Designing an Amazing Emergency Shelter

Howdy!   If you are at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference this week in DC you may have been in or heard about the session that Cynthia Nagendra and yours truly delivered on Designing an Amazing Emergency Shelter. Whether at the conference or not, I wanted you to get access to some generic policies and procedures that you can use in crafting your trauma-informed, housing-focused shelter. Note that these policies and procedures were first developed for a men’s shelter. You may have to adjust things like population group(s) to be served, access hours, meals, etc. But this should give you something to work off of to get you started in updating, revising or creating your shelter policies.   Follow the link here to download. Read more »

Renewal Alliance Style

Part of “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” each year includes: attended National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference in DC   It is a key part of summer for me for more than a decade. I can actually track milestones in my career against the backdrop of the Alliance conference. Here are the major reasons I keep going:   Merry Misfits You may call this networking. I call this the reunion of the merry misfits…the ones that work day in and day out to make a difference…the ones that embrace the complexity and hard work that goes into tackling social change. This conference is one of the few places I feel I fit in.   Learn to Hug I generally do not like to be touched. Then there is the Alliance conference. This has been the place where, over the years, I have come to realize people hug you without even […] Read more »

With the Eldest Boy

My eldest son is Hamish. He turns 11 this December. Generally speaking he is a remarkable kid, full of compassion; helping to care for his three younger siblings (without asking – and even changing diapers); helping me grill and smoke meat; phenomenal at baseball and okay at hockey (citizenship requirement); loves science and math; and, known to still sneak in a cuddle with his dad when no one is looking.   For most years my kids had no idea what I did for a living. I help people that help people that are experiencing homelessness. Huh? It was easier when I did direct service. Even when Hamish was 4 he kind of understood that. But the older he gets and the more complex my work gets the hardest it is to explain. If you read this blog, chances are you are involved in homelessness. You have likely also wondered how […] Read more »

70:20:10 The Street Outreach Investment

Street outreach is often (wrongly) measured by the number of contacts made or the number of new people found and encountered. We need to measure street outreach by its effectiveness of ending homelessness, not by any other metric. So, we need a re-think of how street outreach workers spend their time and how we value their work. 70% of an outreach worker’s time should be spent with document ready people getting them into housing. 20% of an outreach worker’s time should be spent with people that have consented to participate in getting housed, but need to be document ready and therefore require assistance getting documents in place. 10% of an outreach worker’s time should be spent trying to find new people.   And in outreach we should measure effectiveness of ending homelessness. Therefore, street outreach is mobile housing work. It requires the outreach worker to have all of the forms, […] Read more »

Yoda was Wrong

That title ^ may be considered blasphemy.  It pains me to write it. And it is true. If (for some reason unexplainable reason) you do not have a hint what I am talking about, Yoda famously remarked “Do or do not. There is no try.” And that is where Yoda was wrong. Try matters. A lot.   We have created a culture of risk-adverse organizations afraid to try. Yet risk is the only proof we have that hope is believed in. We have created a culture of funders that want 100% success. Yet even the best cardiologists in the world have heart attack patients that die. And they still get paid. We have created a culture of landlord recruitment for perfect clients. Yet we have clients that are far from perfect. We have created a culture where some other city or jurisdiction must have figured it out first and we […] Read more »

Crazy Sh!t Volume 2, 2016

And now for everyone’s favourite blog each quarter, the crazy shit I get asked and hear…   “We all know that housing first doesn’t work for veterans.” Really? How insightful Volunteers of America dude in Florida. Your evidence to support this statement? Oops.   Igloos for homeless families. In Hawaii. I experienced this when in Hawaii in April. Thankfully they are not made of ice. But still, spending $10,000 a pop to put fibreglass structures on a church parking lot sounds a lot like an innovation in search of a strategy.   “Sorry, we can’t stay. Plane to catch.” Not a crazy statement, really, unless you consider that the same people that could not stay were then at the gate beside me at the airport six hours later.   “How can we go about setting up a contest for the homeless to name our next beer?” Micro-breweries are often fun […] Read more »

Don’t Confuse Experience with Expertise or Evidence

In May, I was speaking at a Summit in Pensacola, Florida. A large group had gathered from Northwest Florida to hear about the state’s work in ending homelessness and practices in ending homelessness. I love these sorts of engagements, especially when I am given half a day to walk people through the critical details rather than just hitting the high points as I may do in a keynote or media interview. In the morning session, I was absolutely astounded by Volunteers of America. Staff were there to speak about securing funding for operations and sustainability of those sources. To start, however, they got into talking about their approach to supporting people in housing. According to them, they will do whatever it takes to support a person to get out of homelessness forever, but that housing first does not work. Grant and per diem programs were, apparently critical for some people, […] Read more »

Performance Management & Ending Homelessness Amongst Veterans

On the OrgCode Facebook page I recently posted an article from about how the goal to end homelessness amongst veterans came up short. By their account, there was a one-third reduction in homelessness amongst veterans since the start of the plan that was put forth by Veterans Affairs. I thought this would be a great opportunity to go over some of the basics of performance management and how it relates to ending homelessness. I will use the experience of the VA to demonstrate some teachable points.   I am doing this out of the reaction to the post. Some wanted me to know how hard their community was trying. Some wanted me to know that it was not their fault. Some wanted me to know that their local VA is amazing. Some wanted to remind me that their community had functionally ended homelessness amongst veterans. Some wanted me to […] Read more »

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 »