Peddlers of Hope

(My thanks to Johnny Mac in Rhode Island for introducing me to the phrase “Peddlers of Hope”, which I have gone on to use quite extensively in my training on effective housing-based case management.)   We are peddlers of hope. Hope for those who feel no ability to hope. Providers of hope who need a bit more to get to the next stage of recovery. Champions of tomorrows, not yesterdays. Our hope is not blind. It is not unrealistic. It is not a panacea for pain. Hope does not erase history, it merely provides the opportunity to recover and grow from it. Hope is not a promise, but it is less than delusional dream. It is the fuel that makes life turn out more positively than it currently is, anchored in who we are and the capabilities as a person. We can speak a language of hope because we have […] Read more »

10 Things I Learned this Year: Part Two

[serialposts] Last week, the blog looked at the first five things I learned this year. If you want to, you can get caught up by reading that blog first. Or you can just launch into items 6 through 10 of the 10 things I learned this year. 6.     Some communities get so much technical assistance that it smothers and cripples them. As the good folks at (they create de-motivational posters) suggest, there can be great money to be made in prolonging a problem. In my opinion, technical assistance is a resource that should not be squandered, but there are some communities deemed to be such high need that they get overwhelmed with technical assistance and no strategic support to hold it together in a way that makes any sense. The problem in those instances isn’t an absence of support. It is an absence of thoughtful, sequenced, strategic, targeted supports. […] Read more »

Overwhelmingly Affordable Housing

192 units of housing. For as low as $25 per month. Seriously. It’s called The Tower. And it’s owned and operated by Crossroads Rhode Island in Providence. The Tower is 100% subsidized. This makes it possible for rents to be as low as $25 for individuals with $0 income, and others paying slightly more based upon her/his income (and only paying 30% of their income on housing). The balance of the subsidy comes either through Providence Housing Authority Section 8 or the State Rental Subsidy Program. When communities talk about having no housing for people that do not have an income, I wish they could learn more about housing opportunities like this one. The 9-storey building is about 100 years old. It was previously owned by the YMCA, and then came to be part of Crossroads’ housing portfolio. How did Crossroads secure this gem? The building was purchased from the […] Read more »

2013 National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference: The Top 3 Things I Took Away from This Summer’s Conference

Every summer, for almost a decade now, the Conference on Ending Homelessness put together by the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington, DC has been a highlight for me. It has become a tradition. It reinvigorates me. It teaches me. It reminds me why we do this work – day in and day out. There is no way to fully capture in this blog everything that was discussed at the conference. If you search the hash tag #naeh13 you can see the thread of some of the most dominant themes by some rather prolific tweeters. In this blog, I wanted to reflect on the top three things that I took away from the conference this year – which may also be of interest to those unable to attend: 1. Success is possible. It is inspiring to see the success of communities like New Orleans on track to end chronic […] Read more »

Housing-Based Case Management

Case management. I suspect service providers, funders, CoCs, policy wonks, elected officials and a whole whack of others have used the phrase or even deliver a case management service but have never defined what it means in their context. The problem with not defining what case management means for your organization and community is that it is open to gross misinterpretation if you don’t. It will be defined for you by others, probably implicitly, and likely incorrectly (or at least differently than how you internally defined it). I will spare you the full academic breakdown of the phrase. (You’re welcome.) BUT…I do want to cover the basics briefly from that perspective. There is no single defined history of case management in the literature. We can’t point to just one point in time and say “aha – that’s when case management started”. Because there isn’t a single defined history or point […] Read more »

What Does it Mean when Government Endorses a Housing First Approach?

More and more I am seeing different orders of government – municipalities, states, provinces, federal – slip the words “housing first” or “Housing First” into their documents, policy briefs and contracts. I suspect (because I used to be one in a former life) there is a policy wonk that did some research, found the evidence of this approach to homelessness compelling, and advised political masters it was the bees knees. But does government know what it is asking/endorsing/requesting? Is what the policy advisor is recommended understood and translated well in the political arena? Do program designers that may have never delivered direct service at any point in their lifetime in this field really know what they are asking for? My experience suggests this is probably not the case. All of the evidence that pointed to this approach being a good one requires fidelity to practice of a true Housing First […] Read more »

When to Let Clients Go

In this blog I want to explore the transition of clients from being part of the active caseload in a time-limited housing support program to the point where they no longer need their housing case manager because they are connected to other community supports and their acuity has decreased. My experience – and through my travels this experience has been validated and shared by others – suggests that some of these thoughts may also be applicable to some individuals and families in Permanent Supportive Housing depending on the nature of the household, their length of time in PSH, and why they were first connected to PSH in the first place. You’ve worked your butt off to help an individual or family get to a place where their housing is stable in your housing support program. There are still matters in their life they are working on and they go through […] Read more »

When Clients Die

When working with vulnerable populations, one of the unfortunate realities is that some clients will die. Death is part of life. Even when exercising professional boundaries, there is a bond formed with clients. With death, we need closure – even when a client is palliative and our work with clients was catered to the best possible end of life support. There are also pragmatic steps that must be considered in the event of a death that are best thought about and explained prior to a case manager or other staff member dealing with a client’s death. Not all deaths have the same response from workers and organizations and we need to acknowledge that. The violent death of a middle age client may stir up different emotions than an older client that has been receiving care for several chronic illnesses. A sudden death through something like a heart attack may have […] Read more »

Wellness and Recovery in Housing Support – Part 3 of 4

I have a very personal connection to wellness and recovery as it relates to mental illness. If you haven’t read my older blog on living with depression, you can read it here. Or if you want to watch my video blog on mental illness and stereotypes that emerged in the wake of Sandy Hook, you can watch that here. Because I have a personal connection to wellness and recovery, I suppose it should come as no surprise that it is one of my favorite areas to provide training to housing case managers, and to help homeless serving agencies truly understand and embrace. This is a four-part blog that examines wellness and recovery in the process of supporting people in housing, and working to prevent homelessness from happening again to that person/family. [serialposts] In Part Three of this blog series on Wellness and Recovery, I want to focus on how support […] Read more »

Success is Not an Accident

When the movement started towards communities developing 10 Year Plans to End Homelessness, I was skeptical. Not because I didn’t think having Plans was a good idea. They harnessed a lot of great community energy. They started a national conversation in a way that had been absent. They focused attention on the issue of chronic homelessness in a profoundly new way. My skepticism came from the fact that most Plans, generally, did not talk about how the staff on the frontline and the programs within agencies would be trained to change in order to be successful at helping people get access to housing and maintaining housing. The Plans had lots of talk about housing first, permanent supportive housing and the like, but they didn’t hone in on what I thought at the time – and have had confirmed over the past several years – that there was no investment of […] Read more »

Setting the Tone for Successful Home Visits

Once an individual or family has been accepted into a housing support program, the support worker (aka case manager) must work to set the tone for successful home visits. This starts with the very first visit. Practicing the tips below consistently – right from the beginning – and communicating these expectations to the people you are supporting results in more focused interactions and better case management results. Be on Time & Stay on Time The home visit is a professional interaction with a client. For the home visit to be taken seriously and to reduce missed visits, from the very start it is critical that the support worker is on time. Time management and not trying to see too many clients in any given day is essential to ensure being on time more often than not. At the beginning of the home visit it is also important to outline how […] Read more »

Therapeutic Incarceration

A dozen times in the past few weeks I have found myself speaking about therapeutic incarceration. It has nothing to do with jails or prisons. It is about how some homeless and housing service providers treat their clients. I didn’t coin the term (see The Therapeutic Incarceration of Homeless Families Naomi Gerstel, Cynthia J. Bogard, J. Jeff McConnell and Michael Schwartz Social Service Review Vol. 70, No. 4 (Dec., 1996), pp. 543-572) though I wish I had. And it sounds like something I would say. When I use the term, I am talking about those non-profit (and sometimes government) programs that go out of their way to hold onto the households that they serve. They smother them with service plans more oriented on trying to heal or fix people that trying to house and support them regardless of their imperfections. They keep them in life skills programming, for example, refusing […] Read more »