Thursday, April 1, 2010

A trip to Springfield

Working in such a hands on environment at the shelter, truly at the grassroots level, is so valuable in terms of understanding the day to day struggles of homelessness. But it’s always important to take a step back and recognize the systemic problems that make homelessness happen. Being in Springfield jolted me back to that reality. It is easy to “blame the victim,” profess that individuals need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. But homelessness, at its core, is a musical chairs dilemma. More people than places to sit. This is something that I tried to get across to people I spoke with at the capitol. When I sat down with my state rep, it was apparent that he actually did understand this, that affordable housing is limited. The problem was that he put the burden on the non-profits themselves to find the resources to create all of the housing necessary. The fact that non-profits might not be in the business of MAKING MONEY hadn’t dawned on him. It is important for groups of people to continue reminding our state representatives and senators that fighting homelessness is a struggle that requires the collaboration of non-profits doing on-the-ground work, individuals being empowered to make positive life decisions, AND the government shaping a just and equitable system via their lawmaking.

Being given the brush off by two of my legislators certainly made it clear to me that they are not worried about the homeless population in terms of their ability to shape the next political election. It’s true, persons without a home are much less likely to register to vote, go door to door for candidates, donate to campaigns, and show up at the polls on election day. That’s why it’s important for those of us who DO engage in such political actions to speak out and be the best voice of homeless individuals that we can possibly be. Helping provide day to day services to people in need is something I take pride in. But remembering that shelter guests are a SYMPTOM of the problem, and not the problem itself, is critical. This trip to Springfield helped encourage me to look to legislators in helping ameliorate some of these struggles, as opposed to putting all of the responsibilities on non-profits and the individuals themselves, which I sometimes do. No matter how impressive this shelter is, and no matter how much good work it does, we can’t forget that the buck stops in capitol buildings.
--Katie McNamara, LPCS Volunteer Coordinator, Americorps*VISTA

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