Feb 172014

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” – Lester Bangs (Spoken by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the movie Almost Famous) Let’s talk about something un-cool to talk about in most circles – substance dependency. So much has been talked about the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Insights like this one from Russell Brand talked of how the death was inevitable in how drug laws are created and enforced. This one from the Washington Post suggests the death points to a broader opioid epidemic. Counter point to this mourn-ography (as Brand puts it) look at the sensationalism and mockery of Rob Ford, known in Late Night circles as “Toronto’s Crack Smoking Mayor”. In the former (Hoffman) people see tragedy; in the later (Ford) people see buffoonery. A respected actor with a rather large body of work is a loss; the mayor of North America’s fourth largest city using drugs is spectacle. As I have blogged about previously, required abstinence is not the way to go. There is not a strong relationship between sobriety and housing retention. It has been suggested, however, that somehow it means I encourage or promote drug use. I don’t. I believe the evidence that security of housing is helpful for assisting people in reducing or stopping their substance use. And, I believe in a four-pronged approach to helping programs and communities address the matter of drugs more holistically: Education Enforcement Harm Reduction Treatment On the matter [...]

Feb 102014

Ending homelessness is not anti-shelter. In fact, in many instances ending homelessness starts with shelter. Let me put this in a system context. First of all, your community (or your organization if you are a small shelter in a smaller or more rural setting) needs to start by keeping as many people out of shelter as possible when it is safe and appropriate to do so. Great shelter services start with seeing diversion as a service – not a denial of service. Next you need to understand who the people are that are seeking shelter. They’ll fit into one of three groups: people using shelter for the first time in his/her life; people with a history of episodic use; people that rely on shelters on almost a daily basis (perhaps when they are not in hospital or jail). Regardless of the group, the emphasis on getting out of shelter and into housing should be the same. But, the strategies to achieve that goal will be different. For example, most first time users of a shelter will get out with a very minimal amount of service or no services at all, whereas chronic users may need more in-depth supports to effectively get out of shelter and into housing. Right size your approach based upon need, not one-size fits all. Look carefully at the programming offered within the shelter. The intent of shelter is not to heal or fix people – it is to provide shelter. Remarkably imperfect people are great at [...]

Dec 162013

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 despair.com (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 [...]

Sep 092013

A few months back I lamented on my Facebook page that I was frustrated that I could have a room full of people and walk through the data and evidence supporting a Housing First approach, and people would still debate it. One of my pals, Marcella Maguire, commented that it was because of ideology. That got me thinking and researching why and how people’s beliefs influence what they see as truth…or how and when truth can influence people’s beliefs. Then a couple weeks back I was doing another training and one attendee was quite adamant that just because something was published in a peer reviewed journal or had data to support it didn’t make it correct. I was dumbfounded by the statement. But it also inspired me to keep thinking and researching because if we are going to go about ensuring there is adequate affordable housing, effective social policy for marginalized populations, sufficient social welfare, put an end to homelessness – or any of the other pursuits that I am passionately invested in – then we have to better understand why some people don’t believe the facts. One of the reasons people don’t believe the facts when presented to them or go to great lengths to try and persuade others that the data is faulty or not from reliable sources is because of something called “motivated reasoning”. It turns out our emotional responses and ability to reason is intertwined. We are hard-wired to have an emotional response to information quicker [...]

Apr 252013

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 Two of this blog series on Wellness and Recovery, I want to focus on what exactly it is that people are trying to recover. There are twelve areas that need to be considered, each of which is outlined below: Roles – we all have different roles that we play in our lives…spouse, parent, employee, sibling, friend, worshipper, mentor, teammate, etc. Many people that experience compromised mental wellness have roles re-defined in ways than how they may like them. For example, they may remain a parent, but the roles of parenting may have been taken over by a spouse or grandparent during a patch of being unwell. For some, being dislodged from employment for periods of time has [...]

Jan 092013

In 2012 I have been fortunate enough to spend time in 37 different communities that are trying to end homelessness. When you include attendees at conferences and webinars, that number expands into hundreds of communities. Then there are all of the cities that other OrgCode team members have been too that I never had the privilege to get to. I like to say we get around, but in a good way. More than other years, I am struck by certain things I wish many communities would STOP doing come 2013 and wanted to take this opportunity to share some of these with you. There is loads of potential for positives here. Here is the list to reflect upon: Stop resisting change. Trust the long-term potential of great ideas. Change, itself, is inevitable. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. Sure we like to romanticize caterpillars becoming butterflies, but the whole process sucks for the caterpillar…it goes blind, the legs fall off, and the back rips open for the beautiful wings to emerge. Our “openness to experience” makes the process of change more invigorating, educational, inspiring, beautiful, etc. Imagine a world where all caterpillars just want to remain caterpillars. We’d never have beautiful butterflies. I at least want the pain of change to be worthwhile. And change does not come from passivity. Stop being afraid to commit to ending homelessness. The difference between wanting to end homelessness and being committed to ending homelessness is the difference between bacon and eggs…a days work [...]

Dec 152012

I am writing this blog on the day of the tragic shooting deaths of 20 children and eight adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Like so many incidents over the past year (and before), this is an atrocious event that leaves us searching for answers. I am experiencing a mixture of both sympathy and utter disgust. But, I am also feeling anger towards the extensive media coverage that was generated by the event. In the papers, blogs, news coverage, television discussion, etc. – I have repeatedly heard the mental status of the shooter reported in the most derogatory manner. It may well be that the compromised wellness of the 20 year-old, young adult who perpetrated the shooting contributed to his decision and actions. But, all mental illnesses are not the same. It is like saying that all physical illnesses are the same and clearly they are not. The use of the broadest terms to describe someone’s purported mental state without addressing the type of illness, the impacts of that illness, the treatment options, the access to treatment, potential medications for the mental illness (and the implications of medications), etc. is inflammatory and disrespectful of millions of people around the world who live with mental illness. It doesn’t advance the education about what mental illness is and how best to support individuals and families that are impacted by mental illness. This level of reporting and dialogue takes us backwards in our thinking and perceptions of mental illness. [...]

Aug 222012

This is a quote written on a white board in the office of a Continuum of Care that I am doing some work with. I saw it on a recent visit and loved it. In some way, shape or form I think all of us that have worked as a funder in our career have had similar experiences with people calling out of the blue looking for money to open a shelter or start an outreach program or begin a meal program or build housing or start a drop-in or something similar. When I was a funder working in government it would seem that once or more per month I’d get a call or email from some organization or person I had never heard of seeking funds for a housing or homeless program. I don’t know enough about the people who make these calls out of the blue to form a comprehensive opinion, but for the sake of argument, let us assume that they are well-intentioned and mean well, but generally without extensive (or any) experience in delivering homeless and housing services. I think the fact that calls are received seemingly out of nowhere by people and organizations that have no real experience in receiving funds or delivering programs says a lot about service provision to people that experience homelessness. Allow me to make five very general observations about what this may mean: The “Outside World” doesn’t see what is happening in homeless and housing service delivery as a professional [...]

Nov 142011

In the fourth part of the series we look at the sequence of events that needs to occur for housing programs to be successful. PART FOUR: The 5 Essential and Sequential Elements Regardless of the presenting needs and complexity of issues, housing programs always function best when housing is the first task to focus on. Throughout my travels I have seen far too great an emphasis on trying to get a case plan in place prior to getting someone housed…or getting the client into treatment first…or getting the client compliant with medication first – and I could go on. It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of Housing First or not – what is critically clear through the evaluations we have performed and my years of professional practice is that housing has to be the first thing worked on or else the rest of the tasks are not going to be successful in helping people achieve housing stability. So, here are the 5 Essential and Sequential Elements of Successful housing programs. Focus on Housing Before Anything Else Create an Individualized Service Plan Increase Self Awareness Support Achievements in Self Management Allow the Client to Reframe/Rebuild One’s Life and Future Now let’s look at the critical components of each one: 1. Focus on Housing Before Anything Else We need to have a range of housing choices for people to consider. This will cover things like permanent supportive housing, scattered site market housing with supports, and perhaps things like well managed [...]