Yesterday, representing Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, Sue Campbell, Nicole Martinez and I attended the NMCEH Conference named “Housing for All in Changing Times” in Albuquerque at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. As it says in the NMCEH Conference program, ” The mission of NMCEH is to assist communities to create solutions to homelessness, from prevention through permanent housing, by using action, advocacy, and awareness.”
The Conference started around 800am and ended at 430pm and included two primary guest speakers, Walter Moreau, who is the Executive Director of Foundation Communities, an organization that creates and manages affordable housing in Austin, TX, and Laura Zeiliger, of the U.S. Inter-agency Council on Homelessness, who is the Director of National Programs and Field Support. There were also 9 other workshops the guests of the conference could attend during the course of the day such as, “Raising Private Funds, Federal Housing Policy and the HUD Budget, and Integrating Advocacy Into Direct Services”. That last one was also the panel that Sue Campbell was asked to speak on with two other women, Claudia Medina (co-founder and Exec. Director of Enlace Communities, an agency working with Latino immigrants surviving domestic violence) and Winona Stolzfus MD (Executive Dir. of Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless) and was focused on the ways homeless service agencies can expand creating opportunities for homeless individuals to advocate for themselves and integrate into their communities by creating bridges for other homeless people.
The diverse groups of non-profits and homeless oriented service agencies from all the different cities in New Mexico attending the conference, gave a broad picture of opportunity to meet the challenges we are all facing in New Mexico and our country. They all expressed a need to really come together and find new ways to advocate and cooperate, and integrate current programs to offer the homeless a better quality of life and connect them to services they need and expand housing opportunities, including efforts to create forums where homeless individuals can introduce their own voice to the public at large, who are unaware of the state of homelessness in their own city or town. I found, as a guest of NMCEH, and a homeless advocate of Camp Hope, that the conference as a whole spoke very positively to the long term goals of many who are working in this field, whether through lobbying to change policy and raise funding and awareness, or those who are working at the the grass roots level who are trying to educate and initiate changes as a community based movement. The clarion call of philanthropy humanitarianism and civil rights for the homeless as a social justice issue affecting all of us, is a common thread which seemed to unite the conference members. This, in spite of disagreements on Federal and State policies, in terms of the status quot arguments and rhetorical semantics that usually accompany such emotionally charged discussions about changing peoples lives, and having the limitation of time as a common denominator. The larger challenge of teaching our communities to create a culture of compassion and equanimity and get more people connected and involved in finding solutions, by pooling our resources and generating economic and social change, is a goal that almost everyone I had a chance to speak with there personally, had not only on their minds, but deeply rooted in their hearts.
I thank Stephanie Lefebvre of NMCEH, who invited me on scholarship to attend the conference, for giving me the opportunity to learn how all of these amazing people are working to improve the quality of life for the homeless. I hope I can share all I learned from attending this conference with the residents of Camp Hope and inspire them to reach out to the Las Cruces community to help all the dedicated supporters of this movement find more ways to meet the challenges we face today, and make a better tomorrow we can all be proud to say we created together.
Thank you Albuquerque, for your hospitality!