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 »

“My clients don’t deserve my bad day.”

A few years back I was interviewing someone who did intakes every single day. I wanted to know what made him tick. And I also wanted to know how he was able to remain so calm and focused as I observed him doing SPDAT assessments. “My clients don’t deserve my bad day,” said Jeff in a soft-spoken voice staring down at some papers. He said many other insightful thing too. But this one stood out for me. And I have held it dearly since he uttered those words. I believe that hurt people hurt others. I believe that those in helping professions see and hear the sort of stuff that would make others cringe or feel weary. I believe that vicarious trauma can be real. And I also believe that if we don’t do a check up from the neck up from time to time, mental health can suffer. But […] Read more »

A Hand Full of Excuses, and a Gut Full of Pain

I have been expanding my unscientific information gathering in my travels. Seems just about everywhere I go I need not travel far from my hotel before finding one or more person experiencing homelessness and living outside. Later that day or the next when in a speaking engagement, I will ask housing programs and shelter staff why they think that is, and I can summarize those into five categories: It is the failure of the person. If they would change to conform to the program expectation or try harder, they could be off the street and into a program or housing. The problem is one of compliance. It is the complexities of presenting issues within the person. Their program or housing, it seems, has been designed for people with lesser needs. Serving these individuals would negatively impact their success rates, which would also sour their landlord relationships, and potentially put their […] Read more »

A Weed is a Flower Trying to Figure It’s Shit Out

Once upon a time an opinion emerged, held true by the majority: if something grew easily and spread rapidly it must be bad (weeds); if something was harder to grow and required more TLC to succeed it must be good (luscious lawn or precious flowering plants). We are amazed by the resiliency of the weed. It keeps coming back. It is stubborn. It wants to ensure survival to the point that it seems to fight against most things thrown at it that try to kill it. The case against the weed is that it takes up the space of what would be preferred. It is deemed intrusive. It is thought of as ugly. And even while little kids pick weeds to place in a bouquet for their mother, we soon program them that weeds have no value. A more suitable clutch of flowers would be roses or daffodils or chrysanthemums. […] Read more »

But Today I am Going to be Awesome

Work pressures. Am I going to make deadlines? Are the people I work with happy? Am I enough to the people that count on me? Does anything I do really make a difference? Am I busy, or am I effective? Am I contributing enough money to the needs of my family? Am I missing life events because of the demands of work? Have I created one meaningful thing or process to contribute? Is there one idea that is truly mine that I have unleashed to the world? Will passion ever trump the days when I feel disconnected and worthless? Am I able to mask my insecurities? Why do I deflect compliments as if they are hollow platitudes? Am I moving towards the end of my career – years away – as if on a conveyor belt in a factory assembly line, just seeing each day or situation the same as […] Read more »

Are You Listening?

Society has taught us to listen with the wrong part of the body. You are supposed to listen with your ears. You spend chunks of each day listening to your eyes. We have been listening to the part of our body whose sole job is to see. It is the first tool we learned to judge with. It is the blacksmith of our prejudice and bias. It is all about the “too’s”…a different type of terrible “too’s”. Too sick. Too drunk. Too long out of housing. Too traumatized. Too abused. Too many evictions. Too forgotten. Too resistant to change. Too damaged. Too street involved. Too long since they connected with family. Too weak. Too crazy. Too many blemishes on a credit history. Too high. Too broken. Too long since they took their medication. Too dumb. Too injured. Too smelly. Too many criminal charges. Too high risk. Too lazy. Too resistant. […] Read more »

The Return of the Leadership Academy on Ending Homelessness

October 25-27, 2016 marks the return of the Leadership Academy on Ending Homelessness. This is the only event of its kind where leaders that believe in ending homelessness come together in a tranquil setting to engage, share and learn with other leaders in the field. Registration is now open! Last year, 200 leaders from across the United States and Canada came together for the experience. We solicited feedback from attendees afterwards, and overwhelmingly the experience was awesome. With a few tweaks, the intensive 2.5 day program is back. If any of these are of interest to you, you should be there: Do you ever wonder why your approach to leadership is not universally accepted, can clash with other leaders, and/or results in people resisting change altogether? Do you know, in great detail, why you do this work? Or do you spend more time telling people what you do and how […] Read more »

Social Service vs. Social Control

You can look at any part of the human services, housing, income support and benefits system, etc. within your community and ask yourself: is what we are doing an example of social service or is it an example of social control? Let’s look at is another way: are you trying to meet the person’s needs, or are you trying to change who they are before (or in order) to meet their needs? A social service response accepts the person/family for who they are. It does not come with judgment. It accepts that there are no time machines to travel to the past and rewrite a course of history that does not result in the current state of affairs. A social service response will appropriately address problematic behaviour. But there is never an implicit or explicit expectation of compliance. A social service does not use coercion or make threats. A social service does […] Read more »

When Ego Was Gone

Ever notice how some people make homelessness about them and not the people they serve? Ever notice that they will make it sound like a hardship no one can possible understand and wear their work like a badge of honour? Martyr syndrome. Messed up. Ever notice that some organizations will change their message depending on who they are speaking with? If it is one funder, they are all about ending homelessness. If it is another funder, it is all about how some people can never be housed. Completely phoney. Ever hear an organization talk about their “brand” as if their services are a precious commodity? Me too. “Giving Tuesday” made me want to vomit numerous times.   This is the greatest work we will ever do. It is a privilege to serve others. Have you done everything you can to make your work a service worthy of the highest esteem […] Read more »

Don’t Blame the Person Needing Service

On any given day, lots of things can irk me in the pursuit of ending homelessness. But I can say with absolute certainty that nothing bothered me more than the attempt from the USICH to define an end to veterans homelessness which essentially included a provision that if housing was offered and the person said no, that was good enough so long as the organization checked in to make sure nothing had changed. There have been formidable leaders within USICH. And to be fair, without USICH many initiatives in ending homelessness or political will would not have happened. Maybe this shortcoming is a result of pressure from other federal agencies. Maybe this shortcoming is a result of pressure to produce results before the end of the Administration. BUT, blaming a person needing services to end their homelessness is NO WAY TO END HOMELESSNESS. A reflective practitioner knows the importance of […] Read more »