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 seen so many take brave steps out of catastrophe or excruciating illness to tackle the empty feelings in their heart.

We can’t touch hope. But we know it exists.

We can’t create one roadmap of how to turn hope into a journey towards better days. We know that hope lends itself to a person journey.

We know that hope is more than just one thing. Hope is many things…a plan, a feeling, an attitude, motivation, belief in self, protection from more misery.

What makes us a peddler is our desire to spread hope widely and universally.  We are persistent in our approach to being hopeful about hope.

Too often we keep people looking backwards, not forwards. “Tell me your story…”; “Tell me what happened…”;”And then what…”  The past creates a picture of the present, but as peddlers of hope we need to then focus the discussion into the future. “What will your story be…”

Ours is not a false hope. Ours is not another promise to be broken. Our is not a guarantee that everything will be alright.

Crippled by remorse and shame, we can exude positivity in appropriate doses to help others see the power of hope. Devastated by broken promises and shattered relationships, we can exude positivity in appropriate doses to help others see the power of hope. Hurting from self-inflicted harm to person or spirit, we can exude positivity in appropriate doses to help others see the power of hope.

As a peddler of hope, we know that hope is intentional. As a peddler of hope, we embrace the possibilities that can realistically occur. As a peddler of hope, share the desire for better things to happen – and provide the fuel to make that possible when the individual/family has no hope of her/his own.

10 Things I Learned this Year: Part Two

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. And we also have to be careful that some TA is not creeping into other program areas that are outside the mandate. It is not the responsibility of the TA to resolve this; it is the responsibility of those that pay for the TA to get their act together.

7.     Some of the most innovative and effective things are happening in places that are not in the national/international spotlight.

Medicine Hat has the best assessor on the planet in Jeff Standell. Ever heard of him or Medicine Hat? You should. I learn something from him every time we talk. Ever heard of Karen Santilli, Michelle Wilcox, Ann Nolan, John MacDonald, Cicely Dove, Jennifer Schnack-Bolwell? They are my Change-Champions of the year, proving that a senior management team can hold together to make significant changes to service delivery because they know there are better ways of doing things. Hats off to Crossroads Rhode Island in Providence. Got a conference coming up where you want to talk about effective change process in a multi-service organization so that you can end homelessness? Talk to these folks. Oceana’s Home Partnership in Michigan was a relatively early adopter of the SPDAT. Their data speaks volumes when you move from talking about which person is eligible for a program to who is most in need of a program. And they prove that rural areas can kick butt at service delivery and have larger urban centers look to them. Reach out to Kittie Tuinstra and have a chat with her. What about The Link in Minneapolis? They put in place service prioritization and improved service planning for youth before coordinated access and common assessment for youth programs started getting on the radar. And they have improved their case management outcomes as a result. I tip my hat to Erin Wixsten and you should get in touch with her if you want to learn more. Then there’s Partners Ending Homelessness in Guilford County, North Carolina that has proven private foundation can be used effectively to create system change. Beyond bricks and mortar, they are showing that it is possible to get a significant private funder behind change in service delivery. Darryl Kosciak is the ED of PEH and worthy chatting to when it comes to understanding why and how he helped make this happen. We never hear enough from places like West Virginia that strategically go about tackling tough issues on a statewide basis to help get CoCs from across a state going in the same direction. Zach Brown inspires me because he has proven to me that action is better than perfection when it comes to real leadership. Want to get fired up about an open HMIS or common assessment across communities or full implementation of SOAR or comparable initiatives? Talk to Zach. Got an integrated housing and homelessness plan? I wish more communities did so. You can talk all you want about ending homelessness, but the real proof of strategic, forward planning is integrating your affordable housing needs with the discussion on homelessness. Here’s to the County of Simcoe, City of Kingston & County of Frontenac, Chatham-Kent, Huron County, Stratford & St. Marys and the other fine communities we have worked with this year to help make that happen. And there are others. Point is, not all the communities you hear of most frequently on the national scene represent the whole story of cool things happening that I wish others could learn about.

8.     More people read the blog than I thought.

This little blog gets more attention than I thought it would when I started it. By almost a four to one margin over the next most popular blog, the most viewed blog of the year was Geez, Don’t Let a Few Little Facts Get in the Way of Your Perceptions of People on Welfare. Next in line was 2013: The Year to Stop Doing Certain Things in Order to Strengthen the Resolve to Ending Homelessness. I find it a bit surprising that a relatively recently published blog, Justice, Not Charity, took in the third place spot. More so this year, I have learned that the blog results in a fair amount of two-way communication. I love it when I get questions or comments about things in the blog. I like it when people leave a reply at the bottom of a blog, so long as it isn’t abusive or an attack on anyone. High five to each person that has asked me a question that resulted in a blog this year or provided a blog idea. In my travels I have learned that people use my blog in training, public education, discussion topics and even college courses. I have heard elected officials quote it to each other at a County Council. I have had questions at plenary sessions asked related to blog content. It is all kinds of awesome. I am honoured and flattered, and I will keep it going. Every time someone comments on the FaceBook page about it or Shares it or re-tweets it, I smile. Thanks for the conversation.

9.     We can agree to disagree on some things, but on other things you are just dead wrong. And I need you to know that.

I learned this year that being polite for the sake of being polite doesn’t seem to serve homeless people very well. I always kind of knew this intuitively, but this year more than others I have seen initiatives stalled or completely ended because of an overwhelming desire to placate organizations that serve homeless people rather than trying to, you know, put recipients of services first. I am all about civility. I am a fan of debate and discourse. But when there is a dispute of facts I have learned that I can no longer just agree to disagree with the person in opposition. If I truly believe in justice (which I do) I am compelled to speak and name it.

10.The privilege of doing this for a living is not lost on me.

I will never get rich doing this work – and likely neither will you. I do what I do because I love doing it. I feel like I make a difference at least half the time. This certainly doesn’t mean everyone likes my delivery style or even me for that matter. Some of my favourite examples from this year:

  • In Arizona in late summer, a guy told me I should take a course on public speaking so that I could become good at it. He suggested Toastmasters. Apparently with enough practice I could also learn to write jokes that were actually funny.
  • In North Dakota a woman told me that her pastor told her that I would probably want to apologize to her and everyone else at the conference for saying provocative things. I apologized to her that her pastor misled or lied to her.
  • In Michigan I was told that just because something is a fact doesn’t mean it is correct (which still baffles me a bit), and that I should stop using facts when I speak because it overwhelms people.
  • I got a phone call from someone that had met me at a focus group in Ontario to tell me my face is hard to look at. “It has an odd shape,” she said, “and no real symmetry to speak of…at least not in a way that would capture one’s attention.” She went on tell me, “shaving that grotesque patch of whiskers off your chin may be a good start.”

These anecdotes aside, I feed off the energy in communities that I visit where people are dedicated to being awesome. That is very uplifting. And when I see things that work I have the great fortune of connecting people from across the globe when they have similar issues or a solution that will work for their local situation. Thanks for reading the blog. Thanks for hanging out with me or hosting me in your community. Thanks for making a difference. The blog will be back in early 2014. Be awesome!

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. In Part Three of this blog series on Wellness and Recovery, I want to focus on how support workers […] 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 »