Opinion

Good Bye. Hello. The death of activists, the birth of success.

By | Dec 26, 2012

Passing the BatonIn today’s hurry-up society, we want our microwave dinners heated in minutes and our mail sent electronically in seconds. We want our societal problems to go away within months, not years.

Just go away gridlocked traffic, smog-infested air, deranged shootings.

Just go away homelessness.

We want the service providers, funders and political leaders to just make homelessness go away. Serve them in another part of town. Hurry up and house them, as long as it is somewhere else. 

This forces the advocates for solutions to homelessness to scramble every day as if we are emergency room doctors addressing a human crisis. It is 24/7 every day of the year.

We set up triage systems to find those most hurting on the streets. We advocate for more resources with political leaders and million dollar foundations. We write hundred-page grants for capital funding to build new buildings.

It is all about convincing neighborhoods to allow us to build our homeless centers and apartment buildings. It is about political influence to change cold-hearted policies. It’s about money, in the realm of millions, and hiring staff who reflect our mission of compassion.

For some of us, we spend decades of our lives running this marathon of transformation, shedding tears, and offering prayers. We carry the baton of human dignity, knowing that we are saving lives.

We understand that changing a broken system that allows our brothers and sisters to languish on our streets like animals scrambling to find a warm place to sleep, will take years. I wish we could just press that red Staples “easy” button so that results occur instantaneously.

But homelessness on our streets, even in Hollywood, is not like some perfect-ending Hollywood feature film. So we drudge on, day after day, year after year, like a determined, well-conditioned marathoner.

Is the marathon worth it? When we hand that baton to a new generation, can we say that we made a difference? That we literally changed lives? Changed our society for the better?

For those of us in Southern California, during the midst of a country mourning the loss of little children in Connecticut, we are mourning the loss of two runners of a marathon to house hurting people.

Good bye, Gary Squier, who was Los Angeles’s first housing department director. He spent a lifetime helping safe guard housing affordable enough for the average person. He also developed many complicated housing deals that benefitted our community.

Good bye, Ruth Teague, who was the first director of Corporation For Supportive Housing’s Los Angeles office. In your work to change the paradigm of how homelessness was to be addressed, you left us too early.

These marathoners were part of the race to house impoverished Americans. Although their lives ended, their success did not. The thousands and thousands of people housed because of their work is their legacy.

I sometimes wonder when it is my time to breathe my last gasp of California air will the baton of hope that I’ve been grasping for the last couple of decades be dropped?

Or will a new generation of charity leaders step up to continue the battle for hurting, disenfranchised people living in squalor?

We can only hope that as we say good bye to a generation of advocates, that we can say hello to a new set of leaders ready to continue the marathon of compassion.