I will never forget the spring of 2020 when I worked at Catholic Charities and the pandemic and all it wrought hit hard. Our increasing number of homeless neighbors were squeezed together on bunks or mats inches apart, making social distancing impossible, threatening their health as well as that of first responder shelter staff.
But "we" — service providers, governments at all levels, the hospitality industry and a generous donor community — sprang into action and moved homeless elders and others to hotels, made our shelters more safe, and reached out to those in encampments and brought many to safety. We figured out how to do this virtually as we rearranged our family and professional lives like so many others. The hours, the stress and the uncertainty was wearing but did not beat us down, as those we cared for were much worse off. They needed us. All of us. Together.
We innovated and developed new systems on the fly. We balanced the risk of speed with meeting urgent human need and focused on performing for people, knowing that processes would need to catch up. We got results. Saved and improved lives. This newspaper recognized the good performance back then ("Spared from COVID, he got new life, too," March 14, 2021, and "In data on homelessness, a sense of hope," July 3, 2022). But this performance was not part of the Aug. 31 front-page story on the legislative auditor's report on the homelessness assistance grants ("Auditor faults DHS on housing aid"). Or in the lead editorial on Sept. 8 ("Human Services in trouble yet again").
A consequence of not telling the "whole story" is more cynicism about our public systems and officials. Cynicism provides an excuse to not advance policies and provide resources to address the greatest housing crisis in memory. Cynicism wears down the hard-working, honest public officials on whom we depend most.
Yes, to good process and accountability. But rather than standing in judgment on how good people met the challenges of those most in need in unprecedented circumstances, stand in awe that they were able to meet these challenges at all.
Tim Marx served as Minnesota housing commissioner in the administration of Gov. Tim Pawlenty from 2003 to 2008 and was president/CEO of Catholic Charities from 2011 to 2021. He now practices law with Winthrop & Weinstine in the Twin Cities.