Leading from the Streets
The Colorado Village Collaborative was formed by the Alternative Solutions Advocacy Project in early 2017 with founding board membership from Beloved Community Villagers, Denver Homeless Out Loud, The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, and Beloved Community Mennonite Church. CVC exists to initiate and invest in the development of resident-led villages.
CVC offers a platform for bringing together cross sectors of the community to address the current housing crisis by producing housing that is affordable, quick and easy to build, community centric, and environmentally friendly. We work in partnership with Village Councils and Advisory Councils to launch self-governed communities of formerly houseless individuals.
Homelessness Wasn’t Caused by Homeless People
It’s age old wisdom: your diagnosis leads to your prescription. For better or worse, the former always leads to the latter.
Everyone starts with presuppositions. And those foundational commitments shape how you go about making a diagnosis. We feel it’s best to just be up-front about ours. CVC’s effort to identify the causes of homelessness are rooted in three key presuppositions and their corresponding methodology:
Attend to power dynamics: listen to those marginalized by an injustice.
Think in systems: analyze social structures.
The present is a product of the past: look to history.
In reverse order, those commitments lead us to a few core opinions about why so many people are homeless in America:
We did not always have mass homelessness in this country. It began when the economy polarized and government support for housing was slashed.
Income and wealth inequality shot up to pre-Great Recession levels since the 1970s -- particularly for people of color -- at the same time funding for public housing all but disappeared (see graph). Housing and land values, however, have continued to appreciate.
A chronically homeless person in the US can expect to live between 42 and 52 years. By comparison, Sierra Leone, which ranks last among nations for life expectance, has an average of 50. Health care professionals have begun referring to these egregiously inequitable outcomes as structural violence. The bodies of poor people are physically damages by social systems that have been inadequately designed to care for vulnerable people.
Increasingly, unjust designs in housing, health care, and economic opportunity are compounded in US cities by policies that criminalize the poor forced into public spaces (Denver's camping/survival ban is a tragically typical example). Invariably, discriminated groups -- Black and Indigenous people, LGBTQ people and particularly trans, those who have experienced domestic abuse -- are disproportionately impacted.
Voice of the Oppressed
While HUD emphasizes that homelessness should be "rare, short-live, and non-recurring," we believe it should also be survivable and dignified. People experiencing homelessness have been asked to give up their voice, their human rights, and their very ability to exist.
People living on our streets consistently call for a recognition of their humanity. They ask for respect, for the basic things they need to survive, and for supports that free them from houselessness and poverty that still treat them like adults with gifts to offer.
Collectively, these insights led us to the integrative solutions CVC embodies: housing that centers human dignity, empowerment through self-governance, and design solutions that are low-cost, quick, environmentally sustainable, and community oriented.