Reality, Urgency, and the Story

By HDC Executive Director, Marty Kooistra

I recently found my mind wandering while sitting at a hearing in the Seattle City Council Chambers. Oh, I was trying to stay deeply focused on the important comments and discussions about whether or not Seattle was finally ready, after many years of conversations and studies, to strengthen one of the many tools we need to begin to address the affordable housing crisis here. But I strayed off momentarily to Oudong, a small community about 90 miles outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It was here, three years ago that I met a hard working teenager who spent five challenging days, laboring in the sun with 15 volunteers to build a 275 square foot home for him and his family.

Reality, Urgency, and the Story Image 1Like the 22 other families we built homes with that week, the life they knew in back in Phnom Penh was earning a dollar a day while living and working on the dump site. After this blitz build concluded, the new buyers cut a ribbon at the front door and our team of fast learning bricklayers gathered, to share about the week and what we learned. We sat in a circle on the floor.

The quiet – the muting of the orchestra of trowels and hammers – gave us a chance to truly survey the accomplishment and to see in each other’s eyes the humanity we witnessed while laying block after block. The teenage son sat next to me, sobbing with relief and joy. His message to us and his family was simple and emphatic. He thanked us all for the labor of love and made it clear that this home meant that he now had a chance to go to school; to learn a trade and to earn enough money to have a life and to help care for his family. This home was linked to his livelihood and to his future far beyond its walls and roof—and he lived this new reality.

I looked back into the council chambers; what brought me back to this place and time?

Reality, Urgency, and the Story Image 2I believe it emerged as I tried to grasp for some hope and remind myself of the reality of how many, whether across the globe or here in King County, have to struggle for the basics. It reminded me how hard it can be to possess a sense of urgency about this affordable housing crisis and behave accordingly. It haunted me to realize anew that in spite of how blatantly evident all this is, we operate in a context wherein everyone has, seemingly, their own facts about real needs and a myriad of ways to distract addressing them.

I invite each of you think back to why you decided to get involved. Remember the faces and the tears of those you’ve worked alongside to create spaces to call home; grip the facts and let them stir you once more to embrace the urgency we must unleash. Most importantly, share your version of “the story” with everyone, including all those such as; nurses, teachers, and employment counselors, whose efforts to help others depends on a healthy home first.

Now is not the time to allow ourselves to settle for anything less than our finest effort to realize an entire King County where all people live with dignity in safe, healthy and affordable housing within communities of opportunity.