GUEST BLOGGER: Joe Finn, President & Executive Director, Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance

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“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” After the death of Nelson Mandela, I lost track of how many times I heard this quote of his being used in every imaginable context. Although I have yet to discover its original usage, I cannot help but believe this phrase truly reflects the values of a person wholly committed to hope for change shaped by truth and justice. We use this phrase as we remember Mandela because it speaks volumes to those who approach their life, their community, and their world from a perspective that suggests that positive social and economic change is a real possibility.

Ira Silver’s book Giving Hope: How You Can Restore the American Dream testifies to a number of organizations across the nation who use their resources to give hope at both the personal and social levels. Although such “hopeful” nonprofits exist in the area of homelessness, housing, and poverty, organizations that struggle with these issues are not immune from a banal and insidious form of despair – a despair that does not focus on change, but instead attempts to reinforce the status quo.

Unfortunately, these voices of despair – too often prevalent in discussions about homelessness – are frequently shaped more by institutional and organizational needs than by the common good or the best interests of those they aspire to serve. These voices would argue that the “emergency” shelter is an acceptable urban housing niche providing custodial care to a subpopulation somehow deemed “not housing ready.” Overcoming the present reality of homelessness, some say, is impossible.

But it is not impossible! Every day, organizations across the nation are demonstrating that ending homelessness is indeed very possible. However, it does demand a form of hope that does not place organizational and institutional needs ahead of the individuals these organizations serve. Rather than rushing in with pre-formulated responses, these organizations listen to the needs being expressed by homeless individuals and ask the difficult question: what change is necessary here to produce a different outcome? We are grateful that Dr. Silver tells these stories of hope and possibility.

Years and years of sheltering have not ended the scourge of homelessness. Yet, many cling to the idea that emergency shelters are necessary, unavoidable, and the best we can do under the circumstances. To me, this is the voice of despair posing as hope.

We know housing works. We know that we can respond to poverty in a way that will end our gross reliance on warehousing people. We know homelessness can be ended. At the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, we are committed to doing just that. We will not rest until we have drastically reduced the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ reliance on emergency services and converted resources to the provision of appropriate housing and services for all people.

It won’t seem impossible once it’s done.