It Ain’t Housing Only (For F Sake)

As you read this blog instalment this week, it is important you remember there is almost always a lag between when I write the blog and when it is posted. I especially do not want people to think I am pointing fingers at specific communities I have been to in the past three weeks given I make my schedule publicly available on FaceBook. Let us focus on the message – not a specific place – because you may see yourself in this instalment.

As I often do when I am in a new community, I go out and speak with people experiencing homelessness. I do this often in the evenings when I don’t have other engagements. I don’t talk about it much. And I won’t go into too much detail about why, but in a nutshell, I do it to get the pulse of people that are homeless in the community and how they see issues. It is difficult to sincerely work with local service providers and other officials if I have not spoken with people that are currently homeless. This blog is for Ferdinand. Ferdinand has been housed three times in the last year, mainly through VA programs. All three times he has returned to homelessness because he did not get supports while in housing. And lest you think I just take Ferdinand’s word for it, training in the community confirmed this to be true. And this is why I say this blog is for “F Sake”. I meant Ferdinand. You can use a different word starting with “F” if you like.

See, the Ferdinand experience confirms what keeps happening in my travels – another week and another community that is all about ending homelessness. They speak a good game. They tell me about programs. They tell me about how ready they are to make changes. They tell me about their fancy landlord recruitment strategies. They tell me their Mayor is right behind them. They tell me about their takedown targets. And yet it is the third week in a row that I want to find a blunt object to drive my head against. Why? Because no one is adequately supporting people in housing nor can they tell me the method and approach they are using to do so. And they are not resourcing after-care or housing stability supports in a meaningful way.

If you want to end homelessness you cannot just put people into housing and expect them to succeed without supports. Period.

You should be ashamed to call yourself a Permanent Supportive Housing provider if you forget the “supportive” part. Period.

If you are all about getting people into housing but not about supporting people in housing you are going to fail abysmally. Period.

If you work with people that have moderate or higher acuity you need a structured, evidence-informed, proven approach to provide support in housing. You CANNOT take a passive approach and think people will come to you if they have a problem. You CANNOT think that checking to ensure the rent is paid or making sure there are no damages to the apartment is the same thing as stabilizing people, rebuilding community connectivity, and maximizing access to mainstream resources. You CANNOT think text messages or the occasional phone call is the same as visiting someone in their home.

The proof is out there: to succeed you should help people achieve housing first. This means it is the FIRST thing you do. It does NOT mean it is the ONLY thing you do. It is the start. It is the alpha. It is not the end. It is not the omega.

If you do not figure out the supports part, train on it and invest in it, all of that money spent helping people with first and last month rent? Wasted. All of that political capital expended? Wasted. All of that hard work recruiting landlords? Wasted. All of that public support to end homelessness – whether veterans or chronically homeless persons, or families, or youth, or whatever? Wasted.

Worst of all, all of that trust people experiencing homelessness put into you to end their homelessness? Wasted.

Ask yourself even these simple questions as a start:

  1. Is each person that is housed assigned a specific person or team of persons whose sole responsibility it is to keep that person housed?
  2. Is the staff to client ratio possible to provide the intensity of services required? (No more than 20 clients per support person)
  3. Has that specific person or team been trained on how to deliver an effective housing support intervention?
  4. If the person loses their housing, does this same group of people see it as their responsibility to keep supporting the program participant while concurrently trying to get them re-housed as expediently as possible?
  5. Does the support person or team connect with the person in their home to deliver supports?
  6. Is the support provided in the program participant’s home happening at least once per week during the first six months they are housed?
  7. Is the support person or team actively and effectively brokering and advocating for connections to other mainstream and non-profit services to assist with things like physical health, mental health, etc. – and is that brokering and advocacy based upon the program participant’s choice?
  8. Are we providing all of our services through a lens of reducing harm rather than treatment compliance?
  9. Did each program participant have an active and meaningful voice in what type of housing and neighbourhood they want to live in?
  10. Does the program participant have an active voice in the type, duration and intensity of services – deciding what they want to work on in their life related to their housing stability in which order?
  11. Does the orientation of the supports encourage and empower recovery and wellness?
  12. Is the service delivery planned, structured, strategic and sequential?

 

 

If you don’t know or you aren’t do us all a favour – and a particular favour to anyone you are housing in your programs – learn how to or get out of the business and less someone that does know how do it. I don’t want to meet any more Ferdinand’s – for F Sake.

 

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong

5 Responses to “It Ain’t Housing Only (For F Sake)”

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  1. Nothing short of f-ing excellent Iain. Please repeat and repeat. This is necessary to overcome the strong promotion of just the opposite message. Thanks!

  2. Charlie says:

    Thanks for the pep Talk Iain. As usual you are absolutely right.

  3. Kathy says:

    Refreshing to know someone actually “Gets It!”. OMG!!! You REALLY “Get It!”. It all seems so simple to me and yet, the homeless population continues to grow. Clearing out the rubble of a chronically failed system and building a foundation for that system, is quite the task. My story is complex and it includes a young woman who could be the poster child of why the CES is needed. Each application filled out for housing or for assistance, ALWAYS has questions that can not be answered without “other” questions. Furthermore, the “business of disability” is f*ing corrupted, the “business of mental health” is f*ing corrupted and I know that the “business of housing” people who receive government funding is also corrupted. Furthermore, many people who are working in the system and who have control over those vulnerable individuals who need the supports are not held accountable. Get an individual into housing and provide necessary supports. If they are a success, we praise the system of supports, if they fail, it is their fault. If they fail, the finger is again pointed at them. If they fail, they are looked down on. Lastly, that support system turns into a “business” real fast. If the people being supported are no longer “needing” or “consuming” those supports, then the “business” is no longer making bank. I’ve been battling this very system long enough to know. “Businesses” sucking cash from the system while I do ALL the work; oh, I also have a full time day job so it is also my tax dollars that I watch being wasted on a daily basis. I’m done. I do like your approach. I have not read all your blogs but what I have read, I connect with. I am grateful that I learned about the CES. This is what I need to help move someone along. Wish me luck!

  4. Wow! I’m amazed, baffled and confused. We have spent the last 10 years defunding the many facilities around the country who work with the crisis population so that they no longer can provide necessary services. We have proclaimed loudly and consistently that housing is the answer. We have moved thousands into housing without any regard to their ability to maintain it and now you’re saying we need to assign 1 trained person to every 20 individuals housed to provide weekly in home housing support intervention.

    Well here’s the situation in my town – there are presently 2,871 permanent supportive housing family beds and 4,133 permanent supportive housing beds for singles. Giving us a total of 7,004 permanent supportive housing beds. Per your recommendation we need an army of 350 trained individuals to provide the intensity of services required so that these men and women will be successful in housing.

    I wish it were possible. Nice ideas – very unrealistic.

  5. Tanya Thomson says:

    It’s funny that you don’t discuss or care about people that work with the homeless. Did you ever think that the homeless are burning staff out because they can’t be housed? We are putting so much effort into it and many clients are ruining their housing. Getting evicted, thrashing their apartments and so on. Most don’t want a house to call their own. Most want to take from the systems in place so they can continue using drugs, living a negative lifestyle but having a roof over their head to make it all happen. Housing is a right but like most rights, they need to be earned no matter how you look at it. Maybe you should focus on the staff that are seeing minimal change. Why don’t you survey that? I’m sure if you investigated how many agencies are pushing their staff for ETO numbers that are forced to be dealing with aggressive, gang related, and constant evictions you may see what we all feel. Staff turn over rate is very high! Staff are at their wits end! We have no support but are expected to support our homeless clients who, most don’t give a damn about housing but rather free money and a government place to do what they do best, not much.