A Quest for Empathy

Until I can understand why you
Fled, why you are willing to bleed,
Why you deserve what I must be
Willing to cede, let me imagine
You are my mother in Montgomery…

from “Refuge” by Tracy K. Smith

HDC’s members unite as a movement around a common vision: all people living with dignity in safe, healthy, and affordable homes within communities of opportunity. We all know realizing that vision means realizing how intertwined it is with equity and justice. And getting there means comprehending the realness of the lives of those who are housing insecure.

In her 2018 collection Wade in the Water, Pulitzer Prize winner and U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K.  Smith examines equity and justice both in the broad context of our nation’s history and in the tight space of individual lives.

Throughout, as in her poem “Refuge” (which she wrote after attending a seminar on forced migration), she underscores the power and the elusiveness of empathy.

As a sector, we’re pretty great at generating messaging that we hope compels everyone to care. Certainly, housing security and homelessness have captured the attention of the media and the general public as never before. But nothing has a chance of making the necessary impact without a climate of “systemic empathy.”

Front-line staff of HDC member organizations know this. They facilitate extraordinary changes in the lives of the people and communities they serve—and work tirelessly at it, without regard for the hour, the day of the week, or the boundaries of job descriptions—because they’re equipped with professional skills fueled by empathy.

If we really want just, equitable, scalable, and sustainable solutions to the housing crisis, each of us, regardless of our role or affiliation in the sector, needs to emulate them.

Speaking of honoring HDC member staff: we all come together once a year to do just that. If you’ve been to one of HDC’s annual member celebrations, you know they’re all about creating a space to lift up the work, honor each of you, and enrich our shared experience.

Our 2019 celebration is on April 23, and we’re tremendously honored to have Tracy K. Smith as keynote speaker. Please take a minute now to reserve your organization’s tables. Also, maybe think about bringing someone who’s not part of our sector on a daily basis: I hear empathy’s really contagious.

Marty Kooistra, Executive Director