White Privilege & Housing and Homelessness

Last week I was in St. Louis. The tension was palpable. It was a community on edge, awaiting the grand jury decision regarding Officer Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown. This week, with the decision in Ferguson making world headlines, the result has been many talking about reforms, righting injustices, addressing inequities, making adjustments in society so that complex social issues that involve race are considered differently. Legacies of injustice continue. In the United States it is the painful history of slavery and the treatment of African-Americans and maltreatment of Native Americans too. (A “civilized” nation that celebrates Columbus Day?) In Canada and Australia it is the painful history of colonization of indigenous peoples and failed, unjust attempts at assimilation through the likes of residential schools. (In Canada there is still something called the Indian Act – legislation that governs engagement between the state and what is allowed for […] Read more »

Coordinated Access, Common Assessment and Rural Communities

I really enjoy working in smaller communities and towns as well as vast county areas. I appreciate the pace of life in most instances, the work ethic, and a work-life balance that sometimes seems lost when I am in larger urban centres. I also appreciate that homelessness can look and feel different in locations such as these. One of the earliest adopters of the full SPDAT was a rural community in Michigan. It was intriguing to me, and I applaud the leadership of the organization for wanting to give it a try. She was dedicated to continuous improvement in her organization as a whole, and this seemed to be the next step in the evolution of performance excellence. Up to that point in time, services were delivered solely based upon eligibility. The implementation of a common assessment tool meant that prioritization based upon acuity also entered the mix. The result? […] Read more »

Homelessness Has Never Been Ended in a Committee

On more than a few occasions lately I have been in meetings with Coordinated Entry Committees, Community Advisory Committees, Assessment Committees, Steering Committees, Executive Committees, Implementation Committees, Evaluation Committees, etc. that have a local responsibility for providing direction to ending homelessness. I am at the end of my patience with committees. Let me say this again as clearly as I possibly can: homelessness has never been ended in a committee. There is an awesome website called www.despair.com that creates de-motivational posters. If you understand my sarcasm and humor, you’ll appreciate why I love this website so much. Here is my favorite poster on the website: (In fairness, they also say this about blogging.) The point? I am amazed how much energy goes into committees when the same energy does not go into implementation. In my mind there is good process and dumb-ass process. Good process is people rapidly figuring out how […] Read more »

The Privilege to Serve

Once upon a time, I would be frustrated by the lack of gratitude some service participants would show after we worked our butts off to get them housed and created an intensive support plan. Other times, I would wonder why my frontline staff failed to show thanks for all I did for them to make their lives easier. More than once I would want to quit what I was doing because neither my boss nor the elected powers that be seemed to appreciate all that we did. My life changed the day I came to the realization that it is a privilege to serve. Before, I thought people should feel privileged to be served. And I was dead wrong. It was all about me. It was selfish. It was misguided. The privilege to serve means each and every day I must provide my utmost attention to each interaction and situation where […] Read more »

Your Best Intentions of Promoting Your Work May Be Having Devastating Long-Term Consequences on Some of Your Service Users

People served by your programs may be eager to tell the world how amazing you are or enthusiastically proclaim the awesomeness of your organization. If you ask, they will be in agreement to have their story and experience focused on your website. If you ask, they will be profiled in your Annual Report. If you ask, they will come and talk at your Annual General Meeting. If you ask, they will speak to media. If you ask, they will come and share at fundraising events. If you ask, they will agree that guests from out of town or other organizations that are visiting your program can come and visit them too. Let’s break this down a bit, though, and really analyze what is going on. First of all, which type of person/family does your organization choose for these moments? It isn’t the person that was not served well by your […] Read more »

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 »