Yesterday, a few hundred of the fortunate people whose lives were touched by Bob Hohler gathered in Boston to remember him.
Yesterday, a few hundred of the fortunate people whose lives were touched by Bob Hohler gathered in Boston to remember him. We came together downtown, at the historic Arlington Street Church, which figured prominently in Bob’s life. It was through the Church, as a young man, that Bob embraced the social justice mission that would come to define him.
While his childhood was marked by his family’s struggles with poverty and homelessness, as an adult, Bob focused his boundless energy and unshakable idealism on making the world a better place for all of us. His was a rich and meaningful life that took him from political campaigning and lay ministering to marching on Selma, Alabama with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and helping produce the seminal civil rights documentary, “Eyes on the Prize”, to eventually, as executive director of the Melville Charitable Trust, helping to create the first-ever federal plan to end homelessness in America.
Along the way, while fighting injustice, racism, and oppression, Bob developed what one speaker at yesterday’s memorial called “an astounding legacy” of service to the most vulnerable among us, including the creation of “thousands of units of permanent supportive housing” for people who would otherwise be homeless. Those of us who worked alongside him, she said, must now redouble our efforts “because that is what Bob would want us to do, would expect us to do.”
It is true that Bob was always looking forward, never backward, and that is what we must do now. Regarding homelessness, in particular, Bob was focused not on managing it or reducing it, but on ending it. Here, in his own words (taken from a 2009 interview on Connecticut Public Radio) is his vision for the role philanthropy can play in solving homelessness:
The root cause of homelessness is lack of housing, and if you take an approach that the solution to homelessness is housing first, housing with services to support those who need them, then you very quickly get to point of understanding that homelessness is a condition that can be addressed. Homelessness can be eliminated,with the appropriate investments of energy, time, and resources in housing with services.
Where philanthropy can play a role that’s very effective is in calling attention to the new ways of doing things, the more effective ways of doing things, by investing in research, investing in pilot programs, and in bringing resources to bear that enable policymakers and decision makers to take a fresh look and have an opportunity to benefit from the work of practitioners, developers, providers who are modeling new, more creative ways to deal with problems. Supportive housing and housing first responses are perfect examples of how philanthropy can play a role in spinning out solutions and enabling policymakers to seize these solutions and build new policies around them.