“Change is mandatory. Growth is optional.” This is a bumper sticker that stuck with me. Part of my job as Executive Director is to give presentations around our community about the Shelter and our services. One of the questions I am most frequently asked is some variation of “Do you really see people change when they’re with you?”
This is a more loaded question than it first appears. I’ve answered it several ways throughout the years. All of them honest, and yet my answer has evolved. When I first started, I used to just answer, “Yes, they do,” and then recited some of the success stories of people from various backgrounds who ended their homelessness using our services. I was honest, and yet I felt it wasn’t getting to some of the deeper meanings of the question.
It became clear that people asking this question were looking for more. I began to feel that my honest answers were not enough. We’ve helped hundreds of people out of homelessness, more than any other organization in our community. Still, I began to feel this wasn’t really what people were hoping for when they asked this question.
Many were looking for a magic formula to “fix” the people who are homeless. It became clear to me that several of these people had loved ones they were struggling with and hoping that I could give them insight on how to help people they loved deeply. I can give insight, but I can’t give complete answers on how to “save” someone, especially if it’s from themselves.
It also became clear to me that others that were asking this question were trying to decide which people were “worthy” of helping. So, I began to broaden my responses when asked whether we see people “change” or not. I started answering that everyone we serve is changed in some way by our services. This is absolutely true. For many, just having a stable roof for a while is progress, allowing individuals to leave unhealthy or dangerous situations. The stability and security we provide allows our guests to take steps to help themselves, by admitting they have mental health challenges, allowing them to talk to therapists, helping them to see ways to realize their potential for happiness and their future stability. There is so much daily routine that encourages people to help themselves that I can’t separate our Shelter services from our Case Management services in my mind. They are intrinsically connected.
Recently the Torres Shelter made a significant change and became the first organization in our community that has services dedicated specifically for both people who can maintain their sobriety and those who are currently not sober. This expansion of our services will help us reach even more people and will help us be even more successful in our mission of helping people end their homelessness. We couldn’t be happier with how the expansion is going so far, but we also know there are many challenges ahead. We think we’re ready for most of them but know from experience that when dealing with humans you can never be ready for everything. This is another example that change happens every day, but growth is optional.
We are the best bargain in our community, when comparing the results we provide to the cost of operating. This is accomplished at an average $25 per day per person. The average stay with us is about $1300 per person. When compared to the cost of $35,000 per year for leaving people on the streets (which is doing almost nothing to help them) or the cost of supported housing at as much as $20,000 per year. Some people need permanent supportive housing, but not most of them. Our community lacks the financial resources and housing to accommodate all, so services like ours are a crucial piece of the puzzle. We assess where someone is at, and then strategize how to get them from point A to point B. Our method is quite pragmatic. Our approach generates a success story of someone leaving the Shelter and moving into a place of their own roughly every 33 hours!
The Torres Shelter helps people recover their lives. We always have and we always will. I believe there’s not a single individual we wouldn’t be able to help out of homelessness, if we had an adequate amount of reliable funding to focus on what was needed in each case.