Watching a community come together to solve a problem is pretty amazing. Memorializing it on film is even better, because we can sit down a year from now, look back at the hopeful faces in the crowd and see if the call for action yielded positive results. On June 11, 2015, Milwaukee Downtown’s BID 21 and the Downtown Security Network organized a half day symposium, "Change for the Community-Solutions that Make Real Sense". Over the course of several hours at Manpower’s headquarters, many of Milwaukee’s downtown business representatives heard from city and county leadership about the newly-revealed plan to end chronic homelessness in the city within three years. After seeing documentation of people sleeping on the streets with graphics imagery and our teaser trailer for 30 Seconds Away: Breaking the Cycle, the audience heard from Milwaukee’s Police Chief, the Mayor, the County Executive, the Director of Health and Human Services for Milwaukee County, the District Attorney and the City Attorney. With an acknowledgement that businesses need a safe downtown, city and county leadership shared insight on each department’s capabilities and limitations when handling matters related to chronic homelessness.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Sam Tsemberis, brought the audience a fresh perspective on homelessness. His “Housing First” model has demonstrated success in other cities with similar issues. Dr. Tsemberis’ philosophy flies in the face of traditional programs designed to help people out of chronic homelessness. Instead of using housing as the reward for beating addiction or accepting mental health treatment, Dr. Tsemberis’ model offers homeless individuals choices in all matters from the location of their housing to various treatments and services made available to them. He spoke to Milwaukee’s group today about how the compassionate restoration of one’s dignity can turn a person’s life around. His message was gently delivered but plainly spoken, and even skeptics in the audience could see that his program’s metrics point to success. It appears that for Dr. Tsemberis, failure is not an option. He emphasized that connections are more important than individual outcomes. As I looked around the room at the diverse group of people at the symposium, their reasons for attending became irrelevant. Listening to the various conversations that were held today, the takeaway was that over a hundred people in varying positions, all of whom can effectuate change, showed up to discuss homelessness in Milwaukee. Through the lens today we saw hope, both for the city and the people. As we film activities post-symposium, we are interested to see if today’s connections bring Milwaukee success.