erode our country’s foundation. Homelessness does not represent a type of person or a set of bad decisions by an individual. Instead, it reflects the crossroads of all that is broken in our society: poverty; lack of affordable housing; unemployment; jobs that don’t pay livable wages; poor health care access; inadequate services for mental health, substance use, and trauma; an educational system that allows too many young people to slip through the cracks; fragmented families and dangerous neighborhoods; violence and victimization; racism; and social exclusion.

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