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Joel John Roberts Headshot

Is Ending Homelessness Just a Dream?

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When I was a kid, I used to dream I would become a Navy jet pilot, while other times, I hoped I would be an architect. I used to even dream I would be tall. In sixth grade, I would dream I would make the winning shot in our after-school basketball games.

None of these dreams came into fruition. But I'm not a bitter adult reminiscing over what could have been. I have new dreams now.

Like many advocates and community leaders across this country, I dream of the day this nation will house all of our people. No homelessness.

Homelessness has been a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of Americans for decades past. The state of living under a freeway overpass or behind a trash bin in a hidden alley is not what dreams are made of. We wouldn't allow our treasured pets to live in such squalor, but somehow we permit our neighbors to exist in nightmarish conditions.

Until 2001, when the head of the U.S. Inter-agency Council on Homelessness embraced a dream that the National Alliance to End Homelessness promoted - End homelessness in Ten Years. Several hundred communities across the country promoted the effort, a sign that thousands of community leaders embraced the same dream.

But 10 years later, the nightmare of homelessness stubbornly persists. All I have to do is look outside of my window to see a dream that has not been fulfilled yet. I still see the man who sleeps next to his shopping cart filled with life's possessions, and the woman walking down the street at two in the morning screaming at demons haunting her consciousness.

In 2010, the federal government embraced a new dream -- to end homelessness among veterans and those who are chronically homeless in five years. The goal line shifted five years into the future. We are a third of the way to 2015 and most experts within government and within the service community are not putting champagne on ice planning a national celebration.

I am not a dream expert, but I do know there are all sorts of dreams. I wonder if all of these national plans to end homelessness are prophetic dreams - predicting a future state where no American is homeless. The dates of the prophecy are just not accurate, but the hope is still there.

Or is the dream of ending homelessness a reflection of our fears, like when we dream of being naked in school or falling off of a cliff? Are we so worried that the nightmare of homelessness is overwhelming our country that we start dreaming of resolving it?

Perhaps our visions should be more like "I Dream of Jeannie", the 1960s television sitcom of a 2000 year-old genie who gives an American astronaut his wishes. We need a genie that will grant us the wish of ending homelessness.

With an economy that has wreaked havoc on this country, I wonder how many people still embrace the American Dream -- prosperity and success, usually seen through home ownership? Perhaps our American Dream should be simpler, the hope of ending homelessness.

The only way this country can stay off of Cloud Nine, and become realists in the dream of ending homelessness is to implement concrete activities that actually house homeless Americans.

Many communities who promoted "10-Year Plans" years ago are now embracing the 100,000 Homes Campaign. Why? Because they are tallying actual numbers of people being housed. They have turned a dream into a vision.

For me, I support the vision of housing 100,000 of the most hurting homeless Americans. Otherwise, I will just go back to dreaming of making that sixth grade winning shot.