Discussing what works and what does not
Is there such a thing as Community Envy? I think about places around the globe where I have traveled, shopped, enjoyed the local food and attractions and sometimes I have wished my community could be like them. Not in every way, but maybe in the way the local shops line up on a quaint street, or the selection of places to eat as quirky and unique, or how you can buy locally grown food or wine to take back home…you get the picture! But lately I have begun to ask myself—don’t we already have a culture, character and history in our area of which I should be proud?
Part of my community envy has been informed by the buzz of discontent that has existed for years between those trying to create a vibrant downtown and those increasingly reliant on downtown for shelter and daily living. At the Homelessness Summit in May we began to explore this area of concern. Summit organizers, including myself, are challenged to continue the community conversation in this area, as we know that the Summit barely opened the door and there are strong feelings and long histories involved.
From the Summit, an idea emerged to connect business community and street culture. Notes from the group discussion on this idea stated the intent would be to: “convene facilitated conversations downtown to include street folks and people experiencing homelessness that would be authentic, provide lasting benefits, and ultimately create a new culture”. I caught up with the ladies who committed to going forward with this idea, Meg Martin and Faith Trimble, and spoke with them about how their idea has evolved since the Summit.
Meg and Faith both expressed a desire to build bridges; to connect sectors of the community that don’t typically interact or engage with each other until something “goes wrong”. They have plans to host a conversation as identified during the Summit, and are aligning with some projects already underway. I’ll share more at a later date when specifics have been worked out. First up for the pair though is a United Way Day of Caring project on Friday, September 26. The dynamic duo is organizing a team of volunteers that will include people who want to build these figurative bridges between people from all sectors of our multifaceted community. To get involved contact Meg and Faith at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
The conversation I had with Meg and Faith as I prepared for this article, and several others I’ve had since, have me thinking a lot about a concept we often use in social services work of interacting with our clients from a strengths-based approach rather than a problem-centered one. What if I approached my community from that mind-set? I started thinking about all the things that are unique to this community that make it like nowhere else: the underground music scene in the 80’s, our Nirvana connection and history, the Artesian Well, Evergreen, LBGTQ-friendliness, Arts Walk, Procession of the Species, Farmers Market, great locally grown, organic food, great restaurants, bars and shops, great lakes, rivers and the Sound. And people. Those of us who were not born here, came here and choose to stay here for our own reasons. I stay here because I feel like our community is not so big that you get lost here. People still matter here.
From now on, as I will do myself, I invite the reader to see our community for its strengths and not only for its problems. Problems have a way of diminishing when focus is placed in the positive. And for the problems that need attention, I vow to be part of finding solutions, community-based solutions.
This article is the second in a series coming out of the Olympia Homelessness Summit held in May of 2014. The Summit was meant to be a convening of leaders, but was also meant to be the start of a longer community conversation, not the only conversation. This series of articles for Works In Progress is a way of sharing this information with the broader Olympia community to inform you, to inspire you and to generate energy around the problem of homelessness that is positive, solution-oriented and community-driven. I will try to provide information that lets the reader know how to get involved. Please visit the Facebook page dedicated to continuing this important conversation: facebook.com/homelessnessleadershipcircleofolympia.