Homelessness, NIMBY, & You–What’s needed and what’s next?

While reading Goldsmith this week, I was immediately reminded of my internship experience this summer. My internship at the Conflict Resolution Center in Roanoke allowed me the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the issues of homelessness, “Not in my backyard”, and how it deeply effects you and I. I found the authors discussion of Linda Gibbs and her work to be incredibly inspiring after having to deal with many of the same issues, albeit on a much smaller scale. Something that I found to be lacking greatly in my experience was the managerial aspect of accountability, so I very much appreciate her emphasis on that task. 


My internship came to be through a contract with the City of Roanoke, the Roanoke Rescue Mission, and the Conflict Resolution Center (CRC).  The Rescue Mission (RM) had recently decided to obtain property nearby, with the hopes of that property becoming a new location for their thrift store, which is currently located across the street from the Mission. Some members of the Southeast neighborhood were outraged by the idea of this expansion. They feared that the continued presence of the transient population would decrease quality of life and increase crime in the community, specifically fearing that the change of location for the thrift store would push the homeless persons further into the neighborhood. The Southeast neighborhood called upon city officials to stop the RM from obtaining the new property through code enforcement. The city felt it was best to bring in the CRC to facilitate discussion about the movement, which began in January 2012. 

To read more about the beginning of the facilitation process, visit this story by Jorge Valencia at The Roanoke Times. 

So what?

It is incredibly easy to read this story or others like it and shrug it off because we typically do not have to look into the face of homelessness on a daily basis. We often write it off has a cause that we are interested in but we do not become advocates until the fear of homelessness becomes very real to us or someone we know. Or until situations like the one above actually do take place in our backyard. (Trust me, this is not a soapbox sermon. This is very much the pot calling the kettle black.) However, homelessness is an epidemic that has a long history and is far from over. It could and should be dealt with in a more effective manner, as is demonstrated by Linda Gibbs’ efforts in New York City. 

Now what?

Measurable Results. I quickly discovered that from a holistic perspective, the facilitations were moving along as was expected. Participants were speaking respectfully to each other and trying to come up with a collective approach to homelessness. But there was little to nothing to show for it from a measurable perspective. Yes, the RM had stepped up on security measures and other similar changes had been made but none of these really impacted homelessness in Roanoke. It is important to focus our attention to “using a range of methods that combine research and theory, individual or collective experience, and evidence” (Goldsmith, 2012, p. 125). A more comprehensive approach to homelessness with measurable results will be significantly more beneficial that the attempted quick fixes we see far too often. 

That being said, please read the latest article (by David Ress at The Roanoke Times) about the progress that is being made in Southeast Roanoke. As is made obvious by the previous discussion, there’s a long road ahead…but any progress is a necessary step forward. 


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