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 being energized by a tool that they repeatedly describe as empowering their staff to “finally know what to do” – meaning knowing what intervention to recommend, versus “this is what we have available, regardless of whether you need it, so do you want that? If not, you get nothing.”

We’ve used that data to better target services: [our community] has completed three targeted 100 day initiatives. The first two were for veterans only, and our third (and current) 100 initiative is for all single individuals experiencing homelessness. In each of our three initiatives, we have ended homelessness for over 200 individuals:

  • 207 veterans were housed (96 of which were experiencing chronic homelessness) from August 9, 2013 to November 30, 2013
  • 202 veterans were housed (108 of which were experiencing chronic homelessness) from December 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014
  • 202+ single individuals were housed from May 24, 2014 to now (including 121 veterans)

Also worthy of note, as of this last week, every person who scored 13 or higher has been assigned a housing navigator. Our providers meet every week and begin our meeting by pulling our universal registry of VI-SPDAT results publicly, and starting with the highest score moving downwards, we send referrals for every permanent supportive housing or rapid rehousing unit that becomes available within the city. 100% transparent, and really, really energizing.

Lastly, we’re using this data to advocate for increased resources. Using the strong foundation of evidence that VI-SPDAT and SPDAT provide, our community has advocated for funding to move people from our registry (and the streets) into permanent housing (either permanent supportive or rapid rehousing).

  • $900,000 in local rapid rehousing funding for non-veterans in FY2014
  • $4.7 million in local permanent supportive housing for veterans (we have a lot of rapid rehousing/SSVF but not enough PSH for veterans. VI-SPDAT gave us the data to say “this is how much we need” to funders.)
  • $1.5 million expansion in local rapid rehousing funding for non-veterans in FY2015, because the original $900K wasn’t enough.

Thank you for making this possible. I am deeply indebted to you for your amazing tools. They are making a difference for our community in ways I never dreamed would be actually possible.

Gone Fishing

Literally, I have gone fishing.


This is the blog each year where I tell you there will be no blog because I am not at work. I am doing my best to practice self-care. Which I suck at.


I will tell you a bit more about what I am doing if you are interested and want to read more.


I am in the middle of nowhere in Northern Ontario. There is no cell coverage where I am . I am NOT checking email on my phone. This is very hard for me but important to do.


I am spending time with my children. This is important and precious to me. They do not see me nearly enough throughout the year, beyond which FaceTime allows – and most Saturdays.


I am with my brother and my father, and an uncle as well. These are all men that I respect and admire, and all of whom are very different than I am. We are not a family of long-haired hippies. I am the black sheep.


I am fishing for Smallmouth Bass. I am not a good angler. I will not catch many. I don’t care.


Camping on an island in the middle of a lake, I am more interested in the call of a loon, the northern lights, the campfire, and feeding people camp chow and my kids being happy.


I will come back to work refreshed and ready to take the next step to end homelessness or improve affordable housing in your community. Until then, if your email can wait until next week, please hold off.

Time is a Thief

Look into the eyes of any person hurt, broken, suffering, homeless, marginalized. Are they wasting time? No. Time is wasting them. Time is a thief. Without precious resources to turn dreams into a vision of the future they exist in the in-between. Fight too long and lose all the time, and you lose the will to fight. Though maybe we should ask why people ever had to fight in the first place to find a shred of dignity. Each second ticking by is another indictment of our complacency in watching injustice occur before our eyes. If Necessity is the mother of all invention, then I think Sorrow is the father. Answer the call to steal back from time what is taken away from those amongst us that deserve our time and we distance ourselves from Sorrow – even if that means having a one-parent family. What does it mean to […] Read more »

The 12 Most Frequently Asked Questions of Yours Truly

I have been doing some research since January of this year, and I am going to let you in on it – the most frequent questions I get asked over email, on the phone, and one on one in my travels. I have been keeping tabs of what I get asked about. Here are the 12 most frequent questions (paraphrasing in some instances) – in order of frequency – up until the end of July…   Do you really believe homelessness can be ended?   I believe that chronic and episodic homelessness can be ended. I do not believe that we can prevent all homelessness. Some people/families will always be homeless at all times. No one can stop family breakdown, job loss, and life decisions with terrible consequences from happening. But we can make homelessness rare and of a short duration.   How do you really make money with the […] Read more »

2014 National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference: 10 Take Aways

For the 10th year in a row, I have been a speaker at the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference on Ending Homelessness. Here are my major takeaways from this year: 1. This is Still the Best Conference on Ending Homelessness. The talent the Alliance can assemble for the conference is unparalleled and for that the Alliance deserves a major high five. The diversity of information and types of presentations appeals to a variety of learners. That said, there was a lot of youth and family content at this summer conference, which historically has been reserved for the winter conference. Is the Alliance moving towards one conference instead of two? (Well, not in the near term with the Youth and Family Conference in San Diego in early 2015) 2. Cory Booker and Michelle Obama and Jennifer Ho and Ann Oliva and Laura Zeillinger Rock No one has ever moved me […] Read more »

Going to the White House Today

Today I am going to the White House. On July 9 I got the invite. Had the White House logo on it and everything. I admit, my first thoughts were of watching the West Wing. Then I wondered when/if I will ever be invited to Canadian Parliament. Then I thought about just how AWESOME this is going to be. I was invited because of the work I have done with Community Solutions. The Community Solutions gang is pretty fantastic. They have coalesced community after community in working towards ending homelessness by focusing on the most vulnerable people first. They reached the goal of housing 100,000 people through the Campaign. They bucked the trend of excuses and the status quo. They rocked boats. They got things done. They are my kind of people. Read more »

One Part of Me Just Needs the Quiet

“One part of me wants to tell you everything One part of me just needs the quiet.” -Toad the Wet Sprocket Frightening can be the revelation that life has changed. When it isn’t as it was before. In the space between revelation and full appreciation of new discovery, I choose to exploit the silence – the awkwardness of all that is quiet and unsettled…where the breath of anticipation is a whisper not yet revealed. In the depths of this sometimes lonely place is where we come to appreciate that we are not alone. Sometimes we expect fireworks and cartwheels of gratitude, but are met with the hesitation of exuberance – the pregnant pause before the crowd realizes they can laugh or that they should clap…the beat the best comedic actors feed off of under the pressure to perform. Pinch me – is this real? I dare not speak for fear […] Read more »

Guardians of Stories

This is a guest blog by Jeff Standell who is a full-time intake specialist and works part-time for OrgCode doing SPDAT training and advising. On top of that, he is a stand-up guy who teaches me loads about patience and the privilege of service. I am a better person for knowing Jeff. If you like the blog, reach out and send him a note or hit him up on Twitter @jstandell   I attended a funeral today, and I realize that by the time this blog reaches the light of day my today will be long past. The funeral in question was not for a loved one, family member or friend, not for a past colleague. I came from a funeral of somebody who used to be homeless, and after crossing my path, and that of other people in our community who battle daily to end homelessness, was not […] Read more »

Mid-Year Stats

Here we are mid-year. Just tallied up some numbers:   I have been to 47 different communities so far this year (some more than once) and other OrgCode team members have been to a dozen more.   I have logged more than 100,000 air miles so far this year. That is the equivalent of going around the globe about four times.   About 850 people Like the OrgCode FaceBook page. (   About 1,100 people follow me on Twitter. (@orgcode)   More than 105,000 viewers have come to the blog. (wow)   The most popular blog of the year (so far)? 10 Things to Keep in Mind if You are Serious About Ending Homelessness   OrgCode went from two owners to one (me) earlier this year.   “SPDAT” and “OrgCode” are the two most popular terms that lead people to our website through search engines.   110% is what we give it […] Read more »

Job, Career or Vocation?

HOWDY READERS – I AM OFF THIS WEEK FOR SOME SELF-CARE. THINKING ABOUT THAT INSPIRED THIS BLOG ABOUT JOBS, CAREERS and VOCATIONS. ENJOY!   I’ve had jobs – and probably you have too – that were only about doing something for someone else in order to get paid. I have some great stories from some of those jobs (especially summer jobs during undergrad years). But when I have had jobs in my life, time off was critical – from milking every coffee break to downtime on the weekends to vacation time. I’ve had career stops when I was truly a careerist. In those times in my life a lot of what I was involved in was not as much about the content of the tasks (though I did like a lot of what I did), but more about how far I could get up the ladder and how fast. It […] Read more »