Dizzy in the Spin Room

Making a difference in ending homelessness? Prove it. Don’t spin it. Recently, a city and county in Southern California started making major changes it its approach to homelessness. They got rid of seasonal tents. They started focusing on year-round services. They even had the foresight to put some targets to their approach. One target was to have 75% of program participants exit into housing. The other target was to have lengths of stay average 45 days. Both are laudable, though perhaps a stretch for the community. With the right coaching, alignment of resources, and commitment it may be possible to get to this target within a year or two. By the time the project was contracted, things had changed from the initial RFP. No longer was it 75%. It was 65%. And no longer was it exits to housing. It became exits to longer-term options. And politicians and service providers […] Read more »

I’ll Never Bring You Flowers

Maybe I was who Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand were singing about in “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers“. I think giving someone flowers is pretty messed up. Sure, they are pretty to look at. But what does it say about us when we give a person something that is dying and tell them that it is beautiful? In the working world, Managers give people flowers (metaphorically). They will source the best florists to procure the freshest bouquets with the most radiant colours. They will form a long-term relationship and even negotiate a great price. And people will seem to enjoy the flowers, until they wither and die and need to be replaced. The Leader does not give people flowers. The Leaders gives people seeds and soil. And every time the Leader hands over the watering can she is saying, I want you to grow a little more. I want this […] Read more »

From Bone Dry to Downright Soggy: Variations in Alcohol Policy in Shelters

When shelters are considering their policies regarding alcohol use it is not as binary as dry or wet. There are variations in between. With each of the variations come considerations that impact either the program participant or the staff within the shelter – or both! So, I put together this handy table to guide you through four variations of alcohol policies and the considerations that come with each.   Category Description Consider This… Bone Dry ·      Zero tolerance policy ·      Test of breath or urine for alcohol consumption ·      No admittance if found to have consumed ·      Individuals with alcoholism are very unlikely to use the shelter ·      Individuals may still consume alcohol, but in ways that are not easily detected (anal, vaginal or ocular consumption – for example) Damp ·      Focus is on behaviour, not on use ·      Any person found using is most often instructed to go to […] Read more »

3 Phases to Operationalize Homelessness to Housing

Let us make this as easy as possible for everyone to understand and operationalize the phases for Rapid ReHousing and any Housing First program. If you have a by-name priority list, it comes at the end of Phase 1. For housing, you can only prioritize those that are eligible, have the right acuity level, want to participate, have provided informed consent, and have all of their documents in place. You may have lists before that, like “The List of People We Want to Keep Engaging But Are Not Accepting the Program” or “The List of People We Are Working On Getting Documents in Order”. But if you want the list of people that are in a position to be housed, it is everyone who has gone through Phase 1.   Who does Phase 1?   You need to decide in your community what makes most sense. It is my opinion […] Read more »

Transitions Suck

We don’t resist change. We resist transitions. Change is exciting. There is the possibility of something new. There is the possibility to fix something that is not working. There is the possibility to make improvements. The reality is that when most people or organizations are presented with the possibility of change there is uninformed optimism. Then, as they start to change, they experience informed pessimism. Why? Is it because change is hard? Is it because they think they were lead to a place because of lies, spin or misinformation? Here are some thoughts for you to consider: You tried to change people. People cannot be forced or coerced to change – over the long term. They cannot be bribed or bargained with to change – over the long term. If change is going to last and have benefits, people can only choose to change. That comes from facts, appealing to […] Read more »

A Beggar SHOULD Be a Chooser

Beggars can’t be choosers. Bullshit. So the saying goes, if someone is in need, they should not have a choice in what they receive. This is firmly rooted in the DNA of most charitable giving. In this approach there is a moral righteousness: I, as the charitable giver, have decided to make my money/resources/time/knowledge/networks available to you, and you should just be grateful that I did so…those in need should be seen, but not heard. Burman, in his great (albeit remarkably dry) book Poverty’s Bonds teaches us that lasting social change starts not with charitable giving or bureaucratic responding, but rather by conducting a needs assessment in order to align services and resources to needs. It is about empowering the person that has a need to have a direct say, in their own words, and on their own terms. Why would we want to do this? The recovery literature shows that people […] Read more »

Random Notes of Encouragement

I was asked to write this blog by one of the recipients of a random note of encouragement. So I am, at her request. Thanks, A., for encouraging me to share with others simple things that can be done to help other people be awesome.    In October 2015 I took one of the bigger leaps in my consulting life, pulling off a huge success in the OrgCode Leadership Academy in Ending Homelessness. I could no longer justify the “what if” excuses of not trying to pull it off. With the help and encouragement of people like Zach and Amanda it not only happened, it worked. 200 people showed up. At the end of the final session on the last day, there were loads of people lined up to take photos, share a high five or hug, or offer me some words of gratitude. It was awesome. But the best […] Read more »

Never Ever Write a Blog About Tent Cities – Unless You Are Ready to be Hated

A couple weeks ago I wrote a blog about how to respond to a Tent City. As has been customary in my career, it was provocative and got people talking. I thought that was a good thing. If you want to read the blog again or scan through the comments (mostly negative) about my ideas, you can click here. Because one of the reasons I write a blog every week is to keep the conversation about issues going, I think it is great when people engage – positively or negatively. When I die, I hope I’m as big as Elvis so they make a giant bust of my head When I die, I hope that nobody believes me so the tabloids say that I’m not dead Plaid Daddys What I did not expect was people thinking I had no place to exist anymore. Some have suggested through direct contact that […] Read more »

Change Sucks – Which is Why Support Must Come From a Place of Compassion and Empathy

Change sucks. Unless someone else is changing. And unless that change that the other person is making aligns to how you want them to change. Yet here we are in the “change business”. You spend most of your days being a change agent. When people are motivated and interested, that is awesome. Most change in life happens when people are self-aware and self-guided. You probably do that in your own life. Think of something like the day you realized you needed to eat more vegetables, and sure enough from then on (and to this day) go out of your way to make sure you eat a good amount of vegetables. Sometimes change comes about because people are self-aware, but do not have the ability to be self-guided – or at least acknowledge that they will likely do better if they have the support of someone else. Again, let us focus […] Read more »

Tent City: How to Respond Effectively

I cut my teeth in this industry responding to a very large tent city. Since that time I have been actively involved in resolving about a dozen of them, and every year that I have been consulting I have had to respond to various scales of smaller encampments that have not yet hit a threshold of what one might call a City. Consider them more of Tent Hamlets or Tent Villages. In all of my work – across all scales of people living in an organized or semi-organized manner outdoors – I have come to realize that some things work remarkably well and some things do not.   Let us start from the beginning with what not to do:   Do not legalize them or make them a possible solution regardless of what you may think of your local lack of affordable housing or current capacity of shelters. Tent cities […] Read more »

Crazy Shit Volume 1 2016

The crazy shit blogs were amongst the most popular and most requested in 2015, so by popular demand, I continue to share the weird and wonderful that I experience in my pursuit of ending homelessness.   “Do you wear the same t-shirt every day?” No. I just happen to have a lot of black v-neck t-shirts. But thanks for thinking my wardrobe is the most important subject to talk about in our training on harm reduction.   “How do you get new money to fund the programs that will work while still funding and keeping the programs that don’t work happy? HUD seems to be asking us to do the impossible!” Short answer, you don’t. HUD doesn’t ask you to keep people happy. HUD doesn’t say you have to find money for new programs while continuing to fund and support programs that suck. Maybe a little reallocation is in your future. […] Read more »

Incentive vs Coercion

When is an incentive just an incentive, and when does that nice thing you offered become coercion…even if it was not intended in that way? You do a survey of people that are experiencing homelessness or maybe a PiT Count where you offer a gift card or granola bar – is that incentive to participate or a veiled (and unintentional) coercive strategy to increase participation rates? You do street outreach and offer a sandwich, socks and coffee to people – is that incentive to engage with you or a coercive strategy to get people to speak with you? You offer a program that provides mental health counselling and offer a bus pass for program participants to get to their appointment – is that incentive to attend more appointments or a form of coercion to get people to address their mental health issues? I could go on. Not only are these […] Read more »