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4 min read

Homelessness Today: Why It’s Hard to Accept Help

Think for a moment about a time when you faced a life-altering choice. The hours and days before the decision can feel like you’re staring down two dark paths of uncertainty. Whatever lies ahead could be wonderful, or devastating, or a long stretch of never knowing if your choice was right.

Over 13 years ago, I faced my own looming choice when deciding whether to accept my full-time position here at Union Gospel Mission. As grateful as I was for the opportunity, it wasn’t an obvious choice. Saying yes meant my husband would assume my role as the stay-at-home parent for our 1-year-old (and subsequently, our next two children). You can imagine the social and emotional layers in that decision. It changed the trajectory of my family’s life, and I can still feel that weight in any moment of the day. There’s always a cost to choosing—even good choices. Jessica

 That same weight of choice hangs before many of UGM’s guests in the moments before walking through our doors. There's an increasing number of folks experiencing homelessness and addiction in our community who stand on the edge of change but have yet to take a step toward it. We feel deeply, wanting more for them, but the unfamiliar can be almost too much to bear—for any of us. We should not minimize what people face in those moments, even if it means their lives could be saved. They know there’s a cost to saying yes: 

  • The cost of time - how do you set aside months or even years for healing? 
  • The cost of dignity in admitting you need help. 
  • The cost of privacy when choosing community. 
  • The cost of autonomy when living under a roof you don’t own.
  • The cost of numbing the pain you think will kill you. 

 We can’t tell anyone it’s an obvious “yes” unless we’ve stood in their shoes and felt the weight of that yes. 

Several months ago, Spokane started to see a growing encampment near I-90 of unhoused men and women. It has reached more than 600 individuals now—the largest single encampment in Washington State. Homelessness has not previously gone unnoticed in our city by any means, but the consolidation and number of tents and make-shift shelters made us all see the crisis more clearly. The visibility of the camp put an urgency in conversations that might have previously held only solemn remarks or slow discussion—for us at UGM as well. How can we do better? How can we make our resources even more accessible and help our city tackle possibly the most challenging socioeconomic issue of this decade? How do we make that choice to receive help easier for our friends in despair? 

For some, the space between needing help and choosing help is larger than we can imagine. UGM wants to build a bridge and shorten that distance. When our own program alumna Elizabeth was asked, “What do you wish someone had told you when entering recovery?” She responded, “There was absolutely nothing that nobody did not tell me!” She had heard every reason and plea. It took a parole officer and her concerned father to show her that she really had no other choice.  Elizabeth

August 10 marked 7 years sober for Justin. “I had accepted the fact that I was going to be an addict for the rest of my life. I’ve had my fair share of struggles. I’ve dealt with loss, I’ve dealt with toxic relationships and my ongoing battle with anxiety and depression. But in the face of adversity there’s always a choice to be made. You can either fold under pressure or you can rise up above it.” But Justin didn’t rise up on his own; he had a community believing in him and supporting him in every healthy step—in every stumble toward recovery. His “yes” was with a band of other brothers and sisters saying “yes” with him. If we hear the words of love surrounding us, we may believe that it’s not a dark path of uncertainty. It’s a pathway of light, and there are people there to help see you through.Justin

 This fall and throughout the coming months, we have a message of honest compassion to our unhoused friends and those trapped in addiction or abuse. But it’s not from Union Gospel Mission, the organization. It’s coming directly from our residents who were once standing at the same crossroads. We’ve asked many current and former residents to share words of affirmation to anyone experiencing the depths of brokenness. But their words hold life and hope for you and me as well. 

 

 “You are not alone.” 

“You have worth.” 

“Your home is with safe people.” 

“You can be known and loved.” 

“You can be free.” 

“There is no future in addiction. None.” 

“There is true peace.” 

"Life can be beautiful."

 

 This chorus of life-giving words will be seen on televisions across the region; on billboards, decorating our streets with hope; in your social media feed; and on radio, YouTube, and in print. These are messages that would not have been said had people like you not come around our guests with patience and love, and said "yes" to supporting their recovery. Our partners made these statements possible, and we invite you to spread them further throughout the community. We plan to hand out service cards, each with one of these messages on the back, building connections and welcoming those who need help into our shelters. UGM Thrift Stores will be handing out stickers with these phrases for you to keep or give away. You can follow us on Facebook or Instagram and share the stories and words with your social network. Extend the encouragement to absolutely anyone who may need it.

As a city and region, there’s a choice we’re facing as well. As we continue to watch this local and national crisis of homelessness and addiction, we can let people reach the point of death, prison, or continued sorrow as their only other option. Or we can be a community of support that demonstrates to people that their path is not a lonely one. Elizabeth reassures those who have yet to choose, “I know you’re feeling alone right now, but there’s actually people out here that want to help you succeed. They want to hold your hand to the finish line... People do care.”

“I know you’re feeling alone right now, but there’s actually people out here that want to help you succeed... People do care.”  -Elizabeth, former addict

 

Watch videos from those who've been there.

 

 

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