Spend any amount of time around the campus of Seattle University and the idea of using your degree to make the world a more socially just place becomes engrained within you and any plans you might have for yourself rather quickly. This is Jesuit magic. They have built a university where you are expected to leave a more compassionate and caring human being. You may not share the same faith as those who lead the university, but you will leave understanding our common humanity.
This common humanity has been on my mind a lot lately. Recently, I moved away from Seattle (for a couple of years) to Los Angeles. I left behind a role as the Director of Fund Development and Community Relations at Kent Youth and Family Services to take on the role as Director of Philanthropy for Skid Row Housing Trust. Every day of the work week, I take a bus through the heart of Skid Row, walk down its streets, and interact with human beings forgotten by our common humanity.
For those unfamiliar with Skid Row, it encompasses 4.3 square miles of downtown Los Angeles and is home to 5,000 or so homeless men and women. This population is part of a larger humanitarian crisis across LA where 55,000 men, women, and children are homeless. Skid Row is notorious because in many ways it mimics a refugee camp but differs thanks to the conditions people find themselves. People live in tents, sleep on benches/sidewalks, have little access to facilities, often appear to be suffering from drug addiction, mental health disorders, or co-occurring disorder, and find themselves surrounded by mounds of trash/human waste. To walk through Skid Row is to walk through a neighborhood unrecognizable to most Americans.
While homelessness in Los Angeles is a humanitarian crisis, the crisis is playing out across the country. Seattle has 11,000 people living on its streets. Montana has seen a 33% rise in homelessness. Denver can’t build affordable or permanent supportive housing fast enough. Dallas is building tiny houses for its homeless and New York has a population that rivals LA. No corner of this nation is without a homeless challenge.
The solution to this challenge is multi-faceted. It involves job training, rental stabilization, properly funding support services, building market rate/permanent supportive/transitional/shelter focused housing, admitting we botched the war on drugs and shifting our focus to therapy, ending our lip service to mental health funding and putting our resources to work. These are policy and cultural shifts that must occur. These things take time. On our way to these long-term solutions, we can change ourselves.
Homeless people are people. They are your mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and best friends. They are people forgotten by policy, economics, society, and, as is often the case, themselves. They are our neighbors. All major religions and even those movements without any focus on a supreme being share something in common; love thy neighbor as you love yourself. Homeless people aren’t to be avoided, stepped over, and ignored. They are to be loved and supported. Volunteer, advocate, and fight for them. Fight for them as if you were fighting for yourself. Those things we believe demand we do nothing less.
Which brings me back to Seattle University… Your educational experience should do more than train you for a future position. It should train you to be a better and more compassionate person. For all my challenges with higher education, I most proud for a graduate experience where I walked away with such empowering knowledge. Now, it is time to put that knowledge to work.
Be good to each other,
I've never asked readers for financial support before. I am committed to keeping content on this site free and open to all. For me, this means no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what I create, please consider making a contribution on Patreon.