In 2012 I have been fortunate enough to spend time in 37 different communities that are trying to end homelessness. When you include attendees at conferences and webinars, that number expands into hundreds of communities. Then there are all of the cities that other OrgCode team members have been too that I never had the privilege to get to. I like to say we get around, but in a good way.
More than other years, I am struck by certain things I wish many communities would STOP doing come 2013 and wanted to take this opportunity to share some of these with you. There is loads of potential for positives here. Here is the list to reflect upon:
- Stop resisting change. Trust the long-term potential of great ideas. Change, itself, is inevitable. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. Sure we like to romanticize caterpillars becoming butterflies, but the whole process sucks for the caterpillar…it goes blind, the legs fall off, and the back rips open for the beautiful wings to emerge. Our “openness to experience” makes the process of change more invigorating, educational, inspiring, beautiful, etc. Imagine a world where all caterpillars just want to remain caterpillars. We’d never have beautiful butterflies. I at least want the pain of change to be worthwhile. And change does not come from passivity.
- Stop being afraid to commit to ending homelessness. The difference between wanting to end homelessness and being committed to ending homelessness is the difference between bacon and eggs…a days work for the chicken; a lifetime commitment for the pig. If we share a steadfast fixity of purpose…if every decision we make in the present is about supporting where we want to be in 5 or 10 years, we will be further ahead than hoping, guessing, praying that maybe, just maybe, somebody else will do something at some time in the future.
- Stop settling for business as usual. If what you were doing in your community worked, homelessness would not have increased or continued and this blog would be moot. Or if you are complacent and don’t take the next step to improve service delivery even if you have turned the corner in your practice you will struggle to complete the job.
- Stop thinking your community is so unique that the practices used elsewhere will be useless where you live. You are unique just like everyone else. Let’s transfer the knowledge of what works based upon PROOF and replicate it, rather than starting from scratch over and over again. And yes, there are some ways of delivering housing assistance to homeless people that are PROVEN to get better results than other approaches.
- Stop thinking that more money is the answer to everything. Money doesn’t have a brain. You do. The design of homeless and housing service systems in an intelligent manner, where there are investments only in practices proven to work and removal of unnecessary duplication, is the way to go. Continuing to invest in programs that don’t work is a travesty. Funding different entities to do the same thing without a rationale as to why is puzzling. Oh, and any community that doesn’t know the total volume of investment towards housing and homelessness programs in their community – from all orders of government and government departments as well as philanthropic groups and the like – should have to PROVE that all of the money is well spent before even thinking of asking for another dime.
- Stop refusing to take informed risks. It has been said that eagles may soar but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines. I’d still rather be an eagle and soar knowing there is only a slight risk of catastrophe. Think it would be risky to transform your traditional transitional housing into permanent housing with supports? Yup – but worth it. Think it would be risky to transform your street outreach programs to focus on housing solutions rather than short-term needs? Yup – but worth it. And I could go on.
- Stop thinking that a big heart is equivalent to a big brain. People wait in emergency rooms in hospitals every day, but we wouldn’t in a million years think that well-intentioned people without any medical training should head down and start practicing medicine. Yet in homeless programs and services – where arguably there are a number of people with more profound and complex needs than what is found in some emergency rooms – we allow people with no or very little training to try ending homelessness. I’m not suggesting a medical model as the answer to ending homelessness. But we need to invest in training and professionalizing services. And if programs are going to use peers/people with lived experience that too needs to happen appropriately. Someone having once been homeless doesn’t make them an expert on homelessness…I once had my appendix out, but that doesn’t make me qualified to conduct an appendectomy.
- Stop waiting for everyone else in your community to get on board. Hate to break it to you…they won’t. One or more organization will have a terrific reason to avoid buying in…threat of funding loss; feeling that the population they serve is different; don’t believe in evidence; etc. Get going with those ready to keep on (or at least start) truckin’. You can change the way services are delivered to people without needing “permission” from those organizations that will never get on board.
- Stop using luck as a substitute for informed, calculated, planned service delivery. The story of success in our work should not be based upon who walks through our doors next and we happen to have what they are looking for. Nay, our work should have a strong sense of who it aims to serve, why and how best to do it. High-performing organizations do not try to be all things for all people.
- Stop ignoring data when it tells you what you didn’t want to know. More often than not in communities, I encounter people that love their local data when it tells them everything they wanted to hear. Others ignore the data, suggest it is corrupt or incomplete when the truth in the numbers does not jive with their world view.
- Stop wasting time. Some people may think that the people you serve are wasting time. The truth is, time is wasting them. Every day you get 86,400 seconds invested into your Bank of Life. Spend it wisely and you can greatly impact the life of the people you aim to serve. Waste any of it and the loss is yours and felt profoundly by them. There is no going back. There is no holding onto the time not used in the right way. Invest in today and make a difference.
- Stop with the drama. Bickering between organizations does not end homelessness. Cranking up the hysteria of how your organization is the only one that serves people with complex needs, as somehow a badge of courage, is pointless in the bigger picture (and besides, several program evaluations I did just this year showed that not to be the case…those organizations that thought only they served the “hardest to serve” ended up serving clients with no higher acuity than other organizations; it just so happened the staff with the organizations tended to be less trained.) Life is too short and our mission of ending homelessness is too critical to get trapped in pettiness rather than the important work.
- Stop focusing on the barriers. Some people and organizations seem to spend more time focusing on the things that get in their way rather than focusing their time and energy on finding solutions. The solution – in whatever form it may take – is worth more than endless hours lamenting a problem but doing nothing about it; or making excuses about why something won’t work without trying anything new that may get a different result. Anyone can feel overwhelmed and give up; it takes a wise person to take compassionate, persistent and committed action every day.
- Stop pointing fingers at everyone else. Point a finger at someone and there are three pointing back at you. Want to be effective at ending homelessness? Accept that if you want to be part of the solution you have to acknowledge that you have been part of the problem. Focusing on making your own work better, not on the deficiencies of everyone around you. I am baffled that even some of the best service providers are non-judgmental with their clients, but completely judgmental with other organizations.
- Stop accepting that you can be anything other than awesome. Do not second-guess or belittle your potential. Your awesomeness to end homelessness – one person or family at a time – is a great gift. Do not desensitize yourself to the experience of making a difference. Cherish your role in making the world a better place. Sure, you are 1 out of 7,000,000,000 on the planet; but you are the one best positioned to play your role in ending homelessness today. Do not let the potential of your awesomeness slip away.