Written by Cynthia Brannon, Executive Director
Houston COMPASS, Inc. (COMPASS)
During a recent meeting about the current efforts to end homelessness in Houston, someone remarked, "People only see the problems. They don't see the successes." That made sense to me, because how could the average observer see anything but the problems? There isn't an intersection in Houston that doesn't scream at us that someone is homeless, hungry, or in need of a job. And I've yet to see a cardboard sign that reads, "I used to be homeless, but Miss Lori at COMPASS in partnership with The Way Home helped me move into a nice apartment up the street."
If I didn't have the inside information that comes from working in homeless services for over 17 years, I wonder how this daily visual assault of desperation and cardboard would affect me. I suppose I would be heartbroken, judgmental, and sick of it all at once. I'd give money to some, but not to others. Would I figure out that some of these folks are not actually homeless? I might wonder, Gosh, why don't the social workers get to work?
And I get that. Because it's absolutely true that most of our successes are invisible.
No one sees our elderly client - the man with the tracheotomy, who was living on the streets for years - now sitting on his comfortable brown couch in his tidy little apartment. His transition from sitting on overstuffed black garbage bags under a freeway to his very own couch was long and complicated, and it was a success that no one saw. The work that went into his transformation flew under the radar of the average Houstonian. But I can tell you it was an intentional, focused, and collaborative process. And it is being repeated every day for other homeless individuals all across the city.
This is not meant to be a lecture. I only ask that before you assume the homeless problem is being ignored, please do some homework. Find out about Houston's cutting edge collaborative, The Way Home that is being looked to as a model for other cities in the U.S. Google "The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County." Check out the award-winning housing being built by New Hope Housing. Come and have cup of coffee with me at COMPASS, or call my colleagues at The Beacon, SEARCH, The Coalition, The City of Houston, or any number of other homeless service agencies and learn what "Coordinated Access," "Permanent Supportive Housing," and "Housing Navigation" mean. There are lots of us contributing to the many unseen successes that are getting us closer and closer to ending homelessness in Houston.
If you were to take me up on my invitation, you would learn about the more than 100 partner agencies within The Way Home that have come together to solve this problem in a systematic, compassionate way. You would understand that we are methodically moving homeless men and women off of the streets and out of the shelters, and into permanent housing. It is impossibly slow and difficult. But why wouldn't it be? Our clients are people - not sheep. And it's working - I invite you to see the successes.
To effectively end homelessness for one person, there must be meaningful personal engagement by skilled individuals, a housing assessment, adequate documentation, an available apartment, funding, and some serious hand-holding. These homeless souls have loads of problems and they need help getting into housing. They may be skilled at surviving on the streets, but proving how long they've been homeless, verifying the extent of their disability, filling out complicated applications, reading a long apartment lease and understanding it? Not so much. Sticking with the process without the commitment and guidance of a compassionate professional? Forget it.
Our little agency has two "housing navigators" on the staff. They may as well be realtors, lawyers, chauffeurs, private investigators, movers, interior designers, and big sisters for all of the varied tasks they undertake with each homeless client they move into an apartment. In effect, they are shepherds. It is a complicated, time-consuming, frustrating, but ultimately successful process. In the end, they - and so many others - are producing the success you simply don't see. And I just thought you would be glad to know about it.
By the way, we are open each weekday from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. You really are more than welcome to drop in for that cup of coffee.