15 Things We Should All Want for 2015

It has become an annual tradition that I kick off each year with a blog for the year ahead. In keeping with that tradition, here’s what we should all want (demand?) for 2015:

1. Giant leaps forward.

Audacious stretch goals move us from the inertia of the status quo to a new (uncomfortable) place of the unfamiliar but awesome. Let’s make 2015 the year of everyone taking one giant leap forward out of her/his comfort zone – whether that is a conscious individual choice or as part of a broader movement (Zero 2016 in the US, 20,000 Homes in Canada, etc.)

2. Less band-aids and more solutions.

Let’s rally together every well-intentioned college class, church group and service club and get them to stop handing out sandwiches, coffee and blankets and devote the same energy to building housing and advocating for policy changes that would increase benefit levels and promote sustainable food security.

3. Imperfect action.

Less talk, more rock. Imperfect action trumps perfect planning. Get out there and do something different. Do it remarkably imperfectly. Learn. Adjust. Grow. Repeat.

4. A few more housing discussions.

I want a few more discussions about ending homelessness to be accompanied by the “and this is how we are going to increase housing options” discussion. There are more than just chronically homeless people that need housing. Trickle down economics are remarkably ineffective when it comes to housing.

5. An end to mythology.

Stories are seared into the consciousness of the masses. We tell stories about homelessness. We recount stories of how homeless persons became housed persons. But we need to start using data and evidence more and individual stories as pillars of success less. We need to tell the truth of what usually happens, not shine a spotlight on the anomaly that simply tells people the story we want to tell rather than the overall truth.

6. Fewer nice but stupid people.

Let’s take the goodwill of people with time and compassion and educate them so that they make positive, enduring impacts on the lives of homeless persons – not just perpetuating a cycle of well-intentioned, but ineffective energy. Charity will not sustain us nor will it end a complex social issue – it can’t.

7. Greater investment in professionalizing services.

I want a few more communities to grow a set and divert money away from direct service and put it into professionalizing its frontline staff. You can talk a good game about ending homelessness all you want. If you don’t teach people how to do it, it is wasted air. And wasted effort.

8. More organizations in communities working together instead of tearing each other apart.

Give me alliances for collective action that commit to work together to achieve a new reality. And for those who refuse to come along – paraphrasing the immortal words from Frozen – let them go. No point keeping around a “partner” just to spar with them.

9. An understanding of the difference between acuity and being chronically homeless.

Most definitions of chronic homelessness miss the point of acuity. Let us look at the depth and complexity of needs as it relates to housing stability. Let us stop looking solely at length of time homeless and presence of disabling condition, which could be an indication of nothing more than an ineffective service delivery system or woefully out of date programs and approaches that incentivize homelessness.

10. Stop clinging to the past.

Unless someone has invented a time machine that the rest of us don’t know about, we would be well served to leave the past in the past. We can learn from the past. We cannot yearn for the past.

11. An end to investment in stuff that doesn’t work.

When demand exceeds supply of supports and housing can I look any homeless person in the eye and say, “I cannot serve you because our community is giving money to another program that doesn’t work.” Probably not. If your community does not collectively put a stop to investing in stuff that doesn’t work you are essentially condoning the deaths of homeless people.

12. Leadership skill development.

We need to build leaders. I wish I could convene 75-100 of the most emerging leaders on homelessness and housing together for three days and rock their universe with knowledge, strategies, techniques and supports unlike what they will experience at any other time in their life. Then send them back to their communities to pollinate the bloom of other blossoming leaders.

13. Better knowledge on how people do after they are housed.

Take the guesswork out of it. Start reporting on outcomes (what happens after people are housed) and less on outputs (how many people are housed). If you don’t have a quality of life self-report tool we can give you one. If your assessment tool doesn’t have this capability, start using the SPDAT.

14. A grown-up conversation about taxes.

Maybe this will be the year people realize you cannot get better services while paying less taxes. I want to pay more taxes if it means more housing and less homelessness. The wealth exists around us to fund the solution to most social problems if we tax for it. Instead, we will have less than we need and rely on individual donors and corporate philanthropy.

15. Less unnecessary competition.

The best service providers should be rewarded with funds. The best communities should be rewarded with funds. And I appreciate the only way to determine what is “best” is through competition. But it seems that almost everything has become a competition from who can end veteran’s homelessness first (I have met many veteran’s still homeless in Phoenix by the way) to which communities can do the best application for more supports. Maybe it is time for more cooperation and less competition if we want to bring all performers to a new standard.

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong

3 Responses to “15 Things We Should All Want for 2015”

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  1. Iain, I really this blog post. Your statements are so strong and empowering. Keep up all the good work and especially questioning those issues that no longer make sense in the homeless system.

  2. Tina Haffeman says:

    We would love a quality of life self-report tool. Thank you.