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A couple of months back David Milch’s Deadwood turned 10 years old, and I, for one, was excited.  If you have spent any extended amount of time around me during the past decade chances are that at some point I have bored you with incessant rambling and raving about this show.  But don’t worry; I am not going to do that here.  It is not my intention to write an analysis of a TV series (no matter how phenomenal said TV series may be); I am here to write about ending homelessness, and, how we all can attain this goal through the systemic creation of community.  Just recently, Deadwood (or, more accurately, St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians) provided me with an interesting take on this very subject. 

While working on some HMIS things and sort of binge-watching season 1 of Deadwood, my ears perked up as a character eulogized over the grave of Wild Bill Hickok.  He referred to this passage from 1 Corinthians: 

For the body is not one member, but many.

If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?. . .

But now are they many members, yet but one body.

And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. . .

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.

Pretty great, right?  What I dig most about this passage is how it can apply to what we need to do on so many levels.  By adapting this mindset even slightly, we can collectively strengthen our resolve within our own organizations, our own communities and on the CoC and statewide level. 

Within our own organizations, it is folly to think that our family-focused projects have nothing to do with our Veteran’s projects. Or that if I work in the Emergency Shelter, I shouldn’t be concerned with my organization’s Permanent Housing projects.  We all have (or rather, should have) the same end goal constantly in mind.  To get those we serve into stable, permanent housing in an efficient and expedient manner.  And no individual project or Case Manager, no matter how incredibly well meaning, well organized or hard working, can achieve this single handedly.   And, if there is another Case Manger or project within your organization that has subscribed to this philosophy of doing it all by themselves, then you can best believe that they are doing nothing to end homelessness. 

The same can be said at the community level.  During our travels, it is always surprising to hear things like “We are the only organization here that is serving those experiencing homelessness” or “I didn’t know we had that kind of program around here.”  If you are unaware of or not actively communicating with every provider within your community, and what they are doing to end homelessness, then you are not only making your job harder, but you are also severely impeding the formation of any type of cooperative system that will bring an end to homelessness.  As Coordinated Access begins to take hold within your community, within our CoC and statewide, all providers can benefit from this biblical advice.  Although we may have different funders or various methods, it is paramount that we all focus on the goal of housing those who are experiencing homelessness.   And whether you have or haven’t yet bought into the importance of adopting the tenants of Coordinated Access, the fact remains that until we build a cooperative system together, we will not end homelessness.  We are all connected and mutually dependent on one another. 

And perhaps the most important thought that I have taken from this passage is that Coordinated Access is about providers and communities working together and supporting one another.  Through working cooperatively, we can easily determine a Client’s acuity and provide the most appropriate intervention necessary to house each and every person requiring our services.  Whenever someone exits one of our projects and enters a stable housing situation, we can all rejoice in our system’s successes.   We have all contributed to that individual’s success.  There is no discord (or schism) to be found in a system that is working properly; every Client who leaves homelessness permanently within our state, our CoC, our community and our organization should be looked on as a success story by everyone. 

But, of course, there should also be no schism to be found when one member of the body falters or fails.  The worst days for us at the WVCEH office (as I am sure is the case within all providers) are when we find out that someone experiencing homelessness has died on the street or in the woods.  You begin to ask yourself, “What could have been done differently?”  or, “How did our system fail this person?”  Since, one member of the system is suffering or mourning, the entire system mourns as well.  Along those same lines, when a Client enters permanent housing and returns to homelessness for one reason or another, we do not do the Client or our cooperative system a bit of good by pointing fingers or laying blame.  It is never the singular fault of any one organization or the Client when slip-ups occur.  Fortunately, if we have a strong cooperative working system in place, we are amply prepared to deal with such occurrences and through working together we can ensure such occurrences happen infrequently. 

This idea of collective suffering, or better yet, collective celebration, should also extend beyond the borders of your own community.  Implementing Coordinated Access is a nationwide effort, and within our CoC we are fortunate to have some fantastic tools, such as ServicePoint and the SPDAT, to aid us in achieving this goal.  But it is imperative to keep in mind that one of most powerful tools we can utilize in creating a Coordinated Access system is our CoC-wide sense of collaborative and mutual support.  If one community experiences systematic success, then don’t we all succeed?  Just because a community system on the other side of the CoC is shining, it doesn’t take anything away from you.  But rather, it makes the entire CoC glow a little brighter.  When we end homelessness in WV (and, yes I said “when”,) it will be because came together collectively, implemented systematic impact and made data-driven decisions together.  Different communities will implement their individual systems via different methods and at different times, but if we all support each other in accomplishing this goal we will all succeed together.  One body, many members.  One goal, many methods.  We are all in this together. 

PS- If you want to learn more about Coordinated Access, please do not hesitate to contact anyone at the WVCEH office.  If you want to discuss Deadwood and its general awesomeness, please do not hesitate to contact me.  Regards.  

This is NOT easy work!!
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WV Coalition to End Homelessness | PO Box 4697, Bridgeport, WV 26330 | 304-842-9522 | info@wvceh.org | website by brickswithoutstraw