Place-making is an intentional process designed to help the newly housed person connect with and take pride in their apartment. Without place-making, connectivity to the apartment is one of luck. We can increase the odds of connection - and by extension decrease the odds of a person damaging or vacating the apartment unit - by actively and intentionally engaging in place-making.

Place-making capitalizes on a person's assets, inspiration and potential. The intention is to use the apartment and surrounding neighbourhood to promote health, happiness and well-being. Here are four ideas to increase the effectiveness of place-making.


Choice is critical to place-making. Even in tight rental markets, people need to make informed choices on the neighbourhoods and type of apartment they want to dwell within. This doesn't mean choice is carte blanche. There are realities that need to be faced when it comes to affordability, for example, but choosing a place for a person or forcing them to live in a neighbourhood or type of apartment they do not want will not increase their connection to place.

Choice is also fundamental to furnishings. By giving people the ability to pick out their own furnishings rather than providing them a set collection of furnishings increases their connection to the furnishings and the place. 


Move In

On the day of move in the support worker should be present at the time the program participant receives their keys. The first words out of the support worker's mouth as they enter the unit should exude positivity, focusing on positively reinforcing the features, qualities and/or location of the unit and why it is a great place.

On the day of move in, the support worker should also assist in cleaning the apartment. This does not make the support worker a maid service. By being proximate, the support worker sees first hand what skills and strengths the person has when it comes to cleaning and maintaining an apartment. When it comes to place-making, ensuring the apartment is clean at time of move-in increases pride and dignity of having the apartment.


Orientation to Building and Surrounding Community

Leaving the program participant on their own to explore the building and community that they have moved into is a missed opportunity for the support worker to increase place-making. By doing the orientation with the program participant there is the opportunity to reinforce features and benefits to the building and community, and help anchor the person to their new surroundings. Positive reinforcement goes a long way to helping people feel a connection to space and place - from where a person collects their mail to a nearby park where they can relax and enjoy the sunshine.


Create a Personal Guest Policy

Shortly after move-in, the support worker should assist the program participant in creating a personal guest policy. Think of it as the Rules of the House. The purpose of the guest policy is to outline things like when people are allowed to visit, what sorts of activities they want or do not want happening in their apartment, and to proactively think of whether they want visitors to touch their things, eat their food or consume their beverages. These aren't the rules of the support worker, so there must be caution in how the support worker reinforces and encourages the writing of the rules. You want to assist the program participant to see this as "My Own Rules".

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Interventions vs General Service

In program evaluations and job shadowing as of late, I have seen many very busy frontline workers. In almost all instances they are very well intentioned, dedicated, compassionate people who are trying to make a difference. They are also, in many instances, overwhelmed by the demands of their caseload and the litany of intrusions on their time. No doubt they are busy. But are they effective? How busy a person is should not be confused as a metric of effectiveness.

At the core, what is occurring is the provision of a general service, not a service intervention. More than semantics, the two constructs are quite different. 

In a service intervention, three conditions need to be met:

1. There is deliberate action. One might say this is very targeted. The staff are intentionally engaging a smaller group of people with purpose and predetermined objectives rather than waiting for people to come to them or being taken off-track by intrusions or crises of other.

2. There is interference. This sounds negative, so let me explain because it is actually a positive. The worker is intentionally trying to interfere with the homelessness of the client. They are trying to disrupt it. They want it to change. This interference is strength-based and person-centered, but is not person-directed. In other words, there is intention behind the engagement to help move the person forward. It is not coercive nor does it have a hidden agenda. But the worker commits to challenging the status quo. Put another way, the worker is not trying to manage a person's homelessness, they are trying to end it.

3. There is persuasion. This is the only tool the worker should employ to help the client consider and act upon an alternate reality to their homelessness. One would expect to see strong motivational interviewing practices and occasionally some assertive engagement. One would expect to see persistence, patience and creativity in the worker rather than expressions of absolutes. The interactions would be devoid of opinions and advice.


It is easy to get distracted by the "busyness" of the work rather than focusing on the effectiveness of the work. It is a deliberate choice to be intervention driven. It can mean saying no to a number of other distractions. A focus on interventions in service is a commitment to work with a smaller group of people intentionally rather than a larger group of people peripherally. Especially in a shelter or outreach environment that can be a difficult decision to practice in that way because demands seem to outpace supply of personnel. But if you have a large volume of contacts but are ending homelessness for very few of them, is that really the best use of time?

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Unique Individuals & Length of Stay

My mind has been blown twice this month looking at shelter data.

The push that many of us have been trying to make is to know the people touching in your system of care by name, and to cross reference those same people by shelters, outreach, and other services, as well as your By Name List or Priority List. In the case of assembling priority lists for coordinated entry, as David Tweedie on the OrgCode team has pointed out before, once you dig into the data to look at it by people that touch your system rather than people on your list, you will quickly see that there are a number of people in your shelters or served by outreach that have not been assessed and therefore are unlikely to end up on a priority list for housing. Who you are serving and who you are housing may be two different things.

But back to having my mind blown with shelter data.

In Community A - a city of over 500,000 people - as is the case of many communities, they ran their shelter data by shelter stays in 2017. What did they find?

Number of shelter stays 3,695
Average length of stay 12 days
Median length of stay 3 days
% people who leave before 14 days 79%
% people who stay 180+ days 0.4%

Then they ran the SAME data but by unique individuals, and a whole different picture emerged. What did it show?

Number of unique individuals with shelter stays 408
Average length of stay cumulatively 114 days
Median length of stay cumulatively 87.5 days
% people who leave before 14 days cumulatively 9%
% people who stay 180+ days cumulatively 21%

Say what? Shelter stays painted a picture we are all familiar with - a large volume of short stays. Unique individuals resulted in a completely different understanding of the data. Once you started to understand cumulative engagement the world of sheltering looked completely different.

Bewildered, I had the chance to have Community B - a city of just shy of 300,000 people - run the same type of report just to make sure Community A was not an anomaly. What did they find?

Number of shelter stays 1,888
Average length of stay 14 days
Median length of stay 4.5 days
% people who leave before 14 days 83%
% people who stay 180+ days 0.8%

Like Community A, Community B then ran the data by unique individuals, and again a whole different picture emerged. What did it show?

Number of unique individuals with shelter stays 211
Average length of stay cumulatively 106
Median length of stay cumulatively 91.5 days
% people who leave before 14 days cumulatively 8%
% people who stay 180+ days cumulatively 26%

I am scratching my head. I want to see more data on unique shelter users versus shelter stayers. Is it coincidence that two communities in a row that I had contact with this month ran data that runs contrary to how we generally think shelters operate? Or were these legitimately outliers and the norm is something different? Would love to know what happens in your community when you run your data by unique individuals...let me know. We may be on to something here.

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A Response to Iain’s Letter to His Younger Self

From time to time, Ann Oliva is taking over my blog as part of her Leader in Residence role with OrgCode. Despite having different leadership styles and career trajectories, Ann and I share a passion for cultivating leaders in the pursuit of ending homelessness and in leadership driven by values. I hope you enjoy reading Ann's guest blog as much as I did.


Last March, Iain wrote a blog post called “A Letter to Myself of 15 Years Ago” that I found particularly compelling for both the similarities and differences in our leadership experiences.  I bookmarked the post with the vague idea that I might one day have the chance to respond with my own thoughts.  I figure now is my chance.


Dear myself of 15 years ago  –

Hi Ann.  I have been thinking a lot lately about what advice I might give you as you find new ways to work towards your goals and dreams.  You are stubborn and I am not sure if you will even take this advice – and to be honest I am not sure that you should.  The journey I took is the one that made me who I am today – as you know I am a big believer in learning something from each and every experience you have, good and not-so-good.  But I do think I have some important things to remind you of as you take that same journey.

I know you haven’t realized it yet, but you are a natural leader.  Your willingness to raise your hand and challenge the status quo even when the hand you raise shakes, your ability to think through solutions based on a core set of values that don’t waver, and your desire to take risks when it makes sense will put you in a position to lead down the road.  You will have obstacles ahead that make you question your role, your value and your impact.  There will be days when you ask yourself just what the hell you are doing.  Do not let those situations deter you. I know that you are a bit reluctant to embrace a role that puts you at the center of attention.  You like to work behind the scenes, making things happen and letting others be the face of the work.  That’s ok, but eventually you will need to step out and communicate with your team, your community, your stakeholders in a way that explains the why and the how of the work you create.  Practice in smaller settings and work your way up to larger groups.  Find a communication style that works for you and stick with it.

Learn everything you can from each and every leader you meet and work with.  Learn what parts of his or her style work for you, and maybe more importantly tuck away in the back of your mind the things that you don’t think work – things that made you feel small or not valued by someone in a position of authority.  Don’t do those things.

You are going to make mistakes – small ones and some big ones.  This is part of learning and if you are not making at least some mistakes you are not doing it right.  Do not let them paralyze you.  Accept responsibility for them, apologize if you should, and move on.  But be balanced in your approach to mistakes - don’t over-apologize, internalize too intensely, or take responsibility for mistakes that others should own.  Accountability should be applied to yourself as well as those around you for it to be meaningful.

Leadership is not about power.  If done right, being a leader means you are influencing others in a positive way.  Figure out how to use your platform – whether that is with a non-profit serving those experiencing homelessness, or in the federal government, or anywhere in between – to influence those who are both up and down the chain of command.  Because you don’t have to be the CEO to be a leader.

Be self-aware enough to see your own shortcomings and find people to have around you that fill those gaps.  You are stronger and more effective when you are surrounded by smart, empowered people who share your goals and vision.

Be kind to everyone, but also be firm when you need to and communicate directly as often as possible.  Try not to let your passion for the mission spill over into anger when things get tough or frustrating.  But being kind does not mean backing down when you know you are right, or allowing yourself to be talked over, put down or insulted.  Handle conflict with grace and respect, and others will likely treat you with respect.  For those that don’t, be direct but do not expect what they are not willing to give.  You learn to work around those people, or through them. Or become their boss.

Each and every relationship you have builds your network, and your network can make or break you as a leader. Be willing to share some of yourself with people, and learn about the lives of those around you. Nurture and tend to your relationships even when you are an introvert who just wants to go home and sit on the couch. 

Try not to work every weekend and on vacations.  Take a break when you need it, or 15 years down the road you are going to have to take four months off to recover, and it will take two months of that break to even start feeling human again.

One day, at a particularly trying time in your career, you are going to tell a close friend that you want to quit and start working at Pottery Barn to get away from the stress and responsibility that comes with command and leadership.  She will turn to you and say – if you work at Pottery Barn you will just end up running Pottery Barn.  So you might as well use your inclination towards leadership to have an impact on the thing you are passionate about.  She is right.  Be grateful for the privilege of leading others in this work that is so important to all of us.

In short, self of 15 years ago, leadership is hard and there is no magic potion that makes the hard stuff easy.  But it is worth the effort. Remember to be brave. Never be anything but yourself, but don’t take yourself too seriously.  Embrace your natural leadership skills and have some fun with it.  See ya in 15 years.


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3 Hopes for 2018

I have three hopes for 2018:

  1. That we attach meaning to change;
  2. That we think differently about constructing the future that we want;
  3. That we unf*ck that which is known to be broken.

As we lean into a new year there is promise of change; and you know from previous promises of change that those are promises that can be broken. In 2018, then, I ask you not to lean into change in a technical sense, but to join me in embracing change in an emotional sense – to give change a meaning.  It is my hope for this year that we spend more time finding and leveraging our motivation to change rather than just naming what needs to change.

If you want your motivation to work – and if you want to turn motivation into action - you have to attach a meaning to it.


  1. What are you going to focus on? Creating residential stability? Improved diversion programming? Professionalized street outreach? Being an awesome shelter? Improving leadership? Now give it a meaning…a meaning that produces an emotion. Why that meaning?
  2. What are you after? Don’t talk targets or goals…talk about the change you really want realized. How does the future look and feel differently if you realize this change?  Why not realize the change you desire?
  3. What is your map to get there? If you don’t have a map you will not arrive where you want to be. Point in the general direction then keep tweaking. Take action sooner rather than later. Remember imperfect action trumps perfect planning. Why wait?
  4. What is going to fuel you? What will keep you going? What is the reward? How are you nourished? Why does that nourish you?


The second hope I have for 2018 is for new thinking in forming the future reality we want.

To that end, I would challenge you with these three questions:


  • Where are you looking to anticipate change?

You’ve got to know where to look to find that which you do not know. Maybe this means deeper conversations with thought-leaders. Maybe this is going to a state conference in a state other than your own. Maybe this is engaging with people outside of our sector. Focus where you look to understand change.


  • How do you understand trends and their impact?

Are you using your existing data to drive change moving forward, or do you only use your data to look backward at what has already happened? We focus too much of our time on what was, and not nearly enough energy creating what will be. We focus too much of our time on the current crisis of the day, and not enough time on building the systems that we need. If you do not understand trends and their impact you are surrendering your influence over the future that you want.


  • Are you courageous to give up the past - and are you open to reinventing your work?


Do what you have always done and get what you have always got. You need to DO different if you desire to BE different. Using the words of change does not result in realized change, without action. Being courageous enough to give up the past can also mean we need closure for past programs, mistakes and funding decisions we have made. Grieve your loss and move on with the future.


And my final hope is to unf*ck that which we know to be broken in many communities. The gentle task of unf*cking things is part science and part art. The scientific part is ensuring people have the technical know-how to make change happen. The art part is ensuring people have the resiliency and fulfillment to see the change through…to attach an emotional meaning to the change. While progress has been made in many communities, the top five things I would like to see unf*cked are:

5- Housing stability programs – keeping people housed

4- Street outreach – professionalizing the approach to focus on housing outcomes immediately

3- Homeless shelters – having an unrelenting housing focus

2- Diversion – whenever it is safe and appropriate to have people in a place other than shelter, to do so

1- Leadership – to ensure those in leadership positions have the skills to guide people to achieving a vision of ending homelessness; that leaders spend more time leading and less time managing




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Grateful in 2017

It is the time of year to reflect on the past 12 months. I am grateful for many things this year. Here is my list:

1. Leadership

The importance of leadership development in ending homelessness really took a huge leap this year. I had the chance to facilitate three Leadership Academies - Grand Bend, Winnipeg, and Hawaii - as well as the Master Class in Arizona. I am so grateful that several hundred people participated in this professional development opportunity. And I am so very grateful that Ann Oliva is spending part of her time with the OrgCode team to advance leadership development within the homelessness and housing service sector.

I am already looking forward to the next Leadership Academy in October in West Virginia. You can get more information and register for that here.

2. Communities Making a Difference

There are several communities we have been working with that are making a huge difference in ending homelessness, and 2017 is when some saw huge leaps forward in their progress. I would like to make a special shout out to Bridging the Gap (Big Island, Maui and Kauai) who all saw reductions in homelessness and are proving it is possible to shift program delivery towards ending homelessness in markets that are highly unaffordable and have scarce housing options. They are proving that determination, creativity and leadership make a huge difference in ending homelessness. 

3. My Home and Native Land

Big things are afoot in Canada and it is exciting. The 20K Homes Campaign is in high gear, pushing the envelope in the pursuit of housing 20K of Canada's most vulnerable homeless individuals. The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness put on a stellar conference this year. Federal funding is aligning to Housing First in a way it never has before. And there is a huge investment being made by the Federal government of Canada to increase housing options and end homelessness. 

4. Conferences

2017 was a great year to be part of conferences where the content seems to be getting better and better in the pursuit of ending homelessness. Florida, Michigan and Iowa were standout excellent state conferences this past year. The National Alliance to End Homelessness did not disappoint again in 2017. And as previously mentioned, the Canadian Alliance conference was top notch.

5. Overcoming Depression Again

2017 was a horrible year in my ongoing battle with depression, especially spring and summer. It was the worst it has been in many years. But focusing on wellness, being open with others with what I was working through, and staying the course helped me slowly but surely make my way out of it again. I am grateful to all of the support I received along the way. 

6. The OrgCode Team

The band of merry misfits keep me going. They are smart and cheeky and so passionate about ending homelessness. They challenge me and inspire me. Look out 2018 - we will soon be planning for what we bring to the table. 

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Housing Focused Shelter

This week, I bring to your attention a more in-depth piece we have been working on regarding Housing Focused Shelter. You can download the entire piece here.

Shelters are a critical piece of a high functioning system of care. But in order to achieve the objective of ending homelessness, the shelter has to maintain a housing-focus in all that it does. Otherwise, they become warehouses of waiting, or we run the risk of therapeutic incarceration.

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12 Reflections on Outcome Based Thinking & Ending Homelessness

We have had several assignments lately that have required thinking through how organizations are designed relative to the pursuit of ending homelessness. If there is a common theme amongst these projects it is that the organizations or communities are not designed to get the outcome that they wish they were getting. Furthermore, there are a number of things that get in their way of optimal success. So, I wanted to explore with you 12 ideas and strategies related to ending homelessness using outcome-based thinking.

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Let's Review the Basics of Effective Coordinated Entry

Tick. Tock. Time is passing as your community moves forward to being in compliance with coordinated entry requirements. Or you are a community in a jurisdiction other than the United States where you are doing coordinated entry not because you have to, but because you know it is the right thing to do.

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The Importance of Lifelong Learning

One of the great privileges of my work is the ability to strengthen lifelong learning within myself, and to share the knowledge that I have with others. As you know, we deliver a lot of training at OrgCode, and when we have the chance to revisit communities after training - often months or even years later - we can see if what was learned translated into action. Sometimes we have multi-year engagements with organizations or communities and we can see growth incrementally over time. And then there is the conference circuit - especially state conferences - where I will complete my 9th in just the past few months later this week. All of this comes down to the importance of lifelong learning. Why do we need it? What should it look like?

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