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Lloyd Pendleton and Greg Morris

Finding a champion; mustering up political will

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Greg Morris and Lloyd Pendleton have a common mission to care for the homeless--actually it's more of a passion. But they're at opposite ends of their professional lives.

Pendleton, 73, was an executive with the Ford Motor Company for 14 years before serving the next 26 years in the welfare department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Additionally, he served as senior adviser to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness in Washington, D.C.

In 2006, Morris founded a pilot program for the city of Boise, which provided housing to homeless families, while integrating intensive case management. The pilot evolved into CATCH, Inc., an independent nonprofit where Morris, 42, serves as executive director.

But the waiting list for CATCH continues to grow to record numbers as Idaho, and Boise in particular, struggles with a steadily growing number of homeless. Meanwhile, in Pendleton's home state of Utah, his work is being credited with helping reduce that state's street homelessness by an unprecedented 78 percent over the past nine years.

Which is why Morris was so anxious to host Pendleton in a series of meetings with the public, stakeholders and a stream of public officials earlier this month.

Can you recall, when you were a boy, your first impression of someone who was homeless?

Pendleton: I came from a very small town and on rare occasions, we would travel to Salt Lake City, where we would see hoboes; and I remember hearing, "Get a job, you lazy bum." Through the years, I made my own paradigm shift to see them as my brothers and sisters.

But you must acknowledge that not enough people in our nation have yet made that shift.

Pendleton: We speak the middle-class language, while the homeless speak a poverty language; our words become noise to them.

I remember several years ago when we first started reading about numerous cities, including Boise, drafting their own plan to eliminate homelessness. Honestly, I thought the phrase was ridiculous.

Pendleton: So did I. But after listening to the research of a housing-first approach, I became convinced it could be done. So, what we did in Utah was restructure our state's homeless coordinating committee to steer away from members being service providers and more toward cabinet-level office holders, with the lieutenant governor as its chair. When you have the state supporting your effort, it becomes a whole lot easier because counties and cities line up after.

What do your homeless numbers look like in Utah?

Pendleton: We've gone from an average of 67 days in a shelter to 33 days; and 41 percent leave without any financial assistance. About 52 percent of them require $3,500 in assistance for about five months; and then we have about 6 percent that are chronically homeless and need publicly supported housing.

Can you appreciate the argument from skeptics who are inclined not to keep throwing money at the problem?

Pendleton: I agree. I'm not willing to go to a legislator to ask for more money to do this. What we're doing is making certain that the funds we have now are used effectively.

Morris: One of the reasons I invited Lloyd to come here is that Utah and Idaho seem to be cut from the same political cloth. How is it possible that Utah reduced their homeless count by 74 percent while we really haven't made a dent?

So what's the difference?

Morris: Idaho does a very good job of holding collaborative meetings, but you have to have an agency or person that is going to carry everyone to the finish line.

Pendleton: But you will not change the status quo without some conflict. You should welcome conflict; it creates the energy, the dialogue and passion to make change.

When you hear about Utah's success, do you have the sense that Idaho is still in the early stages of combating homelessness?

Morris: I'm not sure if we ever got off the ground. In some respects, Boise's 10-year plan was a checkbox so that we could bring in a little bit of HUD money. But I think Lloyd is right; we didn't have a champion and we didn't have the political will.

What's the waiting list right now for the CATCH program?

Morris: Between 40 and 50 families, and that's just in Ada County. It's higher than it's ever been. These are families forced to stay in shelters because CATCH can't get to them as quickly as we should.

What do you consider our greatest barrier in fighting homelessness?

Morris: It's a fundamental thing--a separation of otherness. We fall into the trap that the homeless are other than us. Gandhi said, "We all are one indivisible body and if any one of us hurts, than all of us are hurt." I think that is still a huge barrier.

Pendleton: We're all citizens. I'm a citizen, you're a citizen; homeless folks are citizens. We cannot serve at a distance. [International anti-poverty advocate] Sam Daley-Harris said, "We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected."

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