Spare Change News
A couple of days ago I participated in a forum, The MetroWest Homelessness Forum in Wellesley (Yes there is homelessness in Wellesley.)
It was inspiring. I felt a ray of hope, which is pretty unusual these days.
Most of the time when I go to an event like this with advocates I get a lot of great speeches and not much else. Not this time. What stayed with me the most was something the keynote speaker Representative Byron Rushing said.
He spoke about how we were settling for less when it came to homelessness: “Homeless people need housing,” and he is absolutely right.
When I began advocating for the homeless (which I was at the time) with the creation of Spare Change 20 years ago, things were different. Yes we had those so-called advocates who looked at homelessness as a business opportunity more than a crisis. But there were many, many, advocates and the public in general that saw homelessness as a problem that needed to be solved — in fact, ended.
No one should be without a home, and shelters are not homes. Back then there was a real feel that if we could get a handle on it, we could end it, and so many stepped up those efforts.
Many formed organizations such as MHSA, HOST, The Fund for Self – Reliance, and others set a course to end homelessness. People I considered as leaders, such as Phil Mangano, Sue Marsh, Dick Doyle, Macy Delong, Joe Finn, Ruth McCambridge, Mark Follansbee, Tim Harris, Jim Stewart, Chuck Collins, and many, many others lent their voices and hard work to the cause.
When Spare Change was born it lent its voice to the others by showing that “with the proper resources homeless and economically disadvantaged people can make change for themselves in society.” Then something went wrong, as homelessness increased a sense of hopelessness seemed to take hold.
Many of us on the front lines seemed like we were fighting an uphill battle. Some of us joined the establishment hoping that we influence the fight against homelessness from within, and some like myself folded our tents and went on to participate in our own lives. Many returned at some point, but things were drastically different.
When I returned to Spare Change nine years ago I found an organization that was in my opinion settling, just printing a newspaper to for homeless people to sell and that was it. We’ve made great strides since then but there is more work to be done. Just as the fight to end homelessness has made great strides with Housing First programs, but still more must be done.
We must keep fighting until everyone is housed. We must do this by creating jobs, building real affordable housing, and addressing people’s needs before they hit the street.
In a couple of months I will be stepping down as the president of the Homeless Empowerment Project. But I won’t be stepping away from the fight.
JAMES SHEARER is board president and a co-founder of Spare Change News.