Rebuttle: our “warm welcome” is how we succeed at ending homelessness

We need to remember that we’re all connected.

Editor’s note: This letter is in response to the letter “Stop encouraging homelessness”, published Nov. 1.

This letter’s author theorizes that the “warm Enumclaw welcome” is an enabler of homelessness, a contributor to its growth, and that our basic support of unhoused neighbors through food, clothing, use of the library, etc. is “misguided empathy”.

I write this op-ed, not necessarily as a rebuttle but as a re-frame: I believe that our “warm Enumclaw welcome” and empathy is a key ingredient that must be baked into our local strategies to end homelessness.

Let me explain: I have spent the last 19 years with intention toward my unhoused neighbors, accompanying them in the day-to-day stuff of life. I’ve spent time in shelters, in hospital rooms, on street corners, at appointments and in the nonprofit drop-in center and medical clinic that I co-founded (Aurora Commons and its Safe, Healthy, Empowered (SHE) Clinic). I now work full time in government, planning and strategizing solutions to homelessness. All this work has led me to believe that one of the main reasons we have a homelessness crisis in America is because we have lost our sense of community, of caring for one’s neighbor and have lost sight of the belief that we belong to one another.

For many years now this other-ing, this dismissal of the humanity of our unhoused neighbors has deeply influenced our policies, programs and the efforts aimed at caring for our unhoused neighbors. As they stand, both our general posture as a community and the social services that we offer are transactional, charity-driven, systematized attempts that only serve to perpetuate a social death and lack of meaning that further isolates. This growing dehumanization keeps these vital community members (our unhoused neighbors) from feeling safe enough to access the social, health and housing services that they desire and deserve and that we so desperately want them to.

As a society, we put too much weight on these social services as the linchpin; they’re not, but we are. We easily forget the things that make all of us human and upon which all human beings’s mental health depends: the lived-out questions of “who am I” and “what am I.” These questions can’t be answered by professionalized care, for they have to do with a sense of belonging, of counting and of mattering. It is the “stuff” of being human. The very fleshy, messy, particular-only-to-you, hand-on-your-heart questions and birthright of every single one of us. This is where we, as neighbors, can step in as a special assist to services, where we can offer our “warm Enumclaw welcome”.

So, to the folks in Enumclaw who are concerned that the “warm Enumclaw welcome” is enabling, I say – it’s a crucial part of the solution. Our warm hello and communal care builds a humanizing bridge for the precious folks who sleep outside to access life saving services when they are ready.

And I speak from experience: without this key ingredient, unhoused folks are less likely to access services.

Sparrow Etter Carlson