Making the Abstract Personal

Spring is notoriously unhurried in Vermont. During this pandemic lockdown, it seems particularly slow in coming. On my daily walk, complete with mask and a pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitizer, I look for signs of color. Yesterday I saw red buds on a tree that I see every spring. I decided to download one of those plant identifier apps I have been meaning to use since the invention of apps years ago.

I confess a little shamefaced since I have lived in Vermont for decades now, that I discovered that the tree buds are Red Maple. The redbuds are the exact hue as crimson leaves from the same tree in fall, which I now see is a lovely symmetry in the seasons.  

I noticed an interesting phenomenon by knowing those buds are Red Maple; I feel more connected to the trees, and my walk is now lined with the familiar. Like when you look up at a starry sky, and think, oh starry sky. But if you know the shapes of even one or two constellations, for instance, the Big Dipper or Orion, your eyes look for them at night. And when you see them, there is a feeling of recognition; the sky goes from abstract to personal.

Another example of this during this pandemic is when I hear how many people have died (50 currently in Vermont), I am naturally sad. But when I read their obituaries in the paper, see a photo, read a name, David, Betty, Rama, or the Boyd twins, and the deaths take the shape of people with full lives and families that love them. 

In the world of homelessness, there has been an effort in the last few years to put names and faces to the masses of people experiencing homelessness. In 2013 there was the 100,000 Homes Campaign by Community Solutions that did much to personalize and make real to housed people the plight of those experiencing homelessness. In the initiative, photos of people experiencing homelessness were taken along with their names. People were named. And across the United States communities took action and moved more than 100,000 people into homes of their own. 

Around this same time, the US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) kick-started “Coordinated Entry” as a requirement of states receiving federal dollars to help end homelessness. The focus was on permanent supported housing and coordinating local community efforts by naming individuals experiencing homelessness and matching their specific needs with resources in the community. The goal of coordinated entry is to end homelessness with permanent housing. What I like most about the coordinated entry process is the focus is that it not only embraces the Housing First philosophy of low-barrier access and a person-centered approach but it also highlights the need for community systems of care to get their act together and doesn’t blame the individuals and families for their plight of homelessness. 

Coordinated entry supports communities to pull back the cloak of anonymity of homelessness and see individuals with names, and with lives.

At Pathways Vermont we hold space for you to learn the names of people who experienced homelessness, incarceration, and other struggles. We have a monthly newsletter, we share stories on social media, and we hold events where people share their personal stories. I invite you to connect with us. I believe making abstract personal is one of the best parts of being human. And I believe making the abstract personal enables us to feel part of the greater community that is our shared world.

There is a tiny yellow flower that is currently popping up out of the mud and tufts of new green grass in Vermont. It looks at first like a dandelion, but upon further inspection, it has a more complicated and detailed center than a dandelion. The flower is named Coltsfoot. And Coltsfoot it turns out has medicinal qualities. It is a natural remedy for respiratory conditions including coughing. When I see Coltsfoot on my walks, I think healing thoughts and send love out to everyone on the planet who are battling a COVID-19 infection. 

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