How do you experience homelessness? I wrote several months ago about the preferred terminology for homelessness; that “people experiencing homelessness” is a better phrase than “homeless people,” because it reminds us that homelessness is a condition – hopefully a temporary one – and not a defining characteristic. After further consideration, I think the phrase applies to all of us – even those of us who are lucky enough to have our own beds and roofs and keys to the front door. I have never experienced homelessness, but my experience with homelessness – meeting people who have lost their homes and their families and their health due to lack of affordable housing – makes me want to end this issue. I know many social workers, case managers, and shelter employees that are passionate about ending homelessness because they (we) interact with individuals experiencing homelessness every day. Sometimes I think we exist in a nonprofit bubble, believing that our peers in other lines of work cannot understand the realities of homelessness, or the importance of ending it. This is inaccurate.
For Cindy Eich, experiencing homelessness didn’t involve seeing a family member lose housing or encountering someone panhandling. As an Illinois Realtor, she started seeing not only people without homes, but homes without people. In 2011, Eich remembers “we were showing properties that were foreclosures and it was obvious that families had lived in those homes.” Motivated by the empty dwellings she saw, especially those that used to have children in them, Eich created Realtors Against Homelessness in 2011 and has since held multiple fundraisers in her community, the last of which raised $25,000.
This week in Florida, the state’s largest professional association – realtors – gathered at a conference to discuss how they could help end homelessness. As Florida hosts the third largest number of individuals experiencing homelessness, this is a crucial issues facing the state. The group has advocated for Florida legislation that supports individuals experiencing homelessness and provides more funding for rentals and home ownership.
In an era when politicians, business owners and plenty of private citizens attack and berate individuals for being homeless, it is refreshing and promising that this professional organization supports ending homelessness and is working to make that happen. People experiencing homeless are not a likely group to utilize the services of a realtor, so there is an obvious disconnect between realtors making a financial profit and helping this population. Their commitment to doing so demonstrates how important a home really is – the professionals who dedicate their careers to knowing the details of housing see how important having your own place can be, and want every person to have this as an option.
Our professional lives connect to homelessness in ways that aren’t always obvious. For one realtor, selling a foreclosed house was her experience with homelessness. For others, it may be serving homeless clients or treating homeless patients. Our experiences with homelessness are wide ranging, but until we see the end off this social issue, it will impact us all.