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April 17, 2022
To build community and make everyone feel at home, Jordan believes a friendly greeting can make all the difference.
“Instead of avoiding eye contact and acting like [people experiencing houselessness are] not there, myself and others, we say hi. Just some of those really basic human connections for folks [make a difference],” Jordan said. “Again, whether they have a physical home or not, you’re home here, and when we’re home here, we acknowledge each other on these streets.”
Education and spreading awareness are big components of helping for Ralston. She believes that if people experiencing houselessness do not know about the resources available to them, they cannot use them. Similarly, community members unaware of the resources are unable to provide support.
“The public support is huge. The only way you can get that is by educating our community and helping people find ways to be involved that work for them. A lot of people think you have to have a lot of time or a lot of money to be involved in making the world a better place for the people who need it — that’s just not the case,” Ralston said.
As one of West High’s Student Family Advocates, there is one thing Annie Gudenkauf feels she can always provide.
“Really, what we can do is just be an emotional support for families that might not be getting the services that they deserve to have,” Gudenkauf said.
Others participate in hands-off work, including political, financial and emotional support, for people who are doing the hands-on work. If a person wants to be active in their community, Jordan believes they should find an internal connection to the issue in the form of empathy or personal experience. This process requires listening and reflecting on the issue while learning new things and preparing to be uncomfortable.
“I’ve oftentimes found that in most of the community work I do, if there’s not a personal connection to it, some people put in the amount of work they think needs to be done, pat themselves on the back and then leave. If you really want to be involved, and you want to make a difference, this is forever and always,” Jordan said.
After firmly committing to a cause, Jordan notes there are many ways to get involved, from volunteering to writing related pieces that make people think. Nonetheless, a personal connection is important to combat the heavy toll taking on social justice issues has on an individual.
“The sustaining factor for me of doing the work is the joy, healing and excitement I get. And that’s because I tether it to knitting or I tether it to my neighborhood. I tether it to people that I see every day,” Jordan said. “It’s personal, and it’s fun.”
Russett values community members voicing their opinions on city planning and potential projects. She encourages others to think about changes with empathy.
“Sometimes these rezoning meetings at city council can get really contentious. There’s lots of neighbors that don’t want to see certain housing types in their community. I would like people to think, not just about what’s going on in their neighborhood, but what the city needs as a whole and what’s best for the city in terms of providing housing to our community,” Russett said. “We need multifamily units. We need duplex units. We need smaller units. We need accessory dwelling units. And we need it across the city, not just in one neighborhood.”
To learn about the process of writing this cover story, listen to the podcast below.