The opening question comes in pretty soft.
Bryan and Carrie Stucky glance at each other in response, like they know their answers will be different.
The question, for the record, was, “How did you get involved supporting SPiN Cafe?”
As a business owner considering a run for City Council last year, Bryan needed to learn more about the people of our town and the issues they face. He’s a board member at North Whidbey Help House, where he sees the business side but is a bit removed from the services they provide. So he started asking questions, and he connected with SPiN Executive Director Michele Chapman, who was happy to help him expand his knowledge.
“It was mostly from a practical perspective,” Bryan says. “It was about business. My wife Carrie looks at it with, I’d say, more compassion.”
Across the table, Carrie smiles and shakes her head. She’s not so sure she has more compassion than Bryan. “But it makes me so sad to see the lack of kindness and understanding in our community about homelessness and poverty.”
Carrie sees it in social media, like many of us do, and also in public comments about homeless people and the groups that serve them. “There’s still such a stigma,” she says, “that it somehow harms our community to take care of homeless people.”
Whatever their motivation, Bryan and Carrie agree that many citizens don’t understand the diverse paths that lead our neighbors to experience homelessness. “There are so many different stories,” says Carrie, “of how quickly something can happen in a person’s life to send them down that path.”
Bryan’s search for answers led him to a meeting of Whidbey Island service providers for our homeless and struggling citizens. He was amazed, and not really in a good way. He saw all those providers and churches represented in the room, working so hard to serve our island, and it seemed to him like they really don’t talk to each other that much.
Bryan was a fully engaged Council candidate by that point. He saw this need to share resources and communicate as a centerpiece of where he would stand as a local politician. And as newly-elected Councilmember Stucky, he still sees active collaboration as the best way to end homelessness.
“I look at it on a strictly practical level,” he insists, with a twinkle in his eye. “Ending homelessness should be our goal. It helps everyone, including local business owners, many of whom appear to be against some homeless services.”
As the conversation goes deeper, Bryan and Carrie each bring up their resistance to the one-size-fits-all “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” argument from those in our community who believe homelessness is the fault of a homeless person not working hard enough to not be homeless.
“Some people,” Bryan says to Carrie’s nods of agreement, “just can’t do that. They just can’t pull themselves up without some help.” They both speak of how it really works: mental illness; broken relationships that spiral into homelessness; lost jobs and medical issues that leave people with nowhere to turn; addiction’s life-sucking grip on its victims. Bryan even shares stories of parents who won’t acknowledge their own deceased adult kids who lost their battles with those demons.
For the record, this sounds a lot like compassion coming from both Bryan and Carrie.
Where do we go from here? Bryan brings up the need to communicate and work together to end homelessness. This is his own indelible takeaway from that provider meeting he attended just a few months ago. “Everyone has a niche,” he says about providers who are each excellent at their own piece of the puzzle. “SPiN provides meals and a day shelter, at a pure survival level for the people who aren’t making it. Where does SPiN fit in the big picture? Is SPiN talking to other groups that can help – bit by bit – to bring SPiN guests from survival to the next level?”
Carrie, in spite of her sadness at our community’s lack of compassion, sees huge potential. She speaks of the dozens of devoted groups, both secular and religious, that have stepped up to help. “If those people could just collaborate and work together toward solutions, we could make some progress.”
This is a challenge, to SPiN and to our allies in our mission. It’s quite practical, isn’t it? It’s also full of what we’re all about at SPiN. Compassion.