On the eve of #VisioningDay 2017, we are looking back to last year’s event where we honored long time Policy Director, Diane Sullivan, with an Inspiring Leadership Award. As Diane transitioned to new endeavors, she joined us to raise her voice at the Homes for Families podium and accept the award. Her remarks, as always were passionate and inspirational, and also capture what is HFF , Visioning Day, and the movement to end homelessness.
To get everyone in #VisioningDay spirit, we are sharing her remarks today:
Thank you the Homes for Families Board, the Consumer Advocate Team and of course the incredible HFF staff . I am truly humbled. So, I’ll accept this on your behalf, Homes for Families, because you inspire leadership in so many ways. From the battles to the scars, the sweat and the tears, the jokes and the cheers. Homes for Families, you’ve inspired it all.
More than a decade ago, a sudden job loss, along with the rising costs of housing, utilities, child care, food…I became homeless with my family. Of course that’s the 2 second summary of a much broader and painful story, but after 2.5 months living in a hotel, we were transferred to a local shelter where I was first introduced to HFF.
I sat among other parents experiencing homelessness, shelter providers, community members and elected officials. Parents shared their stories of how they became homeless – and their hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow for themselves and their children. And the work they were putting in to get there. And there, something started to make sense to me – that absolutely none of this makes sense to me. And I was inspired – inspired to pose a question to the elected officials who sat before us.
How do you justify spending so much money warehousing children in hotels and motels rather than investing in homelessness prevention and affordable housing options for them? I wasn’t expecting a response. Because there simply is no answer.There is no justification – because homelessness is not just.
Later that year, I began working as an eviction prevention specialist in Boston. I guess I figured that if I couldn’t save my own children from the hardships of homelessness, perhaps I could help others avoid the trauma. I began attending various HFF events – legislative breakfasts, community meetings, and of course, Visioning Days of years past. I quickly learned that Homes for Families provided a safe space for me, and parents like me, to share our stories, air our grievances while encouraging us to engage in open dialogue, focused on solutions. And I was inspired.
I later joined the Board and eventually the staff of Homes for Families, all of this about 10 years ago. That’s a long time. That’s a long battle. And I’m still inspired. I know we’re not there yet. I know many of you here today woke up in a state regulated shelter bed because despite the hundreds of millions the state spends on housing and homelessness programs every year, we didn’t reach you in time.
I also happen to know that the hundreds of millions dollars being spent each year on housing and homelessness programs represents a mere 1% of our state’s 39 billion dollar operating budget. A budget that is a statement of our very own priorities. One percent. We elect our state representatives and senators and our Governor into office. So, guess what? Ultimately, our state budget is a statement of our priorities.
Here’s my theory folks – want to cut down on healthcare spending? Invest in affordable housing so that we can rid ourselves of the physical and mental trauma caused by homelessness and the avoidable costs associated with their treatment. Or the further cost to humanity when they are not? Want to cut down on education costs for children who lack the housing stability that supports their success in school? Invest in affordable housing. Want to cut down on hunger so that families are not being forced every month to choose between paying their rent and feeding their children? Invest in housing.
Want to invest in jobs and economic development? Invest in housing. Want to invest in communities? Invest in housing. Want to invest in people? Invest in housing. Invest in affordable housing, so that we all, regardless our income brackets, have access to the very foundation that supports healthy families and thriving communities across this Commonwealth. And I know that you have the power to make your elected officials hear you too. You have the power to inspire them beyond that 1%.
Despite how uninspiring this world can seem at times, I hope that your involvement here today inspires you to turn your visions into action. And along your journey, I encourage you – to the best of your ability, to please look to yourself and each other for inspiration. It may be tough to see sometimes, but trust me, your strength and perseverance is inspiring to many into action here today and for days to come.
You do have the power to change this. You are the coalition. You are the movement! You ARE the inspiration. Thank you Homes for Families!
And thank you to Diane! We look forward to honoring our 2017 Inspiring Leaders and remain grateful for all Diane brought and continues to bring to the movement to end homelessness.