10 Things I Learned this Year: Part Two

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Last week, the blog looked at the first five things I learned this year. If you want to, you can get caught up by reading that blog first. Or you can just launch into items 6 through 10 of the 10 things I learned this year.

6.     Some communities get so much technical assistance that it smothers and cripples them.

As the good folks at despair.com (they create de-motivational posters) suggest, there can be great money to be made in prolonging a problem. In my opinion, technical assistance is a resource that should not be squandered, but there are some communities deemed to be such high need that they get overwhelmed with technical assistance and no strategic support to hold it together in a way that makes any sense. The problem in those instances isn’t an absence of support. It is an absence of thoughtful, sequenced, strategic, targeted supports. And we also have to be careful that some TA is not creeping into other program areas that are outside the mandate. It is not the responsibility of the TA to resolve this; it is the responsibility of those that pay for the TA to get their act together.

7.     Some of the most innovative and effective things are happening in places that are not in the national/international spotlight.

Medicine Hat has the best assessor on the planet in Jeff Standell. Ever heard of him or Medicine Hat? You should. I learn something from him every time we talk. Ever heard of Karen Santilli, Michelle Wilcox, Ann Nolan, John MacDonald, Cicely Dove, Jennifer Schnack-Bolwell? They are my Change-Champions of the year, proving that a senior management team can hold together to make significant changes to service delivery because they know there are better ways of doing things. Hats off to Crossroads Rhode Island in Providence. Got a conference coming up where you want to talk about effective change process in a multi-service organization so that you can end homelessness? Talk to these folks. Oceana’s Home Partnership in Michigan was a relatively early adopter of the SPDAT. Their data speaks volumes when you move from talking about which person is eligible for a program to who is most in need of a program. And they prove that rural areas can kick butt at service delivery and have larger urban centers look to them. Reach out to Kittie Tuinstra and have a chat with her. What about The Link in Minneapolis? They put in place service prioritization and improved service planning for youth before coordinated access and common assessment for youth programs started getting on the radar. And they have improved their case management outcomes as a result. I tip my hat to Erin Wixsten and you should get in touch with her if you want to learn more. Then there’s Partners Ending Homelessness in Guilford County, North Carolina that has proven private foundation can be used effectively to create system change. Beyond bricks and mortar, they are showing that it is possible to get a significant private funder behind change in service delivery. Darryl Kosciak is the ED of PEH and worthy chatting to when it comes to understanding why and how he helped make this happen. We never hear enough from places like West Virginia that strategically go about tackling tough issues on a statewide basis to help get CoCs from across a state going in the same direction. Zach Brown inspires me because he has proven to me that action is better than perfection when it comes to real leadership. Want to get fired up about an open HMIS or common assessment across communities or full implementation of SOAR or comparable initiatives? Talk to Zach. Got an integrated housing and homelessness plan? I wish more communities did so. You can talk all you want about ending homelessness, but the real proof of strategic, forward planning is integrating your affordable housing needs with the discussion on homelessness. Here’s to the County of Simcoe, City of Kingston & County of Frontenac, Chatham-Kent, Huron County, Stratford & St. Marys and the other fine communities we have worked with this year to help make that happen. And there are others. Point is, not all the communities you hear of most frequently on the national scene represent the whole story of cool things happening that I wish others could learn about.

8.     More people read the blog than I thought.

This little blog gets more attention than I thought it would when I started it. By almost a four to one margin over the next most popular blog, the most viewed blog of the year was Geez, Don’t Let a Few Little Facts Get in the Way of Your Perceptions of People on Welfare. Next in line was 2013: The Year to Stop Doing Certain Things in Order to Strengthen the Resolve to Ending Homelessness. I find it a bit surprising that a relatively recently published blog, Justice, Not Charity, took in the third place spot. More so this year, I have learned that the blog results in a fair amount of two-way communication. I love it when I get questions or comments about things in the blog. I like it when people leave a reply at the bottom of a blog, so long as it isn’t abusive or an attack on anyone. High five to each person that has asked me a question that resulted in a blog this year or provided a blog idea. In my travels I have learned that people use my blog in training, public education, discussion topics and even college courses. I have heard elected officials quote it to each other at a County Council. I have had questions at plenary sessions asked related to blog content. It is all kinds of awesome. I am honoured and flattered, and I will keep it going. Every time someone comments on the FaceBook page about it or Shares it or re-tweets it, I smile. Thanks for the conversation.

9.     We can agree to disagree on some things, but on other things you are just dead wrong. And I need you to know that.

I learned this year that being polite for the sake of being polite doesn’t seem to serve homeless people very well. I always kind of knew this intuitively, but this year more than others I have seen initiatives stalled or completely ended because of an overwhelming desire to placate organizations that serve homeless people rather than trying to, you know, put recipients of services first. I am all about civility. I am a fan of debate and discourse. But when there is a dispute of facts I have learned that I can no longer just agree to disagree with the person in opposition. If I truly believe in justice (which I do) I am compelled to speak and name it.

10.The privilege of doing this for a living is not lost on me.

I will never get rich doing this work – and likely neither will you. I do what I do because I love doing it. I feel like I make a difference at least half the time. This certainly doesn’t mean everyone likes my delivery style or even me for that matter. Some of my favourite examples from this year:

  • In Arizona in late summer, a guy told me I should take a course on public speaking so that I could become good at it. He suggested Toastmasters. Apparently with enough practice I could also learn to write jokes that were actually funny.
  • In North Dakota a woman told me that her pastor told her that I would probably want to apologize to her and everyone else at the conference for saying provocative things. I apologized to her that her pastor misled or lied to her.
  • In Michigan I was told that just because something is a fact doesn’t mean it is correct (which still baffles me a bit), and that I should stop using facts when I speak because it overwhelms people.
  • I got a phone call from someone that had met me at a focus group in Ontario to tell me my face is hard to look at. “It has an odd shape,” she said, “and no real symmetry to speak of…at least not in a way that would capture one’s attention.” She went on tell me, “shaving that grotesque patch of whiskers off your chin may be a good start.”

These anecdotes aside, I feed off the energy in communities that I visit where people are dedicated to being awesome. That is very uplifting. And when I see things that work I have the great fortune of connecting people from across the globe when they have similar issues or a solution that will work for their local situation. Thanks for reading the blog. Thanks for hanging out with me or hosting me in your community. Thanks for making a difference. The blog will be back in early 2014. Be awesome! [serialposts]

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong