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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.

    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.

    Entering into the Shadows of Whiteness

    “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.” – David Gaider

    “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” – Author Unknown

     

    Clyde Lloyd shared with me an encounter he had while attending a conference in a hotel. Heading down to the conference check-in area, he was alone in an elevator as it stopped to pick up another passenger. A woman looking at her cellphone entered. Upon glancing up, she stopped abruptly, then quickly exited the elevator murmuring, “Go ahead. I’ll wait for the next one.”

    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.

    Providing Quality Minority Mental Health Care

    Research on “health care disparities,” the euphemism for unnecessary deaths and adverse outcomes among people from low socioeconomic groups and from communities of color, often attribute them to individual characteristics and structural barriers within mental health systems. Most often an individual’s use of services as well as the way services are arranged and delivered are cited as causes.

    I want to begin by commenting on what is going wrong and then discuss what is hopeful in the provider-client relationship. Although research is taking place, there is little agreement about best practices and ethical standards in minority mental health care. The issues of staff bias, racism, institutional racism, prevailing practices, and methods of prioritizing who gets time and attention are omitted from the discussion. Also, questions of discrimination that stem from preconceived notions and racial profiling of African American people and/or questions of how stigma influences medical decisions are absent, if not actively avoided, in discussions of healthcare disparities.

    How Privilege Masks Racism

    A few months ago, I wrote a post for this blog about the intersection of trauma, racism, and violence. Since then, my frustration, sadness, confusion, and anger has grown. With continued news of violence, especially against people of color (I use this term to be as inclusive as possible), I feel compelled to follow up.

    I want to start with something I wrote in my last post: We can no longer rely on our privilege to shield us from the reality of racism in this country.

    A.O.: After Orlando – Fragments

    Inexcusable, the slaughter in this world.
    Insufficient, the merely decent man.

    At the Restaurant, Stephen Dunn

    I.

    There’s a certain kind of loss that is supposed to accompany terrorism. A loss of innocence and the sort of sudden and caustic realization that you are not safe—that safety in this world is an illusion, anyone can have access to your personhood at any point. You’re supposed to think to yourself, How could this happen?

    After Orlando: Reflections on LGBTQ Solidarity

    The Friday before Pulse Nightclub’s Latin Night was the target of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history (read Marc Dones' thoughts on the impact of the tragedy in Orlando), I was in Boston at Machine Nightclub’s Latin Night. At this local gay nightclub packed for Pride weekend, my friend and I danced, waited too long at the bar for overpriced drinks, cheered Latinx drag performers and gogo dancers, and left before the bar closed to get a good night’s sleep for the rest of the celebratory weekend.

    The next morning, the Saturday morning before Pulse Nightclub’s Latin Night, I hurried to the Boston Pride float I was walking with and took in an unexpected sight. Of the more than 50 people already there, about three quarters were wearing sombreros, in assorted colors and patterns, ready to march to represent a prominent LGBTQ-focused organization that has no unique ties to the Latinx community.

    I exchanged a few words with my friends about it. Did you know about this? Whose idea was this? Should we say something?

    Racism and Youth Homelessness

    This post is taken from a transcript of comments by Jeff Olivet [JO] and Marc Dones [MD] at the White House Policy Briefing on Ending Youth Homelessness on June 3, 2016 sponsored by The White House, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, and True Colors Fund.

    [JO]: We have a problem. It is a problem that rarely gets named. We talk about health disparities. We talk about cultural competence. We talk about disproportionality. We sugarcoat the language and speak in euphemisms.

    What we do not say often enough or loudly enough is that racism and homelessness are inextricably linked. Yes, racism. It is time to speak truth. It is time to call it what it is.

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