15 Things We Should All Want for 2015

In keeping with annual tradition, this is the blog that outlines what we should aspire to in 2015 if we are serious about ending homelessness:   1. Giant leaps forward. Audacious stretch goals move us from the inertia of the status quo to a new (uncomfortable) place of the unfamiliar but awesome. Let’s make 2015 the year of everyone taking one giant leap forward out of her/his comfort zone – whether that is a conscious individual choice or as part of a broader movement (Zero 2016 in the US, 20,000 Homes in Canada, etc.) 2. Less band-aids and more solutions. Let’s rally together every well-intentioned college class, church group and service club and get them to stop handing out sandwiches, coffee and blankets and devote the same energy to building housing and advocating for policy changes that would increase benefit levels and promote sustainable food security. 3. Imperfect action. Less […] Read more »


This is the last blog of 2014. Next week I will be taking a little R&R. Thanks for making 2014 such a memorable one for all of us at OrgCode. Some highlights and memorable moments on our end: I took over 100% ownership of OrgCode at the end of the first quarter White House visit in July thanks to our rewarding work with Community Solutions SPDAT and VI-SPDAT changing the landscape of assessment in the United States and Canada and Australia Seeing complete states tackle coordinated access and common assessment effectively, keeping the people to be served at the centre of the discussion and planning The Alliance conferences in New Orleans and DC The 100K Homes Campaign reaching its goal Gwen departing OrgCode; Kieran departing OrgCode; Jeff joining OrgCode Popularity of training other than SPDAT: Excellence in Housing-Based Case Management, Assertive Engagement, Diversion, and Promoting Wellness & Recovery in particular […] Read more »

The Best Should Not Always be Promoted

If someone has survived on the frontlines for long enough we promote them. Sometimes that may be warranted, but there is an impact of this decision that needs a closer look if we are serious about ending homelessness. If you are working with families or individuals with multiple areas in life with higher acuity, they will benefit from having a well-educated, experienced professional to provide the skills in supports necessary to help them succeed. If these supports are behind a desk and a new-ish or less experienced practitioner is providing the supports, the benefit of experience can be lost. Think of it this way – if you were sick with a number of illnesses co-occurring, would you want the specialist that has seen that type of issue and worked through it successfully many, many times before, or would you want the person that recently graduated and while they may have […] Read more »

Depression and the Christmas Holiday Season

This week’s blog is a public service message about depression and the Christmas holiday season. I do not hide the fact that I live with depression. I want to educate people. I have learned to share. I think all stigma of mental illness should be taken out of the shadows and put into the light. Depression sucks on the best of days even when you have a strong support network and a strong focus on recovery in your life. It sucks worse during the holidays. Let me explain to those of you that do not live with depression 9 things that are especially difficult for people living with depression during the Christmas holiday season so you know what is going on inside the person in your life that lives with depression. You can use these insights over the holidays to better support people in your life that live with depression. […] Read more »

Greater Gifts

As you read this, non-profit organizations – especially homeless service providers – are busy collecting money from people and organizations that like to give in this season. This “season” is the period between (American) Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is no doubt that the general populace likes to give at this time of year to homelessness related causes. I suspect if you have been to a mall or thriving downtown or near a large public transportation hub you have heard the chime of bells and seen the red kettle or had a service organization knock on your door or read or seen a news report. Give, if you like, your money. But know that your charitable donation is not going to solve the issues that caused homelessness in the first place. It will, however, give someone a meal or a bed or access to a shower – all of which are […] Read more »

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 »