Monday, October 29, 2012

Hope for Housing Assistance

By Colleen Sinsky

To tell you the truth, when doing this kind of work against homelessness, I usually find it easier to keep my nose to the grindstone and maintain a pretty “zoomed-in” perspective of the housing crisis.  As an individual, I can see positive, tangible results with the individuals I’m working with that day.  If someone needs a ride to urgent care, a supportive presence during an operation, and a chocolate shake afterwards, it’s easy to do that.  Easy to do the manual labor required to move a load of furniture into a once empty apartment or organize a community bbq and kickball party. 

What’s harder for me is trying to wrap my head around the endless need and limited resources on the state or national level.  Daily tasks might be difficult, frustrating or even heartbreaking- but never overwhelmingly hopeless.  Earlier this week I read an article on the Huffington Post called "Sheltering America’s Children".  According to writer Barbara Sard and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the number of desperately poor households, who live on $2 per person per day or less has increased 130% since 1996.  I’m absolutely floored that this statistic is true in the United States, and that that level of extreme poverty is the daily reality for 1,500,000 households. Even more shocking is that just one in five of these households is receiving housing assistance due to limited funding. 

The demand for housing assistance is so high that families in the District of Columbia now applying for Section 8 assistance are put on a twenty year waitlist.  You read that right.  A twenty year waitlist for housing would be a joke if it wasn’t so tragic.  And Multnomah County isn’t any better.  Instead of a ridiculously long waitlist like DC, our Section 8 waitlist was closed years and years ago.  When it was last opened in 2006 nearly 10,000 applications were received in the two-week window.  The good news is that the waitlist is opening again for ten days beginning November 1st.  Obviously this is a big deal for everyone at JOIN, and we’re all gearing up to submit applications with a huge portion of the folks we work with who are struggling with high market rent rates. 

Even when demand far outstrips available assistance, at least there’s a glimmer of hope when your name is one of tens of thousands on a lottery-style waitlist.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Power of Relationships

By Colleen Sinsky

A few nights ago, Quinn and I attended an event that really brought home the importance of our relationship-based model.  A woman who we’ve both worked with, whom Quinn has known for over six years just celebrated her one year of sobriety.  “Melissa” had used hard drugs since she was a young teenager and is one of the toughest, most-street savvy survivors I’ve met.  Her story of addiction is powerful and heartbreaking, and now difficult to imagine having once been the reality of the smiling, confident woman who spoke before a large audience last week.  

It’s an incredible honor to get to be present to Melissa’s struggle and triumph.  Sharing an authentic relationship that spans years is such a wonderfully honest and effective way of bridging divides between people.  We’ve gotten to play a supportive role in more than just a snapshot of someone’s life and instead be present throughout an evolving transformation.  It’s difficult to convey the joy and pride that Quinn and I feel walking alongside Melissa, and how fortunate we are to be part of hers, and so many other individuals’ lives. Thank you Melissa!!

Check out my blog post from 9 months ago where I wrote about what it was like to clean out Melissa's old apartment and together shut the door on her old lifestyle.