The Opposite of Poverty Is Justice
I just returned from a week-long mission trip to Back Bay Mission (BBM) in Biloxi, MS. I’ve been going there every 12-18 months for the past nine years and the staff and guests continue to impact me in unexpected ways each time. Normally, I look forward to spending my week roofing or working on other tangible housing rehab projects, but this trip I got to spend more time in some of the other areas. My experiences last week helped remind me why I originally started achi and the importance of community partnerships and coordination of services when it comes to addressing social determinants of health issues.
Going into this trip, I knew facts about homelessness and understood that it can impact anyone, regardless of background, education, race, or age. Last week, I learned about the people, their stories and the daily struggles and choices that must be made. What was once just head knowledge, now became heart knowledge.
Biloxi doesn’t have any homeless shelters within the city. However, they do have some incredible non-profits that have served the population for many years. I had the opportunity to work with two of these organizations while I was there. The Micah Day Center at BBM provides homeless guests with shower and laundry facilities, access to computers, basic clothing and personal supplies. Loaves & Fishes (L&F) provides breakfast and lunch. Both entities operate during certain hours and days of the week.
These two entities do an incredible job serving low-income and homeless guests. The staff know the stories of the people they serve and treat them like family. There are rules to follow for the services, but I witnessed people acting out of compassion and thoughtfulness, and they would work with each person to try and make sure they were able to get what was needed. Until this trip, I hadn’t thought about how we could work so hard to meet the needs of those we serve, yet still miss the mark on how we go about it. Not because of a lack of compassion, understanding, or willingness to help, but simply because the organizations offering services for the most sought after basic needs in homeless communities are often siloed to meet solely those needs due to policies, regulations, or absence of support and resources.
What I discovered is that we often fail to look at services holistically and through the eyes of those that are utilizing them. Processes that may look good on paper and make sense to an organization or me as a volunteer may be completely at odds for someone that actually uses them. When I get up in the morning, I take a shower, go to my closet for clean clothes, grab a quick breakfast and then start my day. It seems simple enough, but it’s actually a luxury. What if I didn’t have a place to stay, there were no shelters in the area, and I had to rely on others to provide basic necessities for me and those services were only available at certain times and in certain locations? Then I may have to choose when I woke up in the morning if I wanted to get a shower that day or if I wanted to eat breakfast.
Dorothy was a perfect example of this. She stopped by the job site where we were working one day and was trying to get to L&F before they stopped serving lunch. She had gone to BBM in the morning because she needed to have some laundry done, but without transportation, now needed to walk almost 2 miles within the next half hour in order to make the lunch cut-off. Again, I was faced with the fact that I do not have to choose daily whether I am going to do laundry or eat lunch. Both organizations provide great support services for her, but by operating independently, Dorothy faces additional unnecessary challenges each day.
While working at L&F, I met a gentleman that both volunteers there and utilizes the services. Melvin has had one leg amputated and uses a motorized scooter that they found for him for mobility. The scooter worked fine, but the batteries would no longer hold their charge and he would have to find places to charge them five to six times a day (not easy when you are living on the streets). A staff member was hoping to order a new battery pack for him, but needed to find donations or some way to pay for it. It took a little research, multiple phone calls, connection with another organization that was able to pay for the batteries, an afternoon of walking around downtown and talking to various other people living on the streets to try and locate Melvin, but we were finally able to get new batteries for the scooter so he could effectively get around. It was a very simple solution, but took some work to coordinate and bring the right resources together.
I was watching the movie Just Mercy on the plane at the start of my trip and the leading character said “the opposite of poverty is justice.” That resonated with me throughout the week as I listened to people’s stories and learned about their daily struggles. Justice is about fairness and giving people what they deserve. As human beings, don’t we all deserve the same access to basic services? A BBM staff member often tells us that “not everyone wants to be housed, but everyone deserves the opportunity to be housed.”
There are progressive leaders in Biloxi that are beginning to look at these things more holistically and are looking for ways to better coordinate services without duplication and design them with the guests in mind. Places like Cherry Street Mission in Toledo, OH, have made great strides in centralizing services and leveraging meals to bring the necessary services to the guests. It’s not easy work, but it’s needed. People living on the streets face enough challenges each day. Let’s collaborate on models that holistically address the social determinants of health for a person so that we can create a just process where someone doesn’t have to choose between a shower/laundry or lunch.
achi is a holistic care management company that lowers overall expenses by actively engaging people and connecting them to organizations to address the social determinants of health. Through innovative partnerships, cross-sector collaboration, and creative solutions, we equip organizations across multiple industries to educate the people they serve and connect them with resources to improve their lives from the ground up. By partnering with health systems, educational institutions and corporations, achi empowers lasting transformation in individual lives— resulting in an overall healthier population and data to transform our healthcare payment models. To learn more about achi and its mission, visit www.achi.solutions.