By Christopher Fay
These are big shoes to fill!
At the Falls Church City Council meeting earlier this week, I was honored to receive the inaugural 2017 Sprague Champion Award for Affordable Housing Advocacy from the City of Falls Church. Knowing what a strong and tireless advocate Steve Sprague was for affordable housing, I am humbled to be in his company and to carry forth his legacy. I am pleased to know that the current City Council is giving priority to planning for affordable housing, as it is so badly needed in our community. In fact, it is critical.
But why me? Why Homestretch? The mission of Homestretch is to empower homeless families to attain permanent housing and acquire the skills, knowledge and hope they need to become self-sufficient. When a homeless parent with children moves into Homestretch, they receive a key to a home where they will spend the next few years. During that time, we work with them to address all the problems that led to their homelessness — helping them acquire skills, certifications and degrees; to extinguish debt, repair credit and build savings; to develop satisfying career paths; and to restore health. And we ensure that their children are healthy, happy and excelling in school. These families – most of whom are homeless due to domestic violence, human trafficking, health crises, loss of loved ones, generational poverty, or war – are usually single mothers with young children who, like all of us, simply desire a safe place to live, a meaningful career and schools where their children can prosper. They love Falls Church and our excellent schools.
Our graduates — all of whom came to us homeless, penniless, and in crisis — have, in the last few years, become teachers, nurses, accountants, dental assistants, commercial drivers, realtors, pastors, social workers, day care owners, chefs, master plumbers, retail store managers, and cosmetologists. One became a pharmacist, another a gynecologist. While not all graduates attain such heights in a matter of two years, many continue to aspire and achieve after graduation. At the ceremony Monday night, three graduates attended; each one continued to improve their lives after they graduated, and became homeowners. From homelessness to home ownership – that is the ideal Homestretch story, and it is not such an uncommon one. This is why Homestretch is gaining visibility as a place where homeless families experience transformation, with documented outcomes that lead the nation.
But for such inspiring stories to continue to occur, we need housing that people at all income levels can enjoy. This is, and will be, a major challenge for us as a city that aspires to be a just and livable community. We need a community where everyone has a chance to contribute, to grow, and to aspire. Consider: that person who is now on the lowest rung of the economic ladder may be the person who someday cleans our teeth, or teaches our child, who repairs our automobile, or who manages our favorite restaurant. A fair and fruitful society cannot be one that is reserved solely for the affluent. While I am happy to carry on Steve Sprague’s work, I will need all our fellow citizens to be champions of affordable housing, too. This must be a collective commitment.
Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.” I am grateful to all those who contribute to making Homestretch such a wonderful place – our dedicated staff and Board, our founder Kieran Sharpe, our generous donors and friends, the many local churches and companies that support us so generously, and of course, the courageous parents and children who have turned their crises into opportunities to build amazing new lives. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “In the end, we will not be judged by where we end up in life, but rather by how far we traveled from whence we began.” By this yardstick, many graduated Homestretch families have traveled much farther than I ever will.
And I am grateful to the staff and elected officials of our great, small city, who share our vision of a just community in which everyone can feel welcome, where everyone can contribute to the best of his or her ability. What Dr. Martin Luther King said many years ago is true for Falls Church today: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
To which we can all say, amen.
Christopher Fay is the executive director of Homestretch.