By Elizabeth Langgle-Martin, Street Outreach and Resource Navigator
As an outreach worker and housing navigator, my favorite of days are move-in days. The days where the efforts of my unhoused friend and the countless hours we’ve worked together blossom into the tangible outcome of house keys, a signed lease and a place to call home. I’ve been incredibly lucky to say that I’ve got to experience that day over 26 times in the past year and a half. Between the sweat of unloading boxes and bed springs, we smile and laugh and talk about where to put the couch or what they will cook as their first meal in their new home. While it is not the end of the journey, and challenges still follow, it is a moment of hope and liberation that feels like homelessness truly can come to an end.
But what happens when that day never comes? When the barriers, trauma, and stigma are too much and housing eludes us once again. When weeks, months, years of effort end not in house keys but in tears and frustration and hopelessness. Those are the hardest days. The days that I wonder if I can continue to do this work and if my friends will ever truly know the peace of shedding their season of homelessness and moving forward with their hopes and dreams that I’ve come to know as well as my own.
I recently had one of these days.
And I scanned job description postings for few minutes and dreamed about what it would be like for my breath not to catch every time I helped a friend apply for housing or to not ache when a denial is received.
To not have to factor in mental health struggles, past addictions, literacy levels, legal backgrounds and lack of transportation.
To not feel the dread of notices posted around tents stating that our friends’ very efforts of survival are illegal and not permitted.
To not weep at the hateful words posted about our friends from a person sitting in the comfort of their own home behind the anonymity of a screen and a keyboard.
But, then I remember that my disconnect from the struggle would not make it go away. Distancing myself from the hurt and pain of our friends without housing will not fix anything. It would not provide me with peace of mind but would only serve as an existence wrapped in privilege and chosen ignorance.
It is in the struggle that I am the best version of myself.
It is in the struggle that I learn who I want to be.
My best teachers are those who hand deliver me a card on my birthday, despite the fact that they slept in an alley the night before. Those who fight to maintain their sobriety despite the fact that society still views them as an addicts and denies them the dollar they need for bus fare. Those who take two buses and walk a mile to get access to a hot shower and an available washing machine.
These friends challenge me, encourage me, and push me to a greater understanding of community, resilience, and love.
I may not always work in homelessness services in a professional role, but I will always choose to be a part of this struggle whether it ends in house keys and laughter or tears and the courage to continue on another day.
I invite you in. You’ll never be the same.