Socks Are Not Enough

There is a parable called Upstream Downstream that has guided me in my work as a street nurse. It’s about visiting health care workers in a developing country. Standing by a riverbed they suddenly see bodies floating down the river. Frantically, they start pulling the bodies out and begin resuscitation. When they look up they see a continual flow of bodies down the river. They call for help and keep pulling the bodies onto the riverbank and apply CPR. Finally, one of them asks: “Who or what is upstream pushing the bodies into the river?”

This is an article by Cathy Crowe, written for RABBLE.CA in December of 2014. It is one of few arguments that point out how to think smart(er) about helping people. Crowe helpfully and humbly submits her perspective as a street nurse to illustrate what the 1/3-1/3-1/3 model of effective mobilization might look like to combat homelessness.

The downstream one-third would support the front-line organizations in your community that directly help homeless people. Think homeless shelters, violence against women shelters, drop-in centres and outreach programs…

The upstream one-third would support affordable housing. This involves finding out who is building affordable housing in your community…

The final one-third is also an upstream solution and it involves advocacy. This is the work by individuals and groups that ensure more shelters are opened to meet the need, that cold alerts are called and warming centres opened, and keep the campaign for a national housing program on the national agenda…


Crowe’s writing here exists because of good, compassionate people who live in an unjust world and want to see it transformed. The people who dedicate their careers to understanding how to do so need to be louder. When churches and elementary schools gather mittens and toothbrushes for the local shelter before Christmas vacation, there should be more frank discussions about additional, underlying, systemic, and interwoven injustices.

Living in awe and fear of the Father, the power of His Son, and the example of the Spirit fulfills all three 1/3 parts of effective change in a community.
Tierra Nueva’s highest value is in hosting God’s Presence. We worship with migrant workers, incarcerated individuals, and gang members in many ways.

  • collecting and distributing immediate necessities at the Family Support Center
  • assisting and advocating on matters of labor, housing, insurance, and legality
  • empowering and training members across the world through The People’s Seminary and New Earth Refuge
  • holding elected officials and legislators accountable in governing justly and effectively
  • partnering with believers of Christ around the world in telling the stories of a broken world that is transforming

I’m wildly grateful to be part of an effort that is holistic and grounded on the redeeming power of Christ.

If you’ve read this far, please offer the convictions in your heart and community, and how they are being addressed. 

In our own Skagit Valley, Shelter from the Cold, Friendship House, Reverie BBQ, Love Inc., and Family Promise provide immediate provisional shelter, sustenance, rest, and security.

Agencies, ministries, and organizations like Community Action, Northwest Youth Services, Catholic Community Services, Brigid Collins, New Earth Recovery, and Love Inc. walks with individuals and families to empower growth and healthy life decisions, often while providing needs such as housing and addiction recovery.

(This is an incomplete list! Hallelujah!)

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