Say What?

Here are the 12 most head shaking things said or written to me, that I have encountered in 2015 thus far:

1. “We have to have police with us on outreach. They have to do a warrant check and search people for weapons and contraband before we can speak to the client. It helps make sure we are speaking to the right people and not engaging in homeless criminals.”

Florida is a precious place. Sometimes they do amazing things in supporting people that are homeless (Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office). Sometimes they do things that make me think all homeless persons are doomed in that state. When a street outreach worker says stuff like this to me, I can’t help but think I should find another job.

2. “We do home visits a bit differently. We have clients come to our office.”

This was shared with me by a service provider from the Northwest when I was at the Alliance conference in San Diego in February. I could not convince them that unless the visit actually occurred in a person’s home it was not technically a home visit. I said to them, “I eat ice cream a bit differently. I eat gummy bears.” They didn’t get it.

3. “Once we started doing drug testing at the shelter we found there were no clients with substance abuse issues anymore.”

Thank you service provider from Oklahoma that emailed me this gem in response to a blog I wrote a LONG time ago about substance use and housing services. In following up with them I learned that no one that uses substances is allowed in the shelter. They have no idea where those folks go. They suspect outside. So testing may keep ANYONE that uses substances out of the shelter (with or without substance use issues) but excluding them from entering does not mean that you have solved substance use issues in your community. You are just no longer serving those people.

4. “Anybody can stay in the shelter for 14 days. Beyond that, they have to apply for and be approved for the discipleship program.”

Oh St. Louis and the New Life Evangelistic Centre (which you may have read about on our FaceBook page or Twitter feed). Shelters are shelters. Shelters are not supposed to be places to recruit new members for your congregation. Staying in shelter should not be contingent upon agreeing to participate in your ministry. Faith-based shelters like this give other amazing, high-performing professional faith-based shelters a bad rap.

5. “Homelessness is the sin no one likes to talk about.”

I am scheduled to speak at a state conference in Kentucky in a few months. One of the people in hearing I am coming sent me a long email outlining things they wished I would talk about. Just about everything in the email I disagreed with. This line, however, made me laugh out loud. Homelessness is the lack of an address. It is not a sin. However, even it was I guess restitution for it would be to get housing so that they are no longer homeless and no longer, ahem, “sinning”.

6. “We have a 100% graduation rate from our transitional housing program.”

This time, the Midwest. But let me be clear. Of all the people that completed the two years in transitional housing (13 people out of 85 that started in the program), all 13 of them were considered successful graduates. Fun with numbers, I guess. The way I calculate it, it is a 15% success rate. But hey, if you are only counting those that made it all the way through, well, I guess all 13 that lasted to the end made it to the end – and therefore 100% of all people that finished the two years in transitional housing over the past two years were successful graduates.

7. “Every city needs a transformative campus.”

This was said to me by a strong supporter of Robert Marbut’s approach (see places like Haven for Hope in San Antonio) which co-locates all homeless services into one central location in a campus type setting. The part I find amusing is that I have never met a homeless service campus that actually works well. I mean, even Haven for Hope has used OrgCode’s services to help train staff on how to go about ending homelessness. Anyone been to Phoenix lately? The campus there is riddled with issues that are much more difficult to solve than when there is distribution of services throughout a community.

8. “We have some people that have had more than 2,500 nights of shelter stays and are coming out as moderate acuity. Clearly there is something wrong with your tool if these people aren’t coming out as needing PSH.”

This happened in Utah where statewide the tool is used to great results. When I asked the gentleman how long they had been using the tool it turned out to be less than a year. When asked what they had done to get people out of shelter before the tool was adopted he didn’t know. It is not a tool’s fault that people with moderate acuity have not gotten out of shelter sooner. Maybe it is the staff at the shelter’s fault for not figuring out how to house people with moderate acuity in the YEARS they have had to do so with the same clients night after night.

9. “Your training would be better if it was all free and online.”

Um…hmmm…better? But you’d lose out on the jokes! And Jeff, Tracy and I offer such incredible presence and charisma! Plus, OrgCode would no longer be viable as a business if we didn’t get paid to do at least some things. We already do oodles of stuff for free and give away loads for free (like the resources on our website). But hey, going under is good food for thought. We will consider that.

10. “You know that HUD and USICH hate the SPDAT and don’t support it.”

Nope. They don’t hate it. I checked. In person. Spoke with Matthew Doherty. And Ann Oliva. And Norm Suchar. They don’t endorse any tool – nor should they. But they don’t hate the SPDAT. In fact, they have been very responsive in helping us make sure subsequent versions are even more closely aligned to their policy objectives.

11. “How do you sleep at night knowing how rich you are getting off the lives of homeless people?”

First of all, person from Los Angeles, I don’t sleep well at night. Thanks for your concern. Usually it is because I am wondering what timezone I am in. Sometimes it is because of my depression. Sometimes it is because I lay awake feeling guilty I am not at home with my family. Sometimes it is because I can’t shut off my brain and I am trying to figure out the next important thing that OrgCode should do. But given that I am not rich and never will be rich, I can assure you that is not the reason for my sleeplessness. Again, though, thanks for your concern.

12. “I heard you get 17 cents per SPDAT entry in HIFIS [HMIS].”

Where do rumors like this even start? So just to clarify things once again: the SPDAT is free. It always has been. It always will be. People pay for the training. They don’t pay for the tool or any future updates. There is no annual licensing fee. There is no money changing hands between HMIS vendors and OrgCode – whether that is in Canada where HIFIS is used or across any of the US communities using their own HMIS.

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong

10 Responses to “Say What?”

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  1. Dawn Gilman says:

    My personal fav #2. Why because this is an issue we have seen. It goes along with the annual client assessment that must be done…you guessed it – EVERY year.

  2. Scotti says:

    Thanks for a wicked awesome blog Iain!
    Some of these are so preposterous and lack common sense, it reminds me of the song in the early 90s ” Things that make you go Hmm!”

    I particulary was impressed with number 5,
    5. “Homelessness is the sin no one likes to talk about.”
    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry for regarding this one.
    I think it more a sin if any confessing housing service provider be it faith based or not does not see anyone experiencing homelessness as unjust and not accepable.
    You should remind the audience again as I have heard you say many times, a person is not their homelessness, or their mental health or their substance use, these are expereinces and/or symptoms that any one of us could face in life due to trauma, or related abuses.

    Thanks for your blog, always enjoy it.

  3. Kathy Roberts says:

    Yikes…I feel for you!
    Folks do not get the basics…like the Housing First approach.
    And I know this country was founded to allow religious freedom, but where do we sign up for freedom from religion?
    You are awesome! Some people will never get that!
    Keep up the GREAT work you do!

  4. There is a “sin” of homelessness, but it’s not a fault in the person experiencing homelessness. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ascribe words like “sin” to a whole society but that’s where the fault lies. Specifically, the “sin” of homelessness is the shyster who goes around selling people the idea that they can just hide their problems in some out-of-the-way campus. It’s the landlord who, after accepting a formerly homeless veteran and his HUD VASH Voucher, decides he’d rather rent to someone with money and refuses to renew the lease, putting the veteran out on the street again. It’s the sin of assuming that people experiencing homelessness are more often dangerous criminals than not and so requiring stop-and-frisk before even talking to them. It’s the sin of requiring drug tests and discipleship as conditions of receiving help.

    The real “sin” of homelessness is standing in judgement of people experiencing homelessness and basing services on what we think they “deserve.” And no one _likes_ to talk about it, sure, because then they might have to face their own culpability, or they might have to acknowledge the weakness of the system, or like me, would prefer this “sin” didn’t exist and wish is would go away. So thank you, Iain, for talking about it.

    And, no, your training would not be better online (free or not). Yes, we’d miss the jokes, but we’d also miss the impact. Online training has it’s place, but upending the establishment of homeless services is not that place.

  5. Kate says:

    institutional answers to very social and human concerns clearly cross connect in missed opportunities.

    Thank you for sharing the sterile side of a very human condition.

    I don’t feel you will ever get the engagement with ‘pros’ disconnected from the heartache

  6. Roger Albert says:

    Hi Iain,
    Love your blog and often re-blog on my own blog: Dedicated to Ending Homelessness and Building Affordable Housing in the Comox Valley.
    This whole idea of ‘sin’ fits right in with the idea (see Ernest Becker, Escape From Evil) that in a society that worships money and commodities above all else that being without money means that a person is metaphorically-speaking a sinner. The righteous are the rich and powerful. The poor and homeless feel a huge sense of shame for not living up to the standards of their society and will apologize profusely for being poor and will often say how they are trying really hard to get a job or take a course or whatever. Mitigating the shame is all-important to them. That’s why it’s virtually impossible to organize the poor into coherent political groups.
    On another note, there’s a frontline worker here who works for a scattered housing organization who calls himself the zookeeper. Makes me want to cry sometimes.

  7. Matt Schnars says:

    Keep on pushin’!

    • Fredy Tirado says:

      Getting people to understand your phenomenal work takes time. I remember people in Alberta 6 years ago and now I see that everyone want to be on-board as outcomes are visible. Say hi to Tracy and Jeff

  8. Tom B says:

    I laughed loud enough to bother people near me in the office…are you sure these aren’t made up? Very sad if they are truly from “providers”…of what I have to question after these comments.

    Thanks for sharing and keeping us on the path

  9. Jess says:

    I can’t understand why people would make these statements. My mouth literally dropped open when reading many of these! #1 should stop doing outreach IMMEDIATELY. They are truly wasting their and everyone else’s time (not to mention how extremely offensive and judgmental this is). The person that said #11 must have been mad at you for some reason, or just extremely naïve with a lack of common sense. At least you/your team didn’t take these things to heart, if there were enough ridiculous statements made like these, it could drive someone to quit. Keep on keeping on and I believe your supporters must far outweigh those that do not!