Last month, four members of our Graduate Council and I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to attend the Annual Conference on Ending Homelessness, sponsored by the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH).
It was a powerful experience in so many ways. LPCS, like many community-based agencies, is working to end homelessness every day, one individual at a time. Because our Guests are in crisis, our work is often myopic. It is difficult to take a step back and see the larger picture – the social and political context in which our programs are operating. As a social worker, I am committed to social justice, and our staff and Guests are also involved in some level of regional or local advocacy work. It is critical to be able to reframe the problem in this way and work on multiple levels to solve it.
Seeing over 1,500 people gathered in Washington, D.C. from all over the nation with the same overarching goal of ending homelessness in our communities was inspiring. We shared ideas, talked about what works and what doesn’t, and heard from our government partners about opportunities and lessons learned. Nan Roman, president of the NAEH, said that over time, the “positive” effects of a crisis – such as innovation and a sense of urgency – begin to wear off. The ultimate message is that we cannot let the residual effects of the recession (high unemployment rates, rising homelessness, and government funding cuts) become the “new status quo.” We need to continue to work with a sense of urgency and continue to innovate. I left the conference with a notebook full of ideas to implement in Chicago and at LPCS.
Regardless, the best part of the trip was seeing the conference – and the Capitol – through Graduates’ eyes. Marnee, Zyg, Inara, and Albert had all visited D.C. before, but none had been on a trip of this sort. We sat in workshops, met with legislators on Capitol Hill, and even had time for some sightseeing (braving the 100 degree temps!). All four stated that, although it was tiring and overwhelming at times, they really enjoyed the conference and came back feeling energized and hopeful for the future:
I am grateful to have gone to the conference. When you are homeless, it’s easy to think that you are isolated and that only a handful of people care. But there are more people who care, more people involved in trying to solve the problem all throughout the country, than I could have imagined. –Zyg
Prior to going to the conference, the only thing I knew about homelessness was how to survive it. I am encouraged to see the number of advocates, service providers, and even legislators who are doing all they can to alleviate the problem. - Albert
Check out the video below for more of their thoughts and reflections on the trip. And a special thank you to the Presbytery of Chicago, Self Development of People Fund, for making this trip possible for our Graduate Council!