People placed into shelter: 2
Flu shots delivered: 77
DMV Identification vouchers given: 20
CES applications completed: 2
- TIME SPENT: 3 HOURS
The last Thursday in October brought the next iteration of collaborative government service to the Central Library in Los Angeles. The growing (and now, nationally-noted) effort to bring services directly to people victimized by homelessness continues to bring energy to all who contribute or participate. It can be said that between the tears we see and share over successful efforts to do something like help a couple keep their RV/home, and the tempered anger we all feel over our lack of ability to impact every life, there is a lot to take in, emotionally.
When I started down my path to impact homelessness in Los Angeles, my focus was on the grandest scale - a big problem with a lot of large, moving parts. We, the hundreds or thousands of individuals working to help others, are the ship. The wicked problem of homelessness a dynamic ocean of shifting needs. Many times, it seems there is no star guiding us all in the same direction. Maybe that’s more true than I realize.
On occasion, whether it’s for a person, or for a group, there’s a catalytic moment: an interaction, or a statement, etc. Something that hardens the resolve and brings clarity and fidelity both to the direction of effort, and it’s source. This last Thursday was one of those moments, for me. An encounter that must be shared, lest the gravity of it be lost in the confines of those who have shared it with me.
After working hard to help the dozens of people who lined up in the morning and early afternoon in the halls of the Central Library, a few of us volunteer “runners” set out to the surrounding area. The hope was that we could entice more people to take advantage of this unique assemblage of services and caring people. I can’t speak to what the other people found, I can only tell you what the man I met told me: “No, thank you."
Something many who act passionately to help people victimized by homelessness lament, are the individuals who will not engage with services, even when they are offered with no strings attached. There are varying degrees of “service resistance” within the population as a whole, and many times that degree is prescribed by the mental and physical health of the individual. The man I met was no different, though I think his resistance was more profound.
As we chatted, he produced a large, sagging mass from his shirt. Whether it was a tumor, or a hernia, or some other kind of growth, I can’t be sure. He told me he wasn’t interested in services, because within two months he would be dead. He didn’t want help, because he didn’t see the point. He had, probably, been disappointed by so many interactions with people desperate to help him, over so many years, that his hope had long since been exhausted.
What if THE SOURCE had been there a year, or two, ago? Would enough of this man’s hope still have been intact to have made a difference? Impossible to know, and only torturous to consider. The only thing we can know is that THE SOURCE wasn’t there two years ago, and so it couldn’t have helped. All it can do is work hard to ensure there are no more people who are so hopeless that help seems like a figment of their imagination.
THE SOURCE is what 21st-Century, citizen-focused government collaboration can look like. Without all of those moving parts (and people, and organizations, and…) that have worked so hard to make it happen, today there would be two more people sleeping on the street. There’d be a family without their RV/home. There’d be a few more people with a little less hope.
Part of the wonderful work that THE SOURCE has created has been new ideas about how service providers measure their own success. Marie-Aimee Brajeux, a Los Angeles-based social impact consultant, recently spoke on the topic as a part of a panel for LA Tech4Good during the recent InnovateLA week. If you or your organization is interested in learning more about what meaningful, human-centered metrics can look like, I urge you to reach out to Marie-Aimee!