Editor's note: The following article is the first of a two-part series by Randy Shumway, chairman of the Cicero Group, as he addresses the homeless situation in Utah. The second article is found here.
Shortly after his release from prison, Brandon Kitchen found himself homeless and feeling devoid of hope. He found refuge at the Road Home. A compassionate Salt Lake City police officer helped him find temporary employment through the city’s HOST program as well as transportation to and from his place of employment. The Pioneer Park Coalition helped find transitional housing. Faith-based volunteers engulfed Brandon in much-needed encouragement, love and support.
Just a few weeks ago — three years after his release from prison — Brandon sent a picture of gratitude to the many people who had helped him along his journey. The picture showed an exuberant Brandon with his wife and two beautiful sons closing the mortgage on their first apartment.
Brandon’s path was littered with obstacles, but a community more concerned with forgiveness and growth than with punishment came together to support him each step of the way. Stories like Brandon’s are not the norm but they occur frequently enough to provide hope for all in the difficult and complex fight against homelessness.
Much press has emerged the past few months wherein out-of-state, so-called experts demean Utah’s recent efforts to help our homeless population. These “experts” criticize the proposed solutions and challenge the motives of leaders who are making genuine sacrifices to help those in greatest need.
The reality is that no one is an expert in solving homelessness. Sadly, there is a surprising dearth of evidence or research of municipalities in the United States successfully solving the difficulties of homelessness.
Because the root causes behind the recent national explosion in homelessness are diverse and complicated, finding a solution will require significant trial and error along with collective trust and transparency. Virtually every person engaged — from volunteers and service providers to elected officials, business leaders and faith-based organizations — is genuinely concerned for the long-term benefit of individuals currently homeless.
Theodore Roosevelt once taught, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.” Positively impacting homelessness is going to require fewer personal attacks and a collective willingness to try, evaluate, fail at, learn from and improve upon different ideas.
Those suffering most are real people who are experiencing real pain. Finding the right solutions matters! It requires an all-hands-on-deck approach as we combine our best efforts to achieve substantive change. Because the problem is complex, we must sit together, share our best ideas and then build consensus for those recommendations that have the best likelihood of success. As we subsequently implement those ideas with vigor and an objective, honest evaluation process, we must humbly accept where we fail, rapidly recalibrate, and bravely try new ideas.
As Brandon’s example teaches us, success stories need not be the exception. One critical objective — maybe the primary objective — should be helping individuals who are currently homeless increasingly feel of our love, hope and respect, propelling them to increased self-worth and dignity. One method of achieving this is by providing our homeless population multiple small opportunities to garner further skills and capacity. Doing so demonstrates our belief in them, conveying and building confidence in individuals who may have lost some of their spirit.
In the second part of this article, I outline several ideas that the Dignity of Work task force is testing and recalibrating in an effort to build confidence and capacity within a sub-segment of those who are struggling with homelessness. None of the ideas alone is a silver bullet; some of the ideas will inevitably fail. And developing knowledge and skills along with finding employment opportunities will alone not be sufficient to serve the total population. It will be just one piece of a complex puzzle. Support for mental illness, substance addictions, domestic abuse and allowing individuals who have made mistakes to garner fresh slates are all critical components for success. This is why the challenges truly require myriad, coordinated efforts and why we need all Utahns’ help.
Randy Shumway is the founder and chairman of the Cicero Group (www.cicerogroup.com) and is a member of the Dignity of Work task force.