38 Years. Tired. Ready. Don’t Say He Doesn’t Want To Be Housed.

Written by Joel John Roberts, CEO of PATH Partners.

I spend most of my days sitting in meetings. Talking on the phone. Sorting through emails. Conversing with people. Planning. Designing. Managing. Hoping.

It’s my job. Helping people.

Some people think it’s just busy work. Other people think it’s inspirational. God’s work, they say.

What do I think? It’s the reason for my being. My calling. My destiny. I don’t see it as a choice. It’s my mandate. It doesn’t matter what other people think.

So I walk into another meeting today. Not expecting much. Just another exercise of checking off items on an agenda. Introductions. Done. Preview of agenda. Done. First item…

…but this is a different gathering. The table is surrounded by outreach workers. Their purpose is to convince people living on the streets that they need help. They need to overcome their barriers. They need housing.

Wait. That’s my job too. Take off the tie and oxford shoes. And I look like an educated social worker.

It’s my job. Helping people.

The list on the table is filled with people we surveyed on the streets of Long Beach back in July. It’s a laundry list of hurting people. One has a terminal illness. Another fights demons in his soul. A few are drowning their existence with liquid poison. One is a product of a broken foster care system.

The facilitator of the meeting swipes a yellow highlighter over the name of one gentleman on the list. He has been living on the streets for 38 years. Yes, 38 years. He has cancer, and a few other stereotypical struggles that many visible homeless people encounter.

But this conversation is different. The police officer has convinced a landlord to allow this man to rent an apartment. The social worker has found subsidized rent. They go down a verbal list of other assistance.

“He’s tired,” says the social worker. “He’s ready. He wants a home. A roof over his head.” 38 years on the streets. And he’s ready. It’s practically a miracle. Even this jaded nonprofit executive is impressed.

The conversation turns to a discussion on how to get the furniture. The dishes. The linens. All the things that make a house a home. 38 years on the streets, and a group of people are planning what will be in the kitchen cabinets. Amazing.

No celebrations. No congratulations at the table. There are a few hundred other people we are also trying to reach. Too much work. Almost overwhelming.

But today was a good day. At least a hopeful day. Take away the tie and the oxford shoes, and I’m basically a social worker, a social engineer. Not an executive.

It’s my job. Helping people.

Can’t forget that.


Joel John Roberts is the CEO of PATH Partners, a nonprofit organization which helps communities integrate services with housing. He blogs regularly on inforUm, an online journal dedicated to housing, poverty and homelessness.


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: