Power (Bars) to the People

“Choosing to be accountable for the whole, creating a context of hospitality and collective possibility, acting to bring the gifts of those on the margin into the center – these are some of the ways we begin to create a community of citizens.” – Peter Block, Community
I park everyday in the lot adjacent to the ALF office in downtown San Jose. There is a man who lives in the lot. His belongings are in a pile, next to his scooter and sleeping bag. He’s got neighbors too. I’ve seen strangers walk past him and others help him to get on his scooter as he’s clearly disabled. One might advise me to not make eye contact and keep walking. Having been the Board Chair of HomeFirst, a homeless services agency that runs several shelters in Santa Clara County, this is simply not in my DNA. I’m not naïve about this man’s possible mental illness, history, etc., but I live by the value that there are no throw away people.

I bought a pack of power bars at Trader Joes. I’m just going to leave one for him. Maybe one a day. I’m building a relationship, I’m offering sustenance, and I’m also being realistic about that fact that I can’t save this man. Homelessness – and the mental illness, addiction and depression that is so often a part of the story – is very, very complex.

Silicon Valley was one of the first regions in the country to climb out of the recession. We think big, move fast and attract the best and the brightest. With that rapid recovery came a more significant division of the haves and the have nots that is evident when we look at the housing market, our schools and our city streets. Clearly, not all boats are rising.

I distinctly remember when my ALF class gathered for Dialogue day in 2013 and given the times, and the make up of the class, landed on the topic of homelessness to practice these new dialogue techniques. We all squirmed and bit our tongues as we worked hard… very hard… to bystand. What happened to the class love fest!? It was time to get real and practice not just hearing, but deeply listening. Not forming what we were going to say next, but hearing every word, mindfully.

There were moments that day and the sessions that followed that I witnessed a deep understanding of the complex issue of homelessness and compassion for those who are victims of it. Today, I’m inspired by the wide variety of Senior Fellows from the non-profit, civic and private sectors very publically engaged in finding affordable housing solutions, creative temporary shelter options and making policy changes. Keep it coming, guys

It’s time to give more than apologies – and power bars – to the people.