Slow down and have a conversation

Project Community Connect had another success last Wednesday (10/12). Nearly 350 homeless and at risk households registered for services; the VA StandDown gave away all its sleeping bags and duffels in the first two hours; food, haircuts, dental and eye care were steadily busy all day. (By the way, thanks to all the great staff at the FargoDome, especially Jaimie. Y’all are the greatest!)

I logged about 10 miles running back and forth through the concourse and lobby of the FargoDome, which saved me at least an hour on the treadmill. I like moving fast. One of my frustrations with aging is that my “fast” isn’t what it used to be. But there is beauty in moving more slowly as well. It creates time to make eye contact and to stop and chat with guests and the smiling people waiting at tables to offer help, advice, applications and apples (or chocolate) to passersby.

Today I head for Bismarck and the quarterly meeting of the ND Coalition for Homeless People. Lead by the Fargo Police Department’s Homeless Liaison, Scott Stenerson, my committee is working on discharge planning across the state. One of the large and complex challenges of incarceration is what happens when someone is discharged from jail or prison. A criminal record is a kind of automatic “Do Not Pass Go” card when it comes to finding employment and housing. Being discharged from treatment programs and hospitals can also mean discharge into homelessness. This is a critical aspect of homeless prevention work. How can we reduce and end homelessness when we have a system that continually contributes to the population? On the other side of the coin, what are those institutions to do when their time of service is complete and the individuals being discharged lack the support system that most of us rely on in times of need: family, friends, a savings account?

I have never before met a group of more dedicated people than those providing services to homeless people. That makes attending the state coalition meeting a special blessing — because that dedication and creativity is statewide. Our colleagues in western North Dakota are facing some truly horrific challenges and it is important that we support them. There is a painful and desperate side to the positives of low unemployment and booming energy development. We need to have an honest and open conversation about the difficult impacts of North Dakota’s prosperity. That happens at the state homeless coalition meeting. It needs to happen everywhere.