Since I began my career in homeless services 15 years ago, I have often marveled at how lucky I am.
I have heard countless stories. Stories about break ups, illness, addiction, job loss, and just plain bad luck that, when coupled with financial insecurity and lack of a social support network, result in homelessness.
With each story, I wonder – what would I do if faced with such circumstances?
On September 12 as the rains came down and my neighborhood was evacuated over the coming days due to mudslides and impassable roads, I was reminded of just how lucky I am – even in hard times. Instantly friends offered places to stay, meals were cooked, my children were invited for play dates, all allowing my husband and I to handle our affairs, successfully evacuate, and still function at work.
I think many of us in this community have been lucky like me during this difficult time. During the past three weeks I have been hard pressed to find a friend who didn’t tear up carpet for a neighbor, donate clothing to a displaced family, or organize a benefit event at his or her business.
It has taken a village. The citizens of Boulder have stepped up. I am one of the lucky ones. I did return home, my home is livable, my insurance company has responded. My friends still ask how I am doing, my children, while still troubled, are over the confusion and fear of being displaced.
But what about those without the support network I have? Those without resources? Those without relationships?
Since our beloved community was hit with epic rains and raging flood waters, many others have been reminded of what having a strong support network means.
Natural disasters are equalizers. This flood can teach us a lot.
We need to be there to help all people impacted by this event – the people homeless as a result of the rain, as well as those people who were homeless before the flood. Our response needs to be comprehensive and long-lasting. We need real solutions not band-aids – for flood victims and for everyone in our community that is or will become homeless – no matter the circumstance.
Never before has it been more important for people to have access to safe, affordable housing.
If there was one silver lining of the horrific event it is this reminder. We can now appreciate how at risk we all are. We can relate even with those who become homeless on a daily basis for reasons other than a natural disaster. We know we need a community that prioritizes access to resources and support for people to become housed again when their own safety net fails.
Homelessness is just plain unacceptable. Our community response to this flood confirms many of us feel this way. Let’s harness this energy to create a dignified, cohesive system from emergency shelter to program based transitional housing to supportive housing to affordable units for those who need them.
Working together we will come back stronger. Let’s use this opportunity to get it right.