by Jayme Day
Steve Berg, our Vice President, and I had the opportunity to spend three energizing days last week in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the the Zarrow Mental Health Symposium. Here are some things that struck us about the event:
- PEER LEARNING: We can learn a lot from other communities. A total of 38 communities participating in Zero 2016, a campaign to help communities end chronic and veteran homelessness were present at the conference and were able to share their successes and work with each other on the challenges they face moving forward. They tackled issues around leadership, resources, and creating by-name-lists and using data to inform their strategies. In addition there were many attendees from Oklahoma and it was inspiring to see their commitment to tackling the tough questions of mental health, criminal justice, and homelessness.
- CALLING OUT RACISM: There is a growing awareness about the stark racial disparity in homelessness. African Americans are five times more likely to experience homelessness than their white counterparts. The causes of this are systemic, including discrimination in employment, housing, policing and the criminal justice system.
- Just recently, Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed by Tulsa police. To respond to this incident and our growing awareness, Zero 2016 and Oklahoma Mental Health conference organizers incorporated many opportunities for conference attendees and the general public to discuss his death and the impact of racism on the work we do. One important message that stood out for me was emcee Linda Kaufman’s repeated message: we have more in common with each other than what separates us.
- BUILT FOR ZERO: Community Solutions announced that the “Zero 2016” campaign has been renamed “Built for Zero.” This change captures the campaign’s efforts to help communities end veteran and chronic homelessness by setting goals and using strategies to achieve the goal of zero in 2016 and beyond. We are learning a lot from communities involved in Zero 2016 in terms of what it takes to end veteran homelessness and progress towards ending chronic homelessness that are truly valuable in informing how we get the job done and events like this are important for sharing ideas and keeping up momentum.
- WHAT’S NEXT: One of the most salient things I heard at this conference was that communities trying to end chronic homelessness are close but feel like they lack the resources to finish the job. This includes a lack of supportive housing units, funding for more case managers and access to assisted living. Resources matter and we need your help to advocate for the resources we need to end chronic homelessness. Congress passed a continuing resolution until December 9.
Congress needs to hear from community leaders like you! We need you to contact your representatives in Washington and ask that they increase funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants to finish the job. Please brag about your great efforts and let them know the taxpayer’s money is working to end homelessness!
Thank you to Oklahoma Mental Health Association and Zero 2016 (now Built for Zero) for putting together a wonderful and inspiring conference!