Health Care

Desolate, hopeless, distressing, painful, unpredictable, heartbreaking, inadequate

Rhode Island outreach workers react to new homelessness numbers…

June 8, 2023, 9:47 am

By Steve Ahlquist

Laura Jaworski is the Executive Director for House of Hope CDC, which does outreach and advocacy for members of the public experiencing homelessness. She spoke at the press conference announcing this year’s Point in Time numbers, which were frankly alarming. Here’s what she said:

House of Hope believes that housing is a basic human right. Everything that we do in every single nook and cranny of our organization is in service of this core tenant of our mission. I was asked to speak today, to share my reaction to the data collected from this year’s Point in Time count. I imagine I was asked, in large part, due to the street base outreach work that is done at House of Hope on a day-to-day basis. You all know me well enough to know that I don’t pull any punches and I lead with vulnerability and honesty. So anger is the only emotion that I have to share today as a reaction to today’s data. I’m so angry [that despite] what feels like tremendous tons of energy and effort, things feel like they are not improving. We have the facts and the data to back that feeling up, and that’s validating, and it’s only getting worse.

I was also asked to share what the outreach worker experience has been like. Trust me, they were far more eloquent than I was, but they pinpoint the exact emotions and experiences that they are facing on a day-to-day basis, and it’s a really important voice that I wanto to uplift today. So bear with me. I’m gonna read exactly what they shared:

“Desolate, hopeless, distressing, painful, unpredictable, heartbreaking, inadequate – questioning if we’re doing enough and doing more with less – horrified, scared. Frustrated that the acuity of the need doesn’t seem to be acknowledged at all by our system and our leaders, and that, quite frankly, it’s easier to refer someone to a campsite than it is to any other resource in the state.”

This is the landscape that our outreach team is stepping into each and every day, and this is the landscape that we’re in when we’re trying to engage with people, build trust, offer resources, guidance, and hope every day. Our team and many others are having to make impossible decisions about where to prioritize time and effort – when the reality is, is that we are aware of and bearing witness to far more crises than we’re able to meaningfully manage and involve ourselves in.

And that is a grave moral injury.

We also know, as we’ve also heard today, that there are plenty of solutions out there that we need to do either more of, or create, in our state. Housing problem solving is one of those critical resources that unhoused folks need. To be able to assist their households with flexible funding, to meet the needs that they state that they need, because they know the best solutions to meet them. We need more temporary emergency shelter. We hate the fact that we have to advocate for more shelter in a state that is committed to building more housing, but we simply don’t have enough emergency shelter, and we need a safe, dignified space for people to be until we can create the housing that our leaders have so generously flagged in this year’s budget and moving forward. We need a bridge to get there.

And of course, we can’t forget the workforce that has been doing this work each and every day. They are the folks, we need to remember, doing this work, that are on the front lines, having to deliver difficult messages that often come with empty hands and no resources. We cannot forget them in this fight.

In closing, my hope is that we see that these numbers are not just numbers, but that there are also people behind them. [My hope is] that we start to take real steps and create real solutions that can meet not only people’s basic needs for safe, adequate shelter, but affordable housing. [My hope is] that we all do this in a dignified way, that is thoughtful and engaging with the people that are not only doing this work, but most importantly, those who are unhoused themselves. [My hope is] that they are listened to, actually heard and engaged, towards the solutions that best meet their needs for safe, adequate, shelter and housing.

See: The numbers are in and it’s official: Homelessness is rising – fast