The very powerful I Am Here campaign that lifted Danny & Maggie off of the streets of Austin has accomplished its initial goal; to lift a chronically homeless person off of the streets. In fact the campaign was so penetrating that the national media coverage is something just short of miraculous. Go check out www.iamheremlf.org for a complete synopsis of the campaign. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive but there have been a few negative naysayers. Some particularly in the neighborhood immediately around the area where Danny & Maggie lived and panhandled are very pessimistic about the prospect of their success to stay off of the streets. Their concerns are legitimate. What if Danny & Maggie don't make it? What does it mean to Mobile Loaves & Fishes and what does it say about the I Am Here campaign?
First, it is important to understand the population that Mobile Loaves & Fishes has discerned to serve. The chronically homeless; those by definition who have been living on the streets continuously for over one year or three long-term bouts with homelessness over a three year period AND have a corresponding disability. This disability could either be physical, mental or addictive or any combination of the three. Bottom-line is that Mobile Loaves & Fishes' sweet spot of service is to the despised and outcasts of our society. We love to serve and love on those whom many would hate and despise. In fact over the course of the five and a half years we have been housing the chronically homeless (serving them now for over twelve years) we have seen some extraordinary success. We have also been saddened several times when one or more of our brothers or sisters finds their way back to the streets. It is during these times that our hearts are heavy but in spite of this our hope remains eternal. Regardless, we now have over an 85% success rate at keeping folks housed for longer than a year; many have now been home for three, four and five years!
Now please understand that Mobile Loaves & Fishes is not a fix and repair, catch and release model. Our goal is to simply get people into housing they can call home. We know now nationally that by merely housing people is a more cost effective strategy than keeping people on the streets. Simply, because of the reduction in use of the health care system and the criminal justice system it costs our communities less money when people are housed. And we know that without housing it is impossible, to maintain a job, to battle physical and mental illnesses, battle addictions or to improve yourself through education.
We think that coming off of the streets should be easy for people but it is not. It takes months for folks to acclimate to this new way of life. The first several months are critical. People are leaving their known way of life and their known community and being uprooted into a very new way of life and an entirely new community. It is disruptive to say the least and it is in this adjustment that our efforts are so fragile. In fact for a few of our residents we have seen them cycle back to the streets a couple of times before we are able to achieve a modest amount of success. It remains a risk that we are willing to take and continue to pursue.
Danny & Maggie have now been off the streets and away from their known street corner for over a month. Danny has reconnected with his family, particularly his daughter and his son. We love the progress they are making but also know that it is and will continue to be a struggle for them for some time. We pray that this time they are able to rediscover their respective purposes in life and be able to heal from the ravages of living on the streets. Please pray with us! If they don't make it this time we here at Mobile Loaves & Fishes will continue to love them and to serve them as if they were Christ Himself. We will continue to remain hopeful for them and provide them with other opportunities to escape from the streets if they wish. We know in the end that we can only be a vessel for their success but they are the ones who are truly in control. As for their home so many generously provided through their donations? Well, someone else will then get the opportunity discover what home is; a place of permanence, a dwelling place, a storied place, a safe resting place, a place of hospitality, a place of embodied inhabitation, a place of orientation and a place of affiliation and belonging.