By: Jim Bell, Siloam Mission CEO

More than you might think. Let me explain.

In my days working for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, I would often see our coaches scheme for the next game by studying the opponent.

Armed with a whiteboard and footage of past games, they would analyze how much of a nuisance the opposing linebackers might be. Maybe how to deal with a particularly fast wide receiver. Or how to best block an aggressive pass rusher in order to protect our quarterback.

They identified gaps and built plays around exploiting the opposing team’s weaknesses. And they prepared a strategy to put up a rigorous defense against the other team’s strengths.

This prep work was crucial to have any chance of success on the field.

In my current role serving our city’s vulnerable population, I’m reminded of what those coaches taught me about knowing what you’re up against.

Except this time, our opponent is homelessness. And when we put it up on the whiteboard, it looks like a grueling task.

Just imagine the defensive line we are up against is addictions.

When you try to move people down the field who come from a background of trauma and you come face to face with alcoholism and substance abuse, you better have a game plan.

And if you make it past addictions, you then have to face the linebackers who represent relationship fallout and a history of abuse.

And if that’s not tough enough, you look around and notice a secondary dominated by mental health illness.

Suddenly you realize that you’re up against an unfair opponent. You don’t know where the blitzes will come from, and you have no idea how to game plan for the unexpected.

You can be doing well with just a few yards to go when all of a sudden a bout of debilitating depression hits you out of nowhere.

Maybe you have just intercepted a bad situation and are heading in the right direction again. The wind is at your back. Your team is stout.

Then, without warning, you take a blind side and spiral into relapse.

No matter how you look at it homelessness is a brutal, unforgiving foe.

But there’s hope.

Like the Blue Bombers, our efforts to end homelessness in Winnipeg are owned by the community. And we have some of the best fans and supporters in the country.

In football you’re only allowed 12 men on the field.

But when it comes to helping the city’s vulnerable men and women, there’s always room for one more.

And we need all the help we can get.

Right now, we’re still in our own end of the field and making progress. The hard work that has been done in our city by so many groups over the last three decades has given us a few first downs and the confidence to move forward.

But our opponent is gaining momentum.

And the only way to beat it is to help one person at a time get into the end zone.

That means transitioning people into housing models that provide the critical supports to help with their recovery. It also means helping them develop soft and hard skills that allow them to take part in our society.

And when we get them there, we celebrate the touchdown with them. Then we humbly turn around and move down the field again for the next one.

This isn’t training camp, it’s game time. We have an incredible opportunity and the ball is in our hands. I know we can win, but we need to rally together as a community to do it.

Originally published by The Winnipeg Free Press