Current reflections from the front lines serving people experiencing homelessness during a global pandemic, Phoenix summer, and living up to the legacy of a champion.
This issue marks more than a year of weekly e-newsletters, as we increased the frequency of communicating with all of you last year due to the “new” Coronavirus. Those early issues focused on what we needed, how we were planning, and how we were responding to COVID-19. These days are more "normal" than they have been in 14 months with more "typical" nonprofit organization activities. Rates of COVID positive cases continue to decrease. Policies on the Campus are adapting to allow face masks to be optional outdoors, although they are still mandatory indoors. Tests and vaccines are still available. Conversations started with County Public Health to assess whether or not we can start to increase capacity in common areas, shelters and dining programs.
Personally I have firmly decided against hand shaking, ever. I offer a fist bump or a hug. The number of people who are interested and willing to come and tour the Human Services Campus is increasing. People I am meeting for the first time seem comfortable to the fist bump, and some by the end of a tour are even ready for a hug. So know that if we have never met in person, when we do it’s a fist bump or a hug!
Temperatures are also increasing. Thanks to the City of Phoenix we have a new temporary shade structure outside with tables, chairs, and a misting system. We can use portable evaporative coolers until the humidity makes them useless. Clients were immediately drawn to the area, and as I walked through they thanked me for creating the space.
Simple things. Shade, water, safe places. Shoes, socks, sunglasses. A "hello," a "how are you today?" A smile. Many of the people we serve ask for very little and the simple things may be the difference that engages someone differently and allows them to take a step toward their future.
Yet ending and preventing homelessness is complex. I, and our organization, continue to take the high road, focused on the goals of reducing the length of time people spend without a home, reducing returns to homelessness, and disrupting the systems that lead to homelessness. This is not without critics. Not without people who disagree on priorities and strategies.
Someone recently asked me how I could maintain such equanimity. It made me stop to think. What I know is that my practice of meditation clears chaos out of mind; and it's called a "practice" because there is never 100% achievement or perfection of being present in the moment. And the idea of letting go and not being attached to outcomes or ideas has helped me to dramatically approach life in a more calm manner. Later in the same week as I was reading "Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom," by Rick Hanson, I came to Chapter 7 – Equanimity. Reading about the brain science and understanding what can lead to equanimity makes a lot of sense to me. The word comes from Latin "even" and "mind." Equanimity "is your circuit breaker... it breaks the chain of suffering by separating the feeling tones of experience from the machinery of cravings." I could go on and bore most of you with a summary of the whole chapter.
As I walk through the Campus, engaging with people who have no home, I wonder how many of them feel present, but not upset. Do they have the sense of safety and belonging, the resources to have comfort, that they can actually be calm?
So much work to do. These complex social issues run deep and wide. I remind myself, and employees and clients, to take it one day at a time. Being present, that is calming. That is where the focus and the flow happen.
Equanimity. May you find it too.