Nice and Ineffective

Let us put an end to people, organizations and communities being really nice, but ineffective. Inappropriately trained and nice is no way to solve a complex social issue. Well-intentioned uninformed people remain uninformed people. And all the niceness of the world does not take us even one step closer to solving a complex social issue.

Shame on any industry that confuses having a big heart with having a big head. Don’t know the theoretical underpinnings of one approach to service over another? Stop practicing. Don’t understand how to collect and use data to evaluate and inform practice? Stop practicing. Don’t know the main currents of thought and practice and how to execute that knowledge? Stop practicing.

Or start learning. Please. A really big heart may be killing people.

Today in your city, if I were to go to an emergency room, I bet there would be people in a waiting room of some sort. Goodness, I hate that. It is so sad. Don’t worry. I have seen my share of House, MASH, Doogie Howser, and ER – plus I love TLC medical shows. I will throw on a lab coat or some scrubs and go down and start practicing medicine immediately. No? What do you mean I should be trained first? I have had my gall bladder out and my appendix, plus my hip has been reconstructed. I am a person with lived experience. Not enough expertise? But c’mon, people are suffering there waiting. No? You want standards of care? Certification of expertise? Years of practice and experience? I am NICE, dang it! I care! No? Not enough? Huh.


Yet arguably there are people experiencing homelessness, economic poverty, domestic violence, housing insecurity, immigration hardships and the like in your community that have deeper, more in-depth needs that the folks that I would encounter in an emergency room. And who do you turn to for help? Sadly, in too many cities, well-intentioned, big-hearted but untrained volunteers and untrained staff. Well-intentioned but uninformed people. There is no doubt in my mind this makes matters worse, not better. It exacerbates the complex social issues. It ruins people’s lives when people try to provide service when the service providers are untrained. When someone confuses “common sense” with “education, practicum experience, and standards of service” we are essentially suggesting that we don’t care if people receive quality, professional services to alleviate their issues.

And what happens? People get worse, not better. Voluntary responses grow, not shrink. People get band-aids instead of solutions. I think it is about time we invested in the services people deserve and invest in professionalizing services rather than remaining nice, but ineffective.

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong

15 Responses to “Nice and Ineffective”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Linda Kaufman says:

    Thank you so much for this blunt and powerful message. I love that you are so committed — and use every ounce of data and outcome measurements to drive your work. Thanks. The nexus of informed, passionate, and focused is where I want to be.

  2. Ryan Hannon says:

    Thanks for a reflection on the importance of our work.

  3. Zach Brown says:

    I can take comfort in the fact that I was never that nice in the first place.

  4. Jen Padgett says:

    Great Blog! I’d like to add that continuing education is necessary and part of the process. We have plenty in the field with years of practice and education under their belts who have not moved the needle – or changed the way they do treatment in years. We can’t let them hide behind a degree – and we should be asking everyone to ask themselves how effective they are. Thanks for your commitment and speaking up. I have been on the nice side myself – this blog comes at the perfect time because I just decided recently it’s time to stop being so nice!

    • Marilyn Crosbie says:

      Jen Padgett, you have me confused. It sounds like you are saying that even those who are educated and trained are not being very successful in enabling the disenfranchised, homeless people to become engaged productive members of society who are healthy. IT sounds like you are saying that those who are trained and educated should not rest on their laurels and continue to do the same things over and over again, if they are not making a positive difference in the lives of those who need assistance to get their lives on track.

      Re-reading your post, the key word is “continuing” education.

      So you not only don’t want uneducated or untrained volunteers trying to assist the homeless people, you also want those who have degrees in social sciences to keep their knowledge up to date.

      The only way that this can be done is with political will in the power that be. It seems that there is very little political will in those in power.

      Meanwhile, what do we, as a society, do with those who are hungry and cold right now? Do nothing rather than volunteer to tide them over?

      I am not sure that doing nothing will wake up the politicians to create jobs in this field for those educated to do a better job.

      • Jen Padgett says:

        Hi Maryilyn,

        Just to clarify, I don’t think you have to have a degree to be educated – or to continue your education and knowledge base. Ian makes the point that we wouldn’t let someone Doctor us without the proper education. I think there is practice to be learned and knowledge to be gained without going the traditional education route. What I meant by my statement is that we should always be striving to learn and not stay dormant in the knowledge base that we learned years ago, or even currently know. Training is the key here. Org Code does training, Community Solutions does training, others to training. Professional Certifications do not have to be expensive. I think Ian has a call to action for us all to think about.


      • Roger says:

        “It sounds like you are saying that even those who are educated and trained are not being very successful in enabling the disenfranchised, homeless people to become engaged productive members of society who are healthy. ”

        She did. And I agree.

        I should explain.

        Getting a job usually means dropping off a resume, filling out an application, being interviewed, et cetera.

        Okay. Try that while you’re dragging a suitcase and a backpack around with you, and you smell bad because you haven’t had a shower in a few days.

        They toss your resume and your application in the convenient shredder so they never have to see it again.

        If you had housing, you’d have a place to put your stuff, so you wouldn’t be dragging it around with you. If you had housing, you could take a shower daily (or more often). If you had housing… you could get a job much easier.

        But to get housing requires a job. Um… Catch-22.

        And, unfortunately, many of the educated, brilliant, businesspeople and academicians in the field of providing services to the homeless DO NOT RECOGNIZE THIS SIMPLE PROBLEM.

        But all the homeless know about it.

        That’s what Housing First solves.

        Now, there are other issues. For exampe, folks coming out of prison often become homeless because nobody will hire them. No jobs means no housing means… homeless. Likely to return to crime because there’s nothing else available to make them the money to see their honey.

        Society seems unable to recognize this simple problem.

        But most of the homeless know about this.

        And, unfortunately, many of the educated and trained do not seem to understand this, either. They simply don’t understand the issues from the perspective of the homeless themselves.

        That’s not to say there are none who do, but many don’t.

  5. Your comments are right on the mark, Iain. Sometimes frustrating to have to work around so much well intentioned effort poured into helping that isn’t really moving people to improve their quality of life and end their homelessness. But there are definitely roles for everyone to make a significant contribution and build the synergy we need to make change happen. Thank you for being a “passionate voice of reason”! (That’s NOT an oxymoron)

  6. A person with nothing but friends (ready to sing praises of their niceness) might not be advocating for enough change to ruffle any establishment feathers. You push data and best practices to the forefront of social services. Thank you, Iain!

  7. Marilyn Crosbie says:

    From what I know and have experience, church groups do not just want to put band-aids on people’s lives, but they do feed and shelter the homeless people while at the same time giving them a message of hope and a way to turn their lives around for the better. Yes, they offer a belief system, but they don’t force it anyone. Many have been helped through faith – AA, NA, the Salvation Army all do good work, IMHO.

    Yes, ideally, it would be wonderful if these people were all educated with university degrees in psychology, sociology etc., but without their work, many more would die before anyone got a chance to help them effectively.

    I don’t think you should knock the work of these groups.

  8. Soapbox0916 says:

    @Marilyn Crosbie There is a difference between well-trained church groups that do more than band-aids and those that are not well-trained. I don’t feel that he is knocking the groups that you are talking about unless they refuse to continue to learn based on research and best practices. While degrees help, well-trained experience matters, and there is still a distinction to be made for well-trained professionals who help the homeless as part of a dedicated job versus random volunteers helping out when they have the spare time and basically when the volunteers feel like it.

    I am just dealing with this today, I have someone who announced on her Facebook post that she wants to hand out feminine hygiene products to the homeless women she sees living on the street nearby where she works. She has asked her friends to help her out with a drive to collect feminine hygiene products, and then they way I understand it, she and her friends plan on handing the feminine hygiene products out themselves to the homeless women as a one time deal. When I suggested in the comments that it is best to partner with a professional homeless outreach team, she rebuffed my answer, missing my point. She is in a different city than me, so I called United Way and found out what local agency already handed out feminine hygiene products to the homeless, talked briefly with them on the phone, and then gave her the contact information as a comment on the Facebook post. I have a hunch that I hope is wrong, but I suspect that she will miss my point about it being better to work with professionals, because too many people think it is no big deal to just hand out stuff to the homeless, and while it would probably cause no harm, it not very effective on its own. There are agencies that could use volunteers to hold drives for needed donations, but people like the warm fuzzy feeling of randomly handing it out themselves.

    Random acts of charity by people suddenly feeling like “being Christian” is highly ineffective in helping. That is what I read in this post. It is also insulting to professionals that help the homeless that average people feel that they can do just as well as professionals on a random whim all on their own. Good intentions don’t make up for training and good intentions don’t make up for not asking experts for understanding on how best to help the homeless. The lesser trained need to seek out the well-trained when wanting to help the homeless so they can offer the best help possible.

    A lot of the random acts of charity unfortunately comes across as people wanting to make themselves feel better about themselves, but not really caring enough to ask what is best for the homeless.

    • Marilyn Crosbie says:

      Okay, now we are getting somewhere. When I read Ian’s commentary, I did not think he was speaking of “random acts of kindness.” I have a son who regularly (almost every weekend) works with a group in Chilliwack that he refers to as “The Bridge” which I believe is an organization that has a home where the homeless people meet for socializing and to have meals. My son volunteers to make sandwiches and coffee there regularly and he is very friendly and sincere in his compassion toward these people. He does not put himself above them, but has more of an attitude of “There but for the grace of God go I.” He does not do it to make himself “feel Christian”, although he is a Christian. Thanks for allowing me to give my input.

  9. Soapbox0916 says:

    Correction: I meant “the way I understand it” instead of “they way I understand it”. Can you correct the earlier post? Thank you.

  10. Marilyn Crosbie says:

    Here is a link to the website of the Bridge in Chillwack.