15 Things We Should All Want for 2015

In keeping with annual tradition, this is the blog that outlines what we should aspire to in 2015 if we are serious about ending homelessness:


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

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

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  1. Linda Kaufman says:

    as always, lots to think about. Thanks for calling us to smart action.

  2. Drew Goursky says:

    #6 is the 2015 mantra for all members and students of the sector.

  3. Jamie says:

    Sign me up for the leadership 3 day!

  4. Joan Serviss says:

    You should know that I love and respect the hell out of what you’ve done for communities working to end homelessness – inspiring us, challenging us, and giving us tools and skills to help us assess and direct individuals to the most appropriate resources to end their homelessness.

    And I love your blog posts, especially this rather timely wishlist. But while reading this call to action in which you advocate for “imperfect action” and communities “working together instead of tearing them apart”, I have to take a moment to challenge your 15th hope for less unnecessary competition. I agree that depending on the nature of the competition, it can distract from the real goal. However, it was Phoenix’s friendly competition with Salt Lake City where we collaborated, motivated, and shared knowledge and reached a functional end for chronically homeless veterans in our two cities. How is what we did a bad thing? Over 255 chronically homeless veterans in Phoenix were placed into housing, using veteran-specific resources. We took action. Imperfect. Collaborative. Giant leap action.

  5. A grownup conversation about taxes–and not only about how much we pay but who pays. So much of government it Texas is paid through property and sales taxes, but it’s the franchise tax (on businesses) that gets all the tax breaks. And income taxes? Forget about it. Taxing poor people to (sort of) help other poor people is dumb. Driving people out of their homes with high property taxes to pay for homeless services is dumb (I think people are moving away rather than becoming homeless when their property taxes become too much of a burden, but the point is still valid, I think).

  6. Marilyn Crosbie says:

    I will slowly read your commentary here when I feel a bit better. I would just like to say that my son feeds the homeless every weekend on his day off. I am proud of him for doing so. My comment is that, while I agree that it is a bandaid solution (and my son knows this) people need to be kept alive until housing becomes available. Not everyone is gifted in the same way. Some are good advocates and political movers and shakers, while others, like my son, show caring and compassion and companionship while they offer food and a hot drink.