Miles remaining in the challenge: 48.49
At the day job I work for a trade association that represents the apartment industry, thus the companies I work with are on the front lines of our nation’s housing situation. You may not be aware of it, but we do indeed have a housing situation that can be best summed up as this: we have too many people who don’t make enough money to pay for the housing that’s available, and/or we don’t have enough housing units that are affordable for people at the bottom of the income scale. Even worse, we have a LOT of people who, thanks to any number of life events, lose their housing and thus end up living in flop houses, cars, tents or under a bridge.
Because apartment owners and managers provide over a third of the housing in the U.S, and a majority of the rental housing, they are often looked to for a solution to the problem of affordability and homelessness. It would be great if they could snap their fingers and solve the problem, but due to the complexity of the issue (static income, increases in the costs of everything from health care to food, lack of housing inventory in general, etc.) this is not something housing providers can solve on their own. That’s not to say that people in the industry aren’t trying, and a perfect example is a woman named Lori Trainer who has been working for years down in Florida to address homelessness in her community. (Here’s a link to a video about some of her work, and I’ll embed it below as well). She just wrote an article for Multifamily Insiders titled The Story Behind the Sign that helps put homelessness in perspective. Here’s an excerpt:
We’ve all seen the homeless person with the sign on the side of the road and when we do, many people think these thoughts. What the people offering these judgments don’t realize is that the overwhelming majority of people don’t “choose” to be homeless. In fact, nearly 50% of the homeless in America are working. Why are they homeless then? Well, that is the “564,788 person question” (the number of homeless on the street each night according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness).
The causes of homelessness range from sad to tragic. Job loss, foreclosures, divorce and natural disasters such as the tragedies we are seeing in the Midwest and in Canada are a few examples. These storm victims certainly didn’t choose to be homeless or do anything wrong but they are indeed homeless now. If their insurance isn’t perfect, takes a year to work out the details or worse yet, doesn’t pay, what do those families do? They have lost everything; their homes, belongings and jobs. They are now homeless…
Another very prevalent and sad demographic in the homeless arena are families. Approximately 206,268 were identified in the last count. Divorce, domestic violence, death, single parents and low wage workers are all in this category. Children are resilient but often suffer irreparable damage when forced to live in vehicles, shelters or motels for weeks or months on end. 60 Minutes did a great job highlighting this epidemic:https://youtu.be/L2hzRPLVSm4 (Be sure to have tissues handy!)
Then Lori goes on to point out that there are many, many more people who are just a misstep away from becoming homeless themselves.
Many people think it could never happen to them. But the truth is that one out of three people are two paychecks away from being homeless. There are 12 million renters pay more than 50% of their annual income for housing and 37 million people living in poverty in America. Simple fact, a minimum wage worker cannot support a household and pay rent. There is a critical shortage of affordable housing in the US and, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition; approximately 200,000 units are destroyed annually. That combined with the “aging out” tax credit population and the mile long waiting lists for section 8 vouchers, we have the perfect storm.
One of the initiatives we are working on at the national level in the industry is to identify the programs that industry groups are participating in at the local level around the country. For instance, my employer is working with Partners Ending Homelessness to help match their clients with available apartment units in Guilford County. What we’ve found is that like many things in life, the concept is simple but the implementation is complex. Still, we’ve seen progress and we will continue working because this is an issue that will be with us for the foreseeable future.
That’s just one initiative in one community, but that’s the kind of effort we’re going to need in every community around the country to address homelessness, because quite frankly this is not an issue that can be solved from Washington. What our national leadership CAN do is address the big picture issues that underlie homelessness, including:
Another chief culprit is an under-performing, and some would say under-valued, education system, but that’s not just a Washington issue so let’s not throw it entirely on them. The point is that homelessness is the most severe symptom of an ailing nation. If we are truly measured by how we treat the least of us, then as a nation and a community we have a lot we need to do to heal ourselves.
Here’s the video about the effort in Florida that Lori’s been a big part of:
Friend Kim Williams has written an important opinion piece for the Winston-Salem Journal and I highly recommend you check it out. Here’s just a snippet:
Being an addict means so much that is negative in our lives. Lies, stealing, distrust – we wrap addicts in all of these things. However, I would like to believe that that is only part of the truth.
One of the major obstacles to recovery is public stigma. The stigma comes, in part, from the way we talk and think about recovery. Addict. Junkie. Druggie. These terms carry with them the Hollywood scenes and dramatic memories of the underbelly of alcoholism and addiction. These words cause us to ignore the people like myself who are living in recovery. These words and prejudices cause us to objectify the addict and the alcoholic. We can then easily place them in the box with the “town drunk” as too often incurable. As a result, when I sought help, the help that was available to me existed only in church basements, amid bad coffee, smoke-veiled doorways and broken stories of destruction and carnage…
According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 23.1 million people ages 12 and older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem last year, but only 2.5 million received treatment at a specialty facility. About one-quarter of those who need treatment but do not receive it lacked insurance, according to the article…
There are an estimated 23 million people in the United States who are living in long-term recovery. I am an addict, but I’d prefer to say something different. I am a person in long-term recovery. What that means to me is that I haven’t had alcohol or other drugs since July 10, 1999. This has allowed me to become a better person, a loving father, grandfather and husband. I have established myself as a productive member of my community and a successful business leader.
Kim’s focus here is on the price that individuals pay for their addiction and the lack of resources many of them find when they look for help, but we should also keep in mind the impact that the lack of resources have on the rest of us. Our prisons are full of people put there for drug crimes, we have foster homes filled with children who are a product of homes broken by addiction and we have friends and families who suffer the agony of watching their loved ones kill themselves slowly and abuse those around them in the process. In one way or another addiction takes a tremendous toll on everyone, not just the addicted, and we long ago passed the point where we need to change how we address the issue.
If you read nothing else today, this week, this month, this year, then you must read To the Teacher Who Changed My Life: Thank You
Most of all he testified to the messiness of life. In high school a lot of people are trying to fix you and improve you and elevate you. Neal Tonken listened and affirmed that things were confusing. Because he loved passionately, spoke loudly (and occasionally out of turn), and found life overwhelming in both beauty and frustration, he understood what you were saying. What I was saying.
He did all of this without letting us off the hook. I got a C-plus each semester in his class. I might have been newly alive but I was messy, and it was no good to be alive if you couldn’t make something of that passion in a way that makes sense to other people. “His work suffers from lack of personal discipline and attention to detail,” is how he put it.
He had high standards and expected us to meet them. But we wanted to. He did not have much time for BS. In the tributes after his death, classmates remembered his comments when they tried to sneak something by him. Dan Manatt, now a documentarian, tried to loaf by with a paper on The Great Gatsby that used a lot of fancy words to cover up that he was winging it. “There’s much less here than meets the eye,” wrote Mr. Tonken. Sam Thomas, now a novelist, did the same thing on a paper. “This is pure fluff. If it weren’t well written it would be an F. D.”…
Another student, who had graduated almost 20 years after I had, drove straight from Ann Arbor when she heard the news. She brought her Norton Anthology of Poetry. She came into the room to read him letters that were just arriving from students who heard he was ill. A special inbox had been set up, and it was filling rapidly. She read letter after letter from students who weren’t just recalling events from his class but how he had changed their lives too. The room filled up with grateful souls.
That was Neal’s last lesson. That example. To let us see life in that rich tally—an accumulation of gratitude deserved and expressed. I got a chance to thank Neal, and it makes me think of other teachers to whom I am grateful—Bonnie Mazziotta, Sally Selby, Juan Jewell, George Lang, Ellis Turner, Susan Banker, JoAnne Lanouette, Harold Kolb and Anthony Winner. I carry with me what they have given by their instruction and their example. Perhaps you have teachers like that in your life. Write them. Be clear and direct. Tell them “thank you.”
I’ll take this another step and say that you shouldn’t just thank those who taught you in school. Think of the mentors you’ve had at work, church or civic organization. Think of the friends and peers who helped guide you through life with a perfectly timed piece of advice, a nudge in the right direction or a much needed “I call BS” moment. Think of your grandparents, aunts and uncles, and close family friends. Think of your spouse. Think of your parents. And after you think of them you most definitely should reach out and thank them.
Your legacy can be pretty easily identified by how people speak about you when you’re gone. Stuart Scott, a grad of RJ Reynolds HS here in Winston-Salem and UNC, became famous as a sportscaster for ESPN. Based on how his colleagues are speaking about him I’d say he’s left a helluva legacy.
To me one of the most important things we can do as human beings is to assume positive intent from the person we’re working with or talking to. What that means is that even if you say or do something I disagree with, I assume your intention in saying or doing it was to create some kind of positive outcome. By doing this I can look at another person’s action or words and think, “Okay, why would Jane think that was the right thing to do?” even though I might think it’s completely wrong. Rather than take it as an assault or an insult, I view it as a step towards some kind of (eventually) positive outcome.
One of the most maddening things about human beings is that we tend to see everything in black or white, right or wrong, us versus them. It’s maddening because it instantly divides us and it makes us predictable and easy to manipulate. It also prevents us from solving our society’s hard problems which all live in the gray areas, the ambiguous territory between what’s obviously right or wrong, the responsibility of not me, or you, but both of us.
All of this is nothing new – people have been like this since the dawn of time – but now we get to see these tendencies on full display on a daily basis through peoples’ new forms of interaction, namely social media. Not to put too much import on Facebook or Twitter, they are simply a new way for people to express the feelings they’ve had all along, but in the past we were limited to hearing the opinions of those we actually shared a physical space with or the limited number of people who wrote for a newspaper or broadcast on radio or TV. Now we can see or hear the opinions of people we might see in person once a decade, and their friends, and those drips of sharing turn into a flood of opinions.
Unfortunately, most people either don’t have the time or the ability to formulate nuanced or well thought out positions on the issues of the day and so they default to sharing some quote or visual that represents their opinion and helps identify them as being in the pro-this camp or con-that camp. Then they get a thumbs up from those who think like them or maybe a visceral “eff you” from someone who sees things differently.
It would be easy to dismiss this as silliness, as just people spouting off on stupid platforms intended to waste time at work, but I think that would be a mistake. When you have serious social issues like the police protests going on, any medium that is potentially contributing to the division in our society should be taken seriously. So the question becomes, are our social media channels contributing to a widening divide in our country?
Short answer: maybe, but they don’t have to. Let’s return to my original statement about assuming positive intent. Take any of the things you see on Facebook – or whatever your social media platform of choice is – that you disagree with and think to yourself, “They must be saying or sharing that because they believe something good will result. What is it?” By doing that you avoid thinking, “Man, Jon’s a moron for saying that and I know that because I’m right and he’s wrong.” The moment you pass judgment is the moment you begin to close your eyes, your windows to the world, to the possibility that there’s an alternative view you may not have considered.
Of course some people don’t have positive intent. In fact there are plenty of people who would like nothing more than to take advantage of any given situation, but you can rest assured that they will reveal themselves very quickly. You have nothing to lose by assuming positive intent and then reacting accordingly if you find otherwise, but if you don’t assume positive intent then you will never have the opportunity to learn from those who think differently than you. Remember, different doesn’t have to be wrong or right, it’s just different.
So folks, please as a favor to me, when you’re getting all hot and bothered about an issue please remember to do yourself and our society a favor – assume positive intent until proven otherwise.