The Homeless Service System Was Never Intended to Solve All Housing Problems

The homeless service delivery system in your community was never intended to solve ALL housing problems. It is NOT the low-income housing system. If the homeless service system tries to take care of affordable housing needs of low-income persons at the same time as addressing the housing needs of homeless persons, it is too much to handle. Prioritization of resources becomes difficult, if not impossible. Preference is likely to be given to those where their “only issue” is seen as their poverty. Waiting lists will become so large they will become meaningless and result in absolutely no meaningful action. Uproar and dissatisfaction will continue with the state of homelessness. The rate of economic poverty is always greater than the rate of homelessness, therefore homeless people are at a chronic disadvantage in this type of design.   It is NOT the seniors housing system. If the homeless service system tries to […] Read more »

Marginalization and Homelessness

Most often, people experiencing homelessness – whether they be individuals or families – experience marginalization. Where does this marginalization come from? It stems from a power differential between those that have housing and those that do not. Marginalization in this instance is the profound difference that exists across multiple aspects of life between those that have stable housing and those that do not. For example, those with housing are more likely to live longer, have better health, achieve better quality of life, feel more connected to others, achieve better education outcomes (comparing children in homeless families compared to housed families), etc. One of the issues with marginalization is that we often see it as a result of the fault of an individual. It is not. A person having an addiction does not make that person a problem; addiction is the problem. A person experiencing unemployment is does not make that […] Read more »

Why A Lottery Approach to Service and Housing Access Will Never End Homelessness

Should a family be lucky to receive a housing voucher or chosen based upon their need? Should a man get access to shelter this evening based upon his need or because he was lucky enough to be chosen from a line outside the shelter? Should scarce resources be first come, first served; or, should resources be aligned to those that need it the most? If you don’t have enough resources is it better to target them to those who need them the most or those lucky enough to receive them? Get rid of luck. Use your data. Target. The time has come to triage who needs services the most, not who is lucky enough (or capable enough) to receive them. The time has come to get rid of waiting lists and start using priority lists. The time has come to stop having men and women line up for shelter in […] Read more »

25 People You’ll Find Anywhere/Everywhere

I was having a chat with my pal Becky about the sorts of people encountered seemingly everywhere, regardless of what country, state/province, county or city. These are the people that emerge when giving a seminar, presentation, workshop or keynote on ending homelessness or affordable housing. I have narrowed it down to 25 different types of people often encountered. 1. The “We’re Unique” Person Loves the idea. But won’t move forward with activating the idea because they are convinced that their organization or community is so different that practices based upon evidence and replicated numerous times elsewhere, will not work in their place. More often than not, this person has not visited a number of other places to see programs in operation. Said person may not ever been out of state or own a passport. 2. The “We Should be Exempt” Person Loves the idea. Wants to see it implemented. Just […] Read more »

10 Women Leaders in this Industry

My kids don’t really understand what I do for a living. That will come with time. It doesn’t stop me from thinking about how they may make their mark on the world – maybe even in this field – and who may be best suited to shape their understanding of the industry and what it means to be an excellent leader within it. One night on a recent weekend at home I got to thinking about leaders in the sector, and specifically women leaders, that are exemplary for my sons and daughter in different ways. I want my boys and girl to know both men and women leaders, to be able to understand and respect gender difference, to be better positioned to understand and promote equality and equity. Moreover, it is critically important to me that my children respect the intelligence, community impacts, presence and contributions of women and to […] Read more »

“How’s that going to impact your housing?”

“How’s that going to impact your housing?” It is one of the most important questions we should repeatedly ask the people we support as they develop and operationalize their support plan. Let’s say a head of a household declares they want to look for employment. The question to ask? “How’s that going to impact your housing?” Let’s say a middle aged single man declares he wants to seek out treatment for his addiction. The question to ask? “How’s that going to impact your housing?” Let’s say a woman is working to regain custody of her children that had been taken into care. The question to ask? “How’s that going to impact your housing?” I could go on. It is not, obviously, the only question to ask. But it is a question that is very important to ask whenever changes in life circumstance or context are afoot. Yes, people can and […] Read more »

Ending Homelessness and Ending Poverty Are NOT The Same Thing – They May Not Even Be Related

In America, there are about 46.5 million people living in poverty at any point in time. There are about 1.2 million households living in public housing. About 600,000 people are homeless at any given point in time, and there are an estimated 3.5 million different people that experience homelessness in any given year. The number of people experiencing homelessness and the number of people experiencing poverty are nowhere close to the same number. And the number of households living in public housing comes nowhere close to matching the number of people living in poverty. (I’d try to demonstrate the same thing in places like Canada, but there isn’t a common PIT count or anything similar to the AHAR. Where there is PIT Count data in Canada, the same arguments I present here work.) Income has a strong relationship to the presence (or absence) of economic poverty. Income does not have […] Read more »

The Reason for Your Faith-Based Service

A friend recently told me that my message of working on housing as the first goal, avoiding a focus on sobriety first as a necessary step in order to access housing, and a very secular approach to addressing homelessness was not met favorably by some leaders within large faith-based homeless-focused ministries. I am a little troubled by that given I have very positive relations with a lot of faith-based groups that offer services and housing to homeless and formerly homeless persons. It got me thinking about what the distinctions are between various groups that do what they do in the name of Jesus Christ (same guy, I think, with different interpretations of who He was and what He wants of humanity) and why some faith-based groups would welcome my message and others feel threatened by it. [As an aside, I am well aware that other faith groups are involved in […] Read more »

Yes, I am Canadian (sorry, eh?)

When all else fails in your attempts to make change in your community towards ending homelessness or increasing affordable housing, blame my nationality. Apparently this is a thing. Summer. 2013. National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference. World-renowned expert (won’t mention names) says that I can’t possibly understand HUD requirements during a conference session because I am Canadian. Spring. 2014. Oklahoma. Implementing the SPDAT is a bad idea (and not aligned with Gospel values) because…wait for it…I am Canadian. Summer. 2014. Texas. I made an offer to help a shelter move forward with coordinated access and common assessment in that community. The Executive Director rejects the idea on FaceBook. Why? Because I am Canadian. My mother came to Canada from Scotland. My father came to Canada from the Netherlands. My older brother – born in Canada – moved to and has become an American citizen. I am first generation Canadian, with […] Read more »

The Power of a Tool

Before the conference in DC for the National Alliance to End Homelessness, I reached out to an HMIS administrator that I trust to ask him about the impact coordinated access and common assessment has had in his community. I am going to protect the identity of his community so that they are not bombarded with requests about what/when/how, but his response is overwhelming to me (and his email back to me makes up the rest of this blog): For assessments, 183 staff from 14 different agencies in [NAME OF COMMUNITY] have screened more than 1,300 individuals since August 2013 with the VI-SPDAT, 100% of which have been recorded (from day one) in our HMIS. It’s worthy of note that the vast majority of the 14 agencies using this de-centralized “no wrong door” approach are not The [COC funded] or DHS-funded either. It’s not about a funding mandate, it’s about providers […] Read more »