One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was at COOL Conference in 2006. (COOL Conference, now called IMPACT is a community service and civic engagement conference for college students.) The speaker, Wayne Meisel, who was president of the Bonner Foundation at the time, shared a story about a student. The student described how humbling and gratifying he found volunteering at soup kitchens and homeless shelters to be. He told Wayne that, in the future, he wanted his children to have the same experience.
Wayne then described his response to the student: if he really wanted to make a difference, he should work toward a society that did not have a need for soup kitchens or homeless shelters. In other words—it’s great that you want to help, but if you really want to make a difference, work to make a change in the system instead of letting status quo continue.
“Head, Heart and Hands” was the signature motto of my alma mater, Berry College. Our hearts go out to those in need, and we often feel compelled to help them by sharing our time and resources with community service organizations. Our time and resources are both needed and appreciated by those we help and we should definitely continue this practice. However, changing the status quo, as Wayne inspired me and other students to do that day, also requires using our minds to create better housing policy.
Creating policies that make safe, decent and affordable housing accessible to everyone in the United States is essential to preventing poverty, instability and homelessness. This is why I see the work of National Housing Conference and its members, as well as the Center for Housing Policy, as crucial. The depth and breadth of issues that hinder access to affordable housing make changing the system a daunting task. Through their work, NHC’s individual members each tackle a piece of the affordable housing puzzle. When these members come together through NHC, their efforts are both strengthened and coordinated—the pieces of the puzzle come together in an effort to change the system, one issue at a time.