Collaborating and caring.
When I wait at the stop light after grocery shopping, there is often someone holding a cardboard sign asking for help. When I’ve rolled down my window and asked, “Do you know about Groundworks?” they’ve replied: “Yes, I’m working with them.” While I grieve for the burdens people carry, I am pleased to know they have been given hope by an organization like Groundworks.
The collaboration between Windham & Windsor Housing Trust and Groundworks has made significant steps toward ending homelessness and making permanent housing a reality for so many over the years; and yet, since the arrival of the Covid pandemic, there are now more people experiencing homelessness in our community than ever before.
While I’ve never experienced homelessness, I left an unhealthy marriage when my children were very young. For several years, as I slogged through a difficult divorce, I knew we could lose our home. I managed to find a teaching job that barely paid for childcare and the mortgage. When child support checks didn’t arrive, I watched my kitchen cabinets empty as I waited six weeks before I could return to the welfare office. My resilience was drained every time. When we finally went to court, he offered me the house in lieu of child support. He had a generous salary and my lawyer was furious. He questioned why I settled for minimal child support and the house. Looking back, securing the permanency of housing was the best decision I ever made. My children grew up in a stable home. I had the emotional resources to parent rather than constantly struggling to survive. We lived on a shoestring for years—we had enough, we were happy, and we had a house to come home to, a home that held our belongings and enveloped our family.
While I recommend this book for its perspective, Eviction by Matthew Desmond was difficult to read. What stays with me is knowing that people who find a place to rent and begin to collect what they need to live—a bed to sleep on, pots and pans, a few dishes—can lose their home through eviction, and everything they’ve gathered is left on the curb because they don’t have a next place to go. These are the circumstances that make me rage—how does anyone survive? What are children learning about the world they live in?
Having never been without a home, I know I can’t begin to imagine the myriad challenges that arise from not having access to a bathroom or a refrigerator, let alone a roof over my head. We all deserve a safe place to come home to. I am savvy enough to know that there are many, many factors that create a cycle of poverty and, for many people, poverty can include and exacerbate substance abuse disorder, and mental illness. Home doesn’t make everything better. I wonder, would knowing that I had a home to come home to reduce my sense of shame? Would I feel less angry at a world that seems so unfair? Would I make friends with my neighbors and feel like I finally belong somewhere? I can only begin to imagine the differences having a home makes, all the things I take for granted.
I’ve sat on Restorative Justice Panels and listened to the plight of people whose lives are in a constant state of disruption because they can’t find a safe place to sleep. Each time Groundworks and Windham & Windsor Housing Trust help someone settle into a home, they provide so much more than an apartment. Housing is so much more than a place to go home to; it is the critical ingredient in our sense of well-being, stability and safety. We are wired to seek safety and connection, homelessness upends both.
Years ago, I learned that medical costs, funded by tax dollars, decrease by more than 70% when someone who has been homeless moves into a home, and yet, the effort to house people is threatened by a crisis-level shortage of housing in Vermont. Groundworks understands this. Groundworks knows how to end homelessness. They work with people and systems to pull together a sort of prescription for housing—an available apartment, a housing voucher that makes the rent affordable, and the critical supportive services—to move people into homes as quickly as these resources are available. This “prescription” for housing is a model known as Housing First.
I once worked for a doctor who’s passion was providing medical care and emotional support for underserved patients. He opened a private practice and, one year later, the practice closed. Medicare and Medicaid payments are so small compared to reimbursements from private insurance, that caring for underserved people was not financially sustainable. I witnessed, first hand, how privilege drives our healthcare system. The more money someone has, the better the health care they have access to. Those who would most benefit from care and support are left to navigate the system that is always stretched transparently thin.
With care and support, I’ve witnessed people in recovery who no longer pushed the “revolving door” at the emergency room and have stayed out of hospital beds and inpatient units. Accompaniment, connection, someone in your corner who cares about you—this is what makes all the difference. Groundworks plays the role of “someone in your corner who cares about you” for about 4,000 people per year in our region.
As I collected my thoughts for this letter, I came to understand, on an even deeper level, why I’ve supported Groundworks. How many of those 4,000 people are invisible? Looking below the surface, recognizing the suffering of others, is uncomfortable. And yet, believing that money makes the difference between suffering and recovery has inspired me to consider all the ways I can support Groundworks. When I make a donation, I feel good. When I discovered that I could make Groundworks a beneficiary in my will, I felt good knowing that what I have to share will continue to embody my values. May this letter remind you to recognize how good you feel when you support Groundworks. You and I make it possible for their dedicated staff to improve the quality of life and sense of well being for our neighbors who need Groundworks' support—and, in turn, for everyone who lives and works in our community. I think this is an amazing accomplishment and I am proud to support this important work.