Commentary: Keep an open mind about supportive housing

I stood in front of what seemed like an insurmountable slab of rock in Joshua Tree.

One friend was at the top, holding onto a rope that I had willingly agreed to have attached to me. Another stood behind me, saying words of encouragement, trying to get me to believe that by simply putting one hand in front of the other and one foot in front of the other, that I would be able to climb this monster.

I hate heights. I get dizzy and nauseous but had decided that it was time to face my fears.

Most of our fears are based on irrational feelings, but they have this nasty way of enslaving us, closing our minds to new possibilities, ideas and concepts.

I tentatively tested out these magic shoes that had been bequeathed to me with assurances that they stick to rock, that you only need the smallest piece of rock to balance said shoe upon and you can, indeed, climb.

I was amazed to see that they worked! Bit by bit, I began my ascent, slowly but surely making progress, and with each move I made that didn’t result in my falling or slip-sliding down the rock face, my confidence grew. Confidence in the harness that attached me to the rope. Confidence in the rope that my friend (a professional rope access technician) at the top was holding onto. Confidence in my friend (also a pro) below me, who was giving me instructions.


A challenge midway

But then I hit a difficult section, one that required a huge leap of faith, one that required me to take a bigger step than I thought my inexperienced legs would be able to manage. I kept looking at it, becoming fixated on what I thought I couldn’t do. My fears drowned out the voices of my friends — the experts. My fears told me it wasn’t possible. I could feel panic starting to well up inside me.

Eventually I tried, but it was a timid attempt, and I failed. Before I knew it, I was grasping with my hands at the granite rock face, and I was sliding down the perilous cliff face. The rope caught me. I came to an abrupt stop, and the tears began. I looked at my now-bleeding arms, fighting the urge to vomit.

My friends checked on me and continued to offer me encouragement as I battled nausea. Wiping away my tears and staring at my bloody arms dangling in the air halfway up this rock, I wondered why I’d ever set out to attempt this seemingly impossible task.

But then something happened. I looked around me. I moved my focus away from the rock and saw the breathtaking beauty that surrounded me. I looked down for the first time and saw how far I’d come.

My friend waved and smiled at me. I looked up and saw my other companion beckoning me to try again, telling me I could do it.

In that moment, hope returned, and my faith in the things that I knew to be true was restored. The rope had caught me, and I wouldn’t have had blood-covered arms if I’d simply trusted. 

So, determined not to let fear trap me, I put my feet to the rock, grabbed a handhold and began climbing again.

I soon reached the same crux that had stopped me before, and this time I made the conscious decision to trust, to risk, to step onto the unknown.


Overcoming our fears 

Costa Mesa is on the threshold of making history. For more than two years, people from all across the community have been working on creating effective strategies to address the issue of homelessness.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Housing solves homelessness. The permanent supportive housing project that was discussed at the City Council study session Dec. 10 is the golden carrot of the carrots that the Homeless Task Force has created.

I know that for many this may be a new concept, and this is why it is more important than ever that people are given the right information. It is vital that the people of Costa Mesa are informed about the facts around permanent supportive housing, how it works and why there has been a national shift to addressing homelessness.

Gone are the days of emergency and transitional shelters and access centers to address homelessness. Housing people, and keeping them housed, is the proven, cost-effective way to address homelessness, and these savings benefit the entire community.

However, for many of us, permanent supportive housing is a new concept. We don’t have a context for it, we don’t know what it looks like and we don’t know how it is created, who manages it, how it’s funded and what impact it has or doesn’t have on the surrounding areas.

Combine that with false information, rumors and hearsay and fear sets in. That is human nature. But false information, rumors and hearsay are not good foundations upon which to make wise decisions.


There’s a ways to go

So, my fellow Costa Mesans, I humbly ask you to make sure you are informed. Read the “Supportive Housing Proposal for the Homeless in Costa Mesa” article on Costa Mesa’s website.

Talk to Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House, the organization chosen by the council earlier this year to develop this project. Call him at (714) 836-7188, Ext. 101.

Join the Housing for Costa Mesans Facebook group, where we can equip you with research and articles on this topic. Come to the community workshop from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday to hear more and provide your input in the council chambers.

Back to my leap of faith. As I prepared to step out into what was unknown to me, I listened to my friends pointing out good handholds and footholds. I pushed my fears aside, launched myself upward, trusted in the resources around me and leapt. This time I made it over the hurdle!

I still had a ways to go, but after that victory it became easier. Once again, my faith had increased. My knowledge of what worked and what didn’t had grown, and a little while later I reached the summit.

My friend hugged me and pointed out how far I had come and what had been achieved. Together we stood side by side, marveling at what is actually possible when you put your faith in things that are true and take calculated, thoughtful steps forward.

So Costa Mesa, don’t be stifled by fear. Explore this concept of permanent supportive housing. Be open to learning, and consider how you could be a part of making history here as, step by step, we make informed strides toward ending homelessness in our fair city.

Homeless advocate BECKS HEYHOE is the director of the Churches Consortium in Costa Mesa.