Homelessness Is Not an Issue of Will

Vickie Riddle is the executive director of the Homeless Services Coalition of Greater Kansas City (HSCGKC). Ms. Riddle attended the 2012 National Health Care for the Homeless Conference held May 23-25 in Kansas City, Mo. The following is her experience.

In my 25 years of working in the social work field, I have encountered programs that both horrified and inspired me…it seems no accident that the inspiring programs were Health Care for the Homeless projects, in Albuquerque, N.M. and Springfield, Mass.

My work with these two programs reinforced all that I believe to be significant: respect and dignity for consumers; excellent service from providers that exceeds all expectations, not just those of the clients; and an understanding that the service includes lifting up the consumer voice to persons and entities in power.

Naturally, I was delighted when I learned that the National Health Care for the Homeless Conference would be held in Kansas City this year.

When I read the program agenda, I was impressed by the range, depth and breadth of the educational sessions available to chose from, and slightly perplexed at how I might bi-locate to simultaneously held sessions! In the end, I followed my heart and social work passions to workshops on Global Homelessness, Trauma Informed Care for Managers, Health Care is a Human Right, Spare Some Social Change and National Outreach Guidelines for Underserved Populations.

The theme and thread for me in these selections is the need for us — throughout our country — to understand homelessness as a symptom of the problem of systemic poverty, not an issue of will. Armed with that knowledge, we need to not only serve the needs for those who find themselves in the circumstance of homelessness, but to engage all communities in accepting that reality and working to create social change that eliminates poverty punishments like homelessness, and work for equity and access for all peoples.

In those times throughout the conference that I was staffing our booth, and describing the work of the Homeless Services Coalition of Greater Kansas City, I was energized by the many conversations I had with HCH providers throughout the country. It was an amazing opportunity to be inspired and motivated to try new things, think outside our local box and renew myself and our members on behalf of serving those impacted by homelessness.

Perhaps people initially stopped by for the tiny chocolate candy bars I proffered, but in the end, the conversations about our work, our clients, our failures and our successes lasted longer than the Snickers — and for me, were more satisfying.

I was also invited to speak at the Rally for Justice in homelessness and health care, held on Thursday evening. All total, 125 people came together to make a noise, raise a voice and demand fairness and justice for people marginalized by our society. It was terrific! Those who gathered understand that homeless and health care are two parts of a single issue—we must stop systematically assigning people to poverty in an effort to ignore our civic responsibility; to demand change that leads to justice for all. We were noisy and raucous in the best way possible….with passion, joy and energy rooted in justice. The rally was the perfect metaphor for the entire conference.

HCH is one of the most effective and compelling ways to serve the homeless, and I can’t wait to see what next year’s conference offers!

HSCGKC is a membership organization for 75 agencies that serve the homeless in Kansas City. HSCGKC is also the Continuum of Care (COC) Lead for Kansas City/Jackson Co. As the COC, HSCGKC submits, administers and monitors the $10.1M HUD contract for services throughout Jackson Co. Ms. Riddle, a native of Los Angeles, Calif. holds a Master’s of Social Work from the University of Kansas and has led social workprograms in Kansas City, Albuquerque, N.M., Belleville, Ill. and Springfield, Mass.

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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.


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