by Jeff Jaynes, 
Executive Director Restore Hope and Chair of Zero: 2016 Tulsa.

Growing up in Tulsa, I had my first real experience of poverty and homelessness volunteering at one of our amazing shelters. Up to that point, my life was sheltered…but in a different way. I had never experienced what life was like for many of my neighbors in need.

That first experience led me to a life fighting poverty in Tulsa one way or another. It led me to Restore Hope where we work to prevent homelessness for hundreds of Tulsans every year. Last year, I was elected to chair A Way Home for Tulsa, a group of amazing agencies fighting to prevent and end homelessness–including that same shelter I visited years before.

In late 2015, A Way Home for Tulsa took the bold step to join Zero:2016, an effort to end homelessness for veterans and for the “chronically homeless”—some of the most vulnerable among the homeless population. The word “end” has tripped some people up when they hear about this effort. Some write it off immediately because they don’t believe it is possible. Others, in their excitement to meet that end, believe we will be able to shut down the homeless shelters entirely. I would love for that to be true but that’s not what we mean by “end.”

Think about it like fixing a road—something those of us in Tulsa are familiar with these days! There are a couple of ways to “fix” a road: one is to patch it up, put a couple of inches of asphalt on it, and call it good. Unfortunately we know all too well how that story ends…potholes, head-rattling drives, and more orange cones in a few years. Another way is to start from scratch—take a new approach—and put in a road that is built to last. That’s not to say it won’t need repairs, but we can put in a road that makes repairs rare, fixes quick, and hopefully won’t need to be redone any time soon.

That’s what we are trying to do with homelessness. We are re-examining our system to see how best we can help those in need. Where we were once working in lots of different ways to help those in need, we now have a more coordinated approach. We are using best practices from around the country—with our own local wisdom—to put a system in place that helps those in need find long-lasting solutions. We want to put a system in place in which homelessness doesn’t happen very often, that their stay is as short as possible, and that they can find a solution as quickly as possible.

According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness:

An end to homelessness means that every community will have a systematic response in place that ensures homelessness is prevented whenever possible or is otherwise a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience.

Specifically, every community will have the capacity to:

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We know all too well that things happen in life.  A crisis can pop up like those old “Whack-a-Mole” games…soon followed by more. Every day, especially in hard economic times, people find themselves without enough money to pay rent or utilities. Some of us have friends and family to help. Others have the shelter system or their local church. Some people, despite their best efforts, can find themselves in need. That’s what our system is there for, but we can always strive to do more.

Friends wonder how I keep up my enthusiasm working toward a goal that seems never ending. Sometimes people ask how I can think that I’m ‘ending homelessness’ when new people fall into homelessness every single day. To them I explain: ending homelessness doesn’t stop people from experiencing a housing crisis, but if we can make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring, we will have ended homelessness as we know it. We will create a system that moves people into housing more rapidly. Homelessness and hopelessness will no longer be synonymous.

We CAN do that and we should most certainly try. If you want to join this effort, click the link above to find out how you can help. Let’s work together to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring.

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