Homelessness is a series of losses, spanning from loss of income to loss of identity and personhood. The way to fight homelessness is to work to restore those losses. But the biggest losses, such as loss of job, income, and housing, are the easiest to restore, and there are lots of agencies working on doing just that. The hardest losses to restore are the intangible ones – personhood, respect, choice, and agency.
One of the most effective tools at our disposal to restore those losses is the practice of hospitality.
We believe hospitality consists of six principles.
Most outreach work is predicated on the idea that “we” can meet “their” needs. We believe that we can meet each other’s needs, if we are willing to enter into a relationship based on the belief that we all have inherent value and worth. Mutuality involves seeing people as your peer and not as students to be taught or children to be monitored. We typically sort people by looking for differences. In mutuality, we sort people by looking for commonalities.
Agency is the right of people to exert power in their own lives. It’s a fundamental human right, and to the extent we take away that right, we dehumanize them. Honoring their agency means honoring their choices, even when that is not the decision we would have made for them. People’s decisions are rational to them, given the information they have available at the time.
History has shown us that when there are two groups of people, policies and decisions tend to bias upward, benefiting the group in power. The people we work among have often been on the wrong end of this power dynamic, so we seek to bias downward whenever possible. Asking ourselves, “Does this benefit the people we are seeking to be hospitable to, or just the people in power?” is a useful decision-making filter.
We invite people to come into our lives and our spaces, not to convert them to our side or to change them, but to create free space where we can become friends with each other based on who we each are – not who we wish they were. Hospitality means creating spaces for people to feel safe to be themselves.
Homelessness is, at its core, about relationships. It is the people who give our lives shape and meaning, and nobody has their best day alone. The relationships we strive to achieve must be real, based on the realities of who people are, and not agenda driven, or based upon who we wish they were. We build relationships based on things we have in common with each other.
Grace is the decision to forgive people in advance of their being proved worthy of it. Forgiving them in advance of their being proved worthy of the forgiveness creates space for people to live into being their best selves. Grace is also aspirational – we extend grace because we wish to be recipients of it.