There is a very clear thread that runs through the work of the 3 of us.
If you aren't familiar, Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Workers Movement.
She, among other things, created "houses of hospitality" and then a series of farms for people to live together on communes. These were created for the homeless and anyone in need.
Alan Graham is the founder of Community First Village. It is a 51-acre master planned community that provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for men and women coming out of chronic homelessness.
And then we created our homeless run tent village, and after the city closed that and our day center, we are rebuilding with 2 transitional homes for people with serious homeless conditions.
First, let me say that while I just listed the names of 3 people here, I only did that for a way to simplify the conversation. None of us would ever say we were the sole, or even primary, driver of the work we found ourselves in. We are simply the PR managers who all believe personal storytelling is the most powerful form of marketing.
There are strong connections between the 3 different organizations here. And there are also some clear differences.
The biggest connector is love.
To this day that is still a radical belief. Unconditional love is not something you will find in most homeless programs. To be in a program everyone must agree to strict rules and regiments. Being thrown out is highly likely. It is made very clear that they are not your family and this is not your home.
Dorothy and Alan and I would say what we have helped create ABSOLUTELY is your home and we are definitely your family. We love you for who you are today not for who we think you should be tomorrow.
Just yesterday a man came to me to apologize for overdosing in the bathroom of one of our houses. I told him he had no reason to apologize. I gave him a hug and told him I love him.
After that exchange he told me he was actually trying to kill himself. He said he wanted to go be with his mom. The city towed away a camper he was staying in. It had all of his possessions in it. He just couldn't take it anymore.
I told him I was glad he was still alive. We all would have missed him very much.
(How would I ever have gotten to the truth of his actions if I just ridiculed him and told him never to step foot in our house again? Now I have real information to better work with him.)
That's the exact kind of interaction you would find with Dorothy, Alan and me. It's not something you would easily find most other places.
We believe that love is the answer. True love. Not this conditional junk that others parade around.
Dorothy, was the greatest at unconditional love. There were no rules. And nothing was expected of you in her houses. If you didn't work she just assumed you had a good reason for not working.
This is why she is going to become a Saint in the Catholic Church and Alan and I are not.
Alan and I do have rules. But they aren't things like "you can't live here if you are on drugs."
For Alan, the biggest rule is that everyone pays rent. It's about $300. If you want to stay at his village you have to pay rent.
For me, it's that you have to show forward movement. You can't just sit and do nothing. (This is lax with older people and disabled people. They typically can afford rent. And I just believe they have a right to rest in their later years. As long as the disabled or elderly person is paying and not being harmful to the community I am more in Alan's camp.)
I think we came to our models because of our backgrounds. Dorothy was heavily influenced by communist idealogies. Alan was a real estate developer. And I am an entrepreneur.
Dorothy valued equality for all. Alan values the worth of the dollar. And I value work.
We're just all products of our environment.
I'm not going to talk more on Dorothy and Alan simply because I am not them. And for all I know, they would disagree with my assessment of their value systems.
But I will talk a little bit more about my values.
In our tent village everyone had to contribute at least one hour a day to the village. You could sweep or clean or help people fortify their tents. Many people worked MUCH more than one hour a day.
Because of this system we were a homeless services powerhouse. We were open from 9-5 seven days a week. And we would often open at 6am and close at 11pm in the winter.
"By the homeless for the homeless" is at the center of everything we do.
They elected their own tri-council. They voted on whether or not someone should leave the village. They ran their own security. They ran every aspect of the village and day center.
All of this was very intentional. Homeless people are not helpless people. They don't need people to do their work for them.
As it was then, it is now: volunteers and non-houseless people are very welcome and we love them. However, they are additive. They are not the core of the work we do. If a houseless person needs something done they would do best to find another houseless person to help them.
No one lives in our houses other than houseless people. They don't need a nanny looking over their shoulder. If they don't like what is going on in their house they need to fix it themselves. (Ashleigh and I have weekly meetings at the houses. And they can call us anytime. But we aren't there to get them out of every scrape. If someone is overdosing in the bathroom they better tear that door off the hinges and save the person. No one else is going to do it for them.)
Non-houseless people are critical to our movement and our organization. I don't want you to think differently. The work they do for us is massively important and we are truly grateful. Furthermore, connecting houseless people with non-houseless people is a foundational cornerstone of our work. We believe this is the only way we can change the false perceptions of what people think of when they think of "the homeless."
We just want the houseless to work along side the non-houseless. It makes new connections and empowers people that sometimes feel powerless.
This instantly changes a person's perspective on themselves and the world around them. Work creates dignity. Purposeful work is transformative.
When a houseless person saves the life of another overdosing houseless person, I can't imagine a more potent way of making that person feel needed and valuable.
So, our model revolves around community AND work.
I will say, out of financial necessity we are trying to get some people to pay to live in our houses. Our utilities are currently really high. So we need to cover those costs.
It may also be useful to know that I consider myself a social entrepreneur. So I am very interested in being self sustaining.
A model we potentially could develop into would be to have half our residents pay rent and the other half work for their rent. Elderly and disabled people typically get at least $750/month in income. This model is both financially realistic and idealistic.
I like this possible model because then the elderly or disabled person is valued because they pay to keep the house running.
Hopefully, you can see the theme in what we are creating. Community and work.
This is the Mission and Vision of The Homeless Charity:
Our Mission and Vision isn't just a bunch of words on paper. It is our constitution. It drives every single action we do.
This is something else Alan and I have in common. Here is the Community First mission and vision:
Everything is about community for them. For us, we believe it is community and work equally.
We completely agree with their Dignity component. Our take on it all is that work and contribution to the community is how we all find dignity in our lives.
The key to this whole discussion is not to hold any of us in any great regard. Dorothy would often say, "Don't call me a saint, I don't want to be dismissed that easily."
I'm quite sure Alan would agree and so would I.
None of us are different than anyone else. We are just a communist, a real estate developer and an entrepreneur. We just refused to watch our neighbors starve and rot on the streets. We shouldn't live in a society where that's considered saintly. That should just be considered common human decency.