An Open Letter to the Faith-based Group that Wants to Help People that are Homeless

Dear (insert name of church, temple, synagogue, mosque, etc.), In the name of (insert deity believed in/worshipped), I understand you are called upon to help humankind as a way of living your faith and putting into practice the teachings of your religion. This is most welcome, and we are grateful that you have chosen to help people that are experiencing homelessness. I am an expert in the field of homelessness, so while it is unsolicited by you, I want to take this opportunity to fill you in on ways that would be most helpful, and the stuff you may be thinking of doing that will just get in the way of what experts are trying to achieve. If you are like me, you have been in a hospital emergency room once or more in your life. I suspect you have been frustrated with wait times and wished there was someone, […] Read more »

Museums of Suffering

The tour. You have been on one or given one. You walk through a homeless shelter or day centre or spend a night on an outreach van or a morning at a soup kitchen. You see the things that go on there. You meet the people – the program participants, residents and clientele; the staff; the volunteers. When these same buildings and programs are anchored in more traditional models rather than being focused on rapid exit from homelessness into housing they become, by definition, homelessness as a museum – objects of historical, scientific, artistic or cultural interest are stored and exhibited. People that experience longer term homelessness are more prone to die. At some point for the observer the question of why the person is homeless and how to end it becomes a question of when the person will pass away. They can become resigned to what they see as […] Read more »

Making Change Happen

I do listening sessions with groups of case managers and outreach workers in several of the communities where we do work. It is their chance to share what is working and not working in their practice, and gives us the opportunity to identify strategies or techniques they can try to improve their practice. I absolutely love doing them, and can often see the frustrations experienced turn into optimism.   One of the most recurring themes in these sessions is the outreach worker or case manager that gets frustrated that the person they are trying to support is not changing (or not changing fast enough given some funders provide a timeline for certain activities to be completed). We often go down the road (again) of how coercing, threatening, ingratiating, contracting with, bribing and bargaining does not get strong lasting change results.   But where I have been finding myself thinking more […] Read more »

Learn. Grow. Implement.

Theory. Practice. Implementation. These are the three key ingredients to knowing how to make change in operations in your approach to ending homelessness. Very recently, we announced the Learning Clinics in 2017. These are the next big step (risk?) we are taking at OrgCode to enhance the knowledge-base in ending homelessness, and help communities achieve sustained reductions in homelessness. There are a number of different learning clinics throughout the first half of 2017. I want to take a few minutes to tell you why we are doing them, and to tell you about them, as well as how they are different from a typical conference or workshop. Why? We believe that our job is to be catalysts for better outcomes. We feel that many communities focus on the wrong things in ending homelessness either because of lack of knowledge or lack of leadership. We tackle leadership development in the Leadership […] Read more »

Crazy Sh!t, Volume 3, 2016

Time for everyone’s favourite blog – the crazy shit from July, August and September.   $1.8M vs $4.3M Let me get this straight, the motel operator, who is in his late 70s, wants to sell you all of his properties for $1.8M (way below market value because he believes you are doing the Lord’s work) so you can continue to use them to help homeless families where you have given the operator $4.3M in fees over the past three years, but it does not make financial sense? (Even if one of the properties is RIGHT ON THE OCEAN and a recent building audit for the entire portfolio of properties showed the buildings to be in REMARKABLE SHAPE!!!)   “I would like to speak with your boss. Does he know the things you say when presenting?” How to handle this delicately….yes, I know the things he says because I am the […] Read more »

A Bias Towards Longevity

One of the weirdest things about homelessness is that the longer you are homeless, the better you are at being homeless. And many services – government, not for profit, faith-based, etc. – feed into this bias. They are generally difficult to navigate unless you have been in the system for a long time.   It seems once or twice every year (at least) some organization has an intern pulling together a guide of services for people that are homeless. It takes them months. And it may have value to the intern if they are staying in the field or are trying to figure out the array of services that exist for people that are homeless.   Want a more efficient way to do it?   Give five chronically homeless dudes a pizza and an hour and they can write out the whole thing for you. Heck, they can likely rank […] Read more »

Passive to Active: The Role of Day Services

Historically, day services of all kinds (known by names like drop-in centres, day centres, day shelters, resource lounges, open spaces, gathering spots, and so on) played the very important function of giving people that are homeless refuge during the day. This has been especially important in neighbourhoods or communities where shelters are open over night, but lack resources to stay open and serve people during the day. The day services have met a huge array of needs. Often they provide a meal or snack. In the winter they give escape from inclement weather and in the summer a respite from the heat. Bathrooms are almost always available. Many have showers or laundry facilities. It is not uncommon for there to be socio-recreational activities, and/or opportunities for people to mingle and engage. Some bring in external resources like health care, legal services, or even help filing taxes or applying for benefits. […] Read more »

Characteristics of an Exemplary Diversion Specialist

In training communities on effective diversion, a common question is, “What are the sort of characteristics you’d look for when hiring someone for that position?” It is a great question because it appreciates that the role is somewhat different from other roles that serve people experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of losing housing. Here are some thoughts.   They should be an extraordinary problem solver who is remarkably resourceful rather than whining about a lack of resources. Being solution-focused means the individual will work the problem to find a solution rather than waiting for someone else to find a resource or fix a system that is broken. I like to think of good Diversion Specialists as the Macgyver’s of the homeless and housing service delivery system – they find a way to make it work with what they have, even when it is not ideal. They need to think […] Read more »

Change Yourself Into Something You Love

I believe in hope. I believe that we are malleable. I know so much of our time is spent thinking somehow our bodies are changeable, but our thoughts, opinions and beliefs are not. I know that if we believe the future can be different and better than the present, we can take the steps now that allow for improvement.   Changing yourself is not just about you as one person. Changing yourself also means changing your organization, your interpersonal relationships, your peers.   Learning to love myself has been over two decades in the making. I spent long periods of my life trying to be what people wanted me to be rather than being who I wanted to be. I spent endless hours critiquing just about everything about myself…my intellect, my career choices, my image, my friendships and relationships with my family, my morality, my view on social norms – […] Read more »

Offence is Taken, Not Given

Push envelopes. Blur the edges. Provoke. Grab people’s attention through irreverent comedy. At the most recent National Alliance to End Homelessness conference I got called “gonzo”, “brilliant but irreverent”, and “troubadour of disruption”. All in a day of work for me. On the days when I have my A game, two things will happen: a large volume of people will go out of their way to tell me they are inspired, feel challenged, energized and ready to improve what they do; and, a small volume of people will go out of their way to tell others how much I offended them. Sometimes it was my approach. Sometimes my language. Sometimes my use of comedy to help people stay engaged. Here are examples of things over the past few months people have gone out of their way to tell me were offensive: taking off my shoes when presenting not wearing a […] Read more »

Gone Fishing

Those of you who have followed the blog for a couple years know that each year I take a week to get completely off the grid, take my kids up to Northern Ontario and do my best to latch on to a large smallmouth bass, lake trout, and/or, northern pike.     This is self-care for me. Once a year, I get to a place where I cannot look at my phone. My computer will not be with me. I will be dad. I will be brother. I will be son. I will not be President & CEO of OrgCode. I may hatch blog ideas, but not intentionally, and I sure as heck will not be writing them. I may figure out answers to complex social challenges because the struggles of bringing in a big fish took a long time, but again, it will be by accident. It is true […] Read more »

When Amazing Minds Come Together

Last week the core staff of OrgCode (Jeff and Tracy) along with the bench players (Mike, Erin, Zach, Kris, Amanda) all spent a couple days in the great city of Toronto figuring out what OrgCode needs to be working on next and how we need to get there. I am not going to get into specifics that will be answered in the coming weeks/moments too much, but allow me to hit some highlights to hopefully intrigue you.   Going Deep There are many topics communities keep wanting more and more information on how to effectively accomplish, from coordinated entry to actually running reports and maximizing HMIS; improving housing stabilization to how to be an amazing CoC; what it takes to be successful at ending homelessness in rural settings to what it means to be fantastic at outreach or a shelter with a housing focus. These are things where you can […] Read more »