Showing by doing

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The American Dream can be a nightmare. The white picket fence is an unattainable aspiration for many who find themselves caught in the downward spiral of losing their job, finding affordable housing and staying off the streets.

That was the idea behind the eye-opening speech Julia Tripp presented at the 16th annual Community Caring Conference in Jackson Friday. The future is scary as the window of opportunity is narrowing and more Americans find themselves without homes, she warned.

"No matter what role you play in a community, you have a role to fight homelessness," she said to those in attendance, which included local business owners, volunteers, college students and community leaders.

Homelessness is a topic Tripp understands first-hand as she spent 11 years calling shelters and the streets her home. Her decade-long attempt to overcome it is a testament that it is neither an easy feat nor is it one which can rapidly occur.

Tripp, residing in Boston, said the way to self-sufficiency is to open the door for opportunity. Involving people in the decision-making of the problems surrounding them will bring insightful and diverse ideas. It will also provide them with practical skills and the confidence necessary to obtain a job. The end result will create self-sufficient individuals capable of maintaining the basic right of housing.

'Change coming'

Her own life story, as well as those of six committee members with whom she works, revealed the social roots leading to homelessness are as diverse as the people suffering from it. But the stories also demonstrate that given opportunities and support, people can eventually overcome the obstacles to stand on their own.

"What I represent is a change coming to America," she said.

Tripp is living proof. She has bought her first house a year and a half ago and holds two part-time jobs as constituent coordinator for the Center for Social Policy and co-coordinator of the Consumer Advisory Committee in Massachusetts. She has written two books on the topic, as well as a song, which she has turned into a play and cast with homeless people.

"Homelessness is not a plague. It does not mean that there is something wrong with your community," said Teresa Taylor, who shared her own experience of homelessness at the conference. "There is something wrong with your community if they don't fight it."

Taylor has taken the battle into her own hands with the project Vision House of Cape Girardeau. It will open March 1 and provide a recovery program for homeless women with an addiction. It is one of the several local programs that provides affordable housing.

"It is something that we always need to be mindful of and I assure you, Cape Girardeau is," Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson said.

Those who are interested in improving affordable housing are encouraged to attend the Housing Needs Coordinating Committee, which meets on the third Thursday of each month at 8:30 a.m. at the Cape Chamber of Commerce.

335-6611, extension 127

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