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What “The Walking Dead” Taught Me About Ending Homelessness.

I like “The Walking Dead”. A lot. And its mass appeal gives me the indication that a lot of other people do as well. So, what’s the appeal? I have my theories, but I think in many ways it’s less a story about zombies than it is about collaboration, and the human question, “what are we capable of becoming?” In desperate circumstances, what are the paths that we take as people that lead us to excel, fail, change, give up, or overcome. Watching the show actually stresses me out. It’s not one of my more relaxing hobbies, but I enjoy it nonetheless. But, there are definitely morals to the story that I think resonate with all of us. I know they certainly do me. So, I’d like to examine some areas in terms of ending homelessness where the show has given me insight (and I will speak in generalities, so as to not create spoilers for those who may be a season behind).

In the show, there is always some stressor: danger from the walkers, danger from other people, or danger from illness and natural events. In a desperate society, people and the norms they usually operate under, are cast to the wind. In the show, desperation either brings the best or the worst out of people, but in the end, the most resilient among the characters often are the most likely to survive. In our work of ending homelessness, we encounter daily frustrations as varied as the demands of federal funding, being on the road, or people who seem more bent on not housing people than they are housing people. Resilience is the face of adversity can bring the best, or the worst, out of us, and sometimes both at the same time. When dealing with complex issues, let’s be mindful of what we become in the process.

On the show, the people who go out on their own normally don’t make it for very long. Sure, there are exceptions, but almost always, those venturing out must rely on others and thus create a system for survival. In our work, it’s much the same. People experiencing homelessness rely on us, and we should rely on one another in our communities. Everyone brings a skill to the table, and we can leverage those skills in order to accomplish the goal at hand. In the show, it’s survival. In our world, it’s ending homelessness. If you’re awesome with a sword, and I’m excellent at growing tomatoes, it’s probably better that I not walk point, and it’s better you not mess with my tomatoes. We all have different roles to play that are complimentary. We don’t all have to be katana-wielding gardeners.

The world is messy. People are messy. Caring about one another is messy. Life throws you curves and sometimes all you can do is the best with what you have on hand. It’s not always going to be perfect. It can’t be. If we wait for perfection, we run the risk of opportunities passing us by. Sometimes doing is the answer. Moving, adjusting, and making things better along the way. Perfection is not always the noblest goal, particularly when things are hitting the fan at a fervent pace. Back up, see the big picture, and look at what needs to be done, not what needs to be perfect.

A mindset of abundance is important to keep you focused on the opportunities at hand. A mindset of scarcity can lead you down all sorts of rabbit holes of fear, loss, and can cripple your ability to change. Now, this doesn’t mean that scarcity doesn’t exist, but if we can focus on the assets that we have on hand, and not belabor the fact that some components are missing, then we can make the best of the resources we have, and target resources toward the issues and places where we need them most.

Acting with urgency and purpose is something that is a constant theme throughout the show. You can’t be focused on the things that don’t work, because it wastes time and resources. In the show, not acting with urgency and purpose can be life or death for the characters. In our world, not acting with urgency and purpose can mean the very real loss of life for persons living on the street. That responsibility alone should give us the courage to try some new things quickly and for the right reasons. Let’s face it; if we had been doing things correctly for a really long time, we would have solved homelessness by now. Well, we haven’t, so let’s set ourselves to the task of purposefully changing things that don’t work, and do the things that do work.

We, as people, need a foe or a challenge to pit ourselves against. The fact that people of all ages, walks of life, family makeups, and experiences are living in tents, cars, bridges, and abandoned houses and buildings provides a formidable foe to pit ourselves against. We have a great responsibility and a great opportunity to make a tremendous impact in people’s lives. Reassessing programs, rules, and goals can helps us adjust our thinking and our purpose to making homelessness a thing of the past. But only together, acting as one, can we truly realize our potential to make our state, and the world, a different place for those who need it most. 

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