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    t3 Threads: Changing the Conversation

    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.

    Advancing Justice: Act Now!

    "Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a plot." —Sun Tzu, The Art of War

    "We are all just trying to be holy." —Richard Siken, Snow and Dirty Rain

     

    If we’re going to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I want to talk about the tactician. I want to talk about the general who methodically moved the war banner of racial equity across the country—who died in the fight.

    Homeless Memorials: Remembering & Re-dedicating

    For those living in the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice on December 21 marks the longest night of the year. It has been marked by a rich history of gathering and revelry. Communities traditionally came together to keep a spark of hope alive for a new and brighter tomorrow--literally and metaphorically.

    Today, in cities across the country, the Winter Solstice marks a different sort of gathering--one of remembrance, respect, solidarity, and responsibility. We remember those individuals, children, mothers, daughters, sons, and fathers we lost to homelessness and poverty--those we failed to help.

    Science-Based Strategies to Support Children Experiencing Homelessness

    Have you ever watched an infant play? I mean really observed them? Try it some time, and while you watch, contemplate this...

    At birth, we have 100 billion neurons, most of which are not connected. Infants form 700 new neural connections every second – tens of thousands of pathways that literally build the architecture of their brains. Through their senses and their relationships, they come to know the external world, and their brain begins to build the systems to understand it. The attention they receive (or don’t) from their primary caregivers, stimulation they receive from their environment, stress they experience and the responses to that stress by those around them reinforce or prune away at their neural connections and promote or hinder cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development.

    Five Ways to Interact with People who are Panhandling

    Right before my eyes, I have seen the numbers of people asking for money increase in New Bedford, MA. Seven years ago, you might have seen two or three people a month. Now, there are four at a single intersection every day.

    You may ask, how do I interact with these individuals? Do I give money, or will they just spend it on drugs and alcohol? Do I provide food? Do I put my head down and pretend I don’t see them at all? Are they even homeless? Am I being played? Depending on whom you ask, you will most likely get a different answer. The Center for Social Innovation and t3 have a wealth of knowledge about homelessness. So, I asked my colleagues, what do they do when someone asking for money approaches them? There were many different opinions, but five patterns arose.

    Helping Children Respond to Homelessness

    My kids have known about homelessness since the moment they knew about things. They are currently 5 and 8 years old and were gestated, born, and grew up while I was running a drop-in center for homeless young adults. In addition to constantly hearing about my work and people with whom I worked, they came to picnics, holiday parties, talent shows, and many other community events connected to the drop-in center.

    They knew by name some of the young adults who lived or panhandled on the streets of Harvard Square. They made pictures for my clients who moved into housing “so they have something pretty on the wall." Their room is decorated with artwork created by homeless young adults; they say “I hope I can be that good at art one day.” One rainy and cold fall morning, my oldest – who was 6 at the time – looked at me over breakfast and said “Rain, rain, go away. Mama’s friends have nowhere to stay.” My children are aware of homelessness, poverty, and injustice – understanding this is part of understanding their mother.

    Elder Homelessness: Acknowledging the Need and Responding

    We see the need almost every day. As we move through our daily routines, we encounter people who are experiencing homelessness. Occasionally we will drop change in their cup or walk on the other side of the street. On any particular day, we may be on our way to Starbucks or to the grocery store when we notice a person who is experiencing homelessness. We sadly lament…it is horrible that a person is elderly and homeless. We stop and think about the horrors of homelessness, especially for elders. Then we continue on our journey...

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