Now, the time is now
We can still turn it around
Raise your voice like a weapon
Til they fall to the ground
Light, let there be light
Without a shadow of doubt
We will fight tooth and nail until
Salvation is found
–Viking Death March, Billy Talent
It would really be something if all voices were raised in unison to complete the radical change of ending homelessness. If there is one thing I have learned about a career in this sector where I have often been the misfit…the divergent thinker – it is that when you are making strides in change there are people that will be ready to try and tear you down. What astounds me is that this tear down happens from within the group that does comparable work and/or proclaims to share the same passion for the population.
House homeless people directly from the street without using shelters or transitional housing, like I did for many years, and you will be accused of being anti-shelter or siphoning off resources to where they are really needed, or somehow making the lives of homeless people worse because they are alone and don’t have the socialization they once had on the street. Or people will agree that housing people is a good thing, but because you haven’t resolved their poverty you have somehow failed.
Try to undertake a Point in Time count with rigour to account for those that may have been missed using a capture-recapture technique and you will be accused of getting “too cute” with an otherwise simple task, or trying to fabricate (inflate?) numbers or distort the truth. Or people will agree that the concept is good, but they will disagree on some aspect of the methods and therefore try to throw the entire thing under the bus.
Create a training curriculum to elevate the professional development of case managers within the industry that serves homeless and under-housed persons, and people will be quick to tell you that it disrespects those well intentioned men and women with big hearts who do this work because their church compels them to, or you will be told that what you are doing is too basic for those that are already professionals. Or people will tell you that your ideas are fantastic, but not implementable where the training is occurring because: a) it is unique; or, b) there is no leadership that will allow it; or, c) the people that have been doing it for a long time do it differently; or, d) it is a very conservative (or liberal) place where these sorts of ideas just don’t fly; or, e) all of the above.
Spend years researching and testing how to assess the support and housing needs of homeless families and individuals, and there will be somebody (trust me) that believes the research is inadequate. Or someone will argue that because you won’t share every last detail of the work with them publicly that it isn’t credible. Or that while assessing is a good idea, it is a waste of time because people have been at this a long time and just know who needs what type of help intuitively.
Develop an action-oriented plan to end homelessness and there will be naysayers that suggest what is needed is action, not planning. Others will insist the plan goes to far (or not far enough). Some will tell you that some critical action or evidence-informed practice that is suggested is not as credible as the data and literature suggests or that it can’t possibly work where you are because your circumstances are just so different.
This work is hard enough. There are huge injustices to tackle. There are massive problems to solve. And there are some remarkably talented and dedicated and intelligent and passionate people that are trying to work on it. Must we tear them down? Must we burn them out? Must we cast a shadow of doubt on everything they do? Can we not find a more constructive voice for dialogue?
I will fight tooth and nail until justice is found. But I admit there are times I am tired and weary. Not because of the 16 hour days or hundreds of days on the road each year. Nor am I tired and weary because of the time spent away from my family. Nor am I tired and weary from changing time zones on an all-too-frequent basis. I am tired and weary from the bickering and attacks within the industry, from the lack of solution-focused conversations between colleagues and peers, from the politics of difference. We can do better. We should demand it from each other.