Thursday, October 27, 2011

100 Homes: What It Means to Me

Before too much time passes, I want to share the short version of my 100 Homes experience.  In early July, I joined a team of 10-15 people from Arlington's Department of Human Services (where my office is located) and A-SPAN in weekly meetings. Together, we created Arlington's 100 Homes campaign, which is modeled off of the nationwide 100,000 Homes and statewide 1,000 Homes initiatives.  

My primary role was to help recruit and manage volunteers and staff for Registry Week (150 total!), which finished up last week. This involved sending out lots of emails, arriving at work at 2:45 a.m. to lead headquarters on our three survey days, and coordinating with Sarah Morse, A-SPAN's volunteer coordinator. I also went to shelters on Monday and Tuesday to take surveys with smaller volunteer teams.  

It was a unique experience because all of the volunteering took place in the middle of the night and most of the surveyors were approaching homeless persons on the street to ask them to take the survey. Many volunteers inquired about their safety and it's something that the planning team considered thoroughly. We made sure that each team had two leaders and that all volunteers received in-depth training. We also chose to visit some areas later in the day based upon the terrain or other safety concerns.  

I stayed back at the headquarters as a direct liaison to the emergency services and took calls from team leaders with updates on their teams' whereabouts. Because I wasn't out in the field, I'll share some of my favorite tweets from those who were. Social media, especially Twitter was huge for us from about 3 a.m. - 7 a.m. each day.
The journey of 100 homes in Arlington begins with a single step. For me, at 3:30 am. (Day 1)
W/team in Ballston. Elderly woman almost refuses survey saying "Nuthin' gets done." Team leader: "This is different." (Day 2)
Let's suurvey in the rain, just suuurvey in the rain, what a glooorious feeeeling I'm surveying in the rain! Woohooo! (Day 3)
To see more, follow these links for "storified" tweets:  Day One, Day Two, Day Three. Many thanks to Jan Sacharko from A-SPAN for compiling these stories and creating lots of videos.

My surveying experience was a little different because I was interacting with people who were already sheltered, though they are still considered homeless since it's only a temporary solution. Out of 27 surveys taken by my group the first day, only two refused and I didn't have anyone who was reluctant to answer the very personal questions. One man had only been homeless for 4 days and another had been on and off the streets for "too too long," which was his answer to some other questions as well. On a question that asked if there was anyone the person trusted more than others, one man answered "the Lord" and another said he didn't trust anyone "because that's how I got here." Another man wanted me to make sure I wrote down that he had been saving money and he was ready to move on. Other seemed hopeless, but you could tell that they appreciated having someone listen to them.

On the second day, a man who finished his survey came back to show us his pin for being clean for one year. He was so proud and posed for the camera holding the pin up high with a huge grin. I'll never forget him and I'm certain that the volunteer who interviewed him won't either. Looking back, that was my moment when it went from "this is something we're doing" to "this is something we must do."  Seeing this proud man helped me see the full potential in each and every homeless person we met.

Some other things happened that week as well:

        - I made new friends and created new bonds
        - Arlington became a whole lot smaller

In truth, Registry Week was just the beginning of 100 Homes, as we've now reviewed the data and are working to coordinate housing and support services. It's an involved process and requires ongoing support from everyone, including DHS, A-SPAN, community members, corporations, volunteers, and community and faith-based groups. I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming months and years as we celebrate each and every new home.

I'll wrap up with two tweets from the Community Debrief: 
"There is a problem. We have a plan. You can help." Closing words & lasting mission for volunteers.
It's been a very inspiring week! Final thought from today's #100homes briefing: We do this as a job, but it's much more than a job to us.
If you'd like to get involved, visit  If you're not in Arlington, check out 100,000 Homes page and the 1,000 Homesfor 1,000 Virginians.  And if you're inspired to help out in another location in Virginia, let me know -- I'll be there with you!

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