By Randle Loeb,a Denver-based advocate for people experiencing homelessness.
I have been speaking out on behalf of persons experiencing homelessness, having been homeless myself. My own terrible "dark nights of the soul," nearly took my life in 2001. I was fortunate that I had a network of support. Their perseverance and commitment to me in my most vulnerable time made the difference when I did not believe my life mattered. This transformed me because people listened and reached out when I felt numb, abandoned, lost, hopeless and helpless.
Now, when I listen to people who are in crisis, I draw on my own experiences to connect with people who live at risk of dying and who are vulnerable. Listening and being present to another is a vital task that most people in grinding poverty do not expect.
The best way to succeed at housing individuals and families experiencing homelessness, or who are at risk of homelessness, is to provide a support network that includes navigators who help establish a place to live and peer mentors who provide sustained connections with people experiencing homelessness. Peer mentors and navigators elevate the spirit, commitment, and connections that are vital to health and well-being of people experiencing homelessness.
Most of us take for granted that someone will be there when we are troubled, but this is not always the case. When a person is homeless, reconnecting with a community network provides that individual the sense that "I have a purpose in living." A person experiencing homelessness can encounter many different people who can provide support. A navigator and a peer mentor can help the person experiencing homelessness understand the options and can lead the team so that the right supports are offered, at the right time.
It takes two sets of skills to be a navigator and peer mentor. First, it takes someone who will listen and be present to a person when the person wants someone to listen. Secondly, there needs to be an understanding of resources and a tenacious examination all of the options until the person is stable. The support and follow through of the navigator and peer mentor can enable new ways of working together for everyone involved.
I have become aware of the obstacles and difficulties for someone with no resources and I have strategically networked with governmental agencies and nonprofits to effect change. The systems in place are difficult on a good day, so navigators must know the systems and know how connect with people and accomplish the task of providing a resource to resolve the barriers that persist in limiting people’s access to housing.