Museums of Suffering

The tour. You have been on one or given one. You walk through a homeless shelter or day centre or spend a night on an outreach van or a morning at a soup kitchen. You see the things that go on there. You meet the people – the program participants, residents and clientele; the staff; the volunteers. When these same buildings and programs are anchored in more traditional models rather than being focused on rapid exit from homelessness into housing they become, by definition, homelessness as a museum – objects of historical, scientific, artistic or cultural interest are stored and exhibited. People that experience longer term homelessness are more prone to die. At some point for the observer the question of why the person is homeless and how to end it becomes a question of when the person will pass away. They can become resigned to what they see as […] Read more »

Characteristics of an Exemplary Diversion Specialist

In training communities on effective diversion, a common question is, “What are the sort of characteristics you’d look for when hiring someone for that position?” It is a great question because it appreciates that the role is somewhat different from other roles that serve people experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of losing housing. Here are some thoughts.   They should be an extraordinary problem solver who is remarkably resourceful rather than whining about a lack of resources. Being solution-focused means the individual will work the problem to find a solution rather than waiting for someone else to find a resource or fix a system that is broken. I like to think of good Diversion Specialists as the Macgyver’s of the homeless and housing service delivery system – they find a way to make it work with what they have, even when it is not ideal. They need to think […] Read more »

Gobble, Gobble: Charity Instead of Action is for Turkeys

Over the next month – in the form of others giving thanks through charitable giving – non-profits in the homelessness and housing industry will take in a very large portion of their annual donations. Maybe it is informed gifting. But I bet a lot of it is guilt money, and the feeling that a person or organization cannot really have a great holiday season unless they make a contribution to a non-profit. Giving Tuesday seems designed (contrived?) in part to serve as a catalyst for this purpose. No matter what the reason, I am thankful that non-profits get the opportunity to fundraise, though I appreciate that movements towards ad-blocking online may make a huge chunk of this work more difficult in coming years. On very short notice, I want you to consider three questions if you are a non-profit (or the questions in parenthesis if you are the donor to […] Read more »

Get Your BS Meter and Megaphone Ready

We are just days away from Veterans Day. Get your BS meter and megaphone ready. You are about to hear many communities declare “functional zero” in ending homelessness for veterans in their community. I call BS loud. I hope and trust you have the strength and courage to do so as well. Reaching functional zero for veterans on Veterans Day is for political gain and optics. It has NOTHING to do with the work and the reality. If functional zero had really been reached, would it not make more sense to announce when it actually happened? As I have previously written, the federal benchmarks used to measure these efforts are deeply flawed. You have not ended homelessness amongst veterans if you ask them if they want housing, but they say no. That is victim blaming and cowardice. You have not ended homelessness amongst veterans if your Grant and Per Diem […] Read more »

Rapid ReHousing is NOT a Crisis Service

Three times just this week I have heard Rapid ReHousing referred to as a crisis service, or that the role of support staff in Rapid ReHousing is to respond to crises. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. Big fat no. The supports offered in Rapid ReHousing are case management services offered through progressive engagement. Let us break this down: Case management is case management. Case management is VERY DIFFERENT from a crisis service or crisis response. Crisis response is crisis response. Crisis responses is VERY DIFFERENT from a case management service. Progressive engagement means supports are increased only when there is evidence that the program participant is going to need greater assistance on any particular element of their life our housing stability. While intensity can increase, it should also decrease as the person begins to exercise greater independence and personal advocacy. If anyone treats Rapid ReHousing as a crisis […] Read more »

Drop Ins and Day Shelters in the Era of Coordinated Entry

Much discussion in communities has been focused on shelters, street outreach, and the match to support and housing options as communities have focused on implementing coordinated entry. Where drop-ins, day shelters, and other types of programming during daytime hours fits in is worthy of exploration. One of the challenges to figuring out the role for the likes of drop-ins and feeding programs is that they often serve both homeless and precariously housed households. This is a challenge because with the former group we should be able to figure out intentional engagement and assessment strategies, whereas with the latter group the focus is going to be on maintaining housing stability through various strategies. One way (though rarely feasible or preferred by service providers) is to separate population groups: some drop-ins and feeding programs only serve people experiencing homelessness, while others only serve people that are precariously housed. Another way is to […] Read more »

The Next Best Thing

Imagine you live in a small to medium sized city. I also want you to imagine that you have had a heart attack. You get rushed to the emergency room in an ambulance. Paramedics have been keeping you alive with really intensive assistance. Given the nature of your situation, you are a top priority when you arrive at the ER. Oodles of resources are allocated to your condition. ER nurses, doctors and other health staff have applied their expertise to your immediate needs. It is the best your small to medium sized city has to offer. They page for a cardiologist. One is not available. They are busy with other people with heart issues. Now what? I know, let us put you on a waiting list. If you are still alive and it can be confirmed that your heart is still unwell when a cardiologist is available, then you will […] Read more »

Does Rapid ReHousing Work? Well, it depends.

Seems there is no shortage of conversation and commentary about how rapid rehousing does not work, these days. NPR did a story on it. The Family Options Study findings from HUD paint a not-so-pretty picture. The Urban Institute released research that was a bit more favourable but also raised some flags too. Aside from those, people on the inside in various states have started to see certain trends related to Rapid ReHousing, calling into question what they initially touted as success.   All of this on some level is warranted. And on some level it drives me nuts. Let me explain.   From community to community to community there are different interpretations of what exactly Rapid ReHousing is, and as a result we can be calling something Rapid ReHousing when it really is not. There are no national or international standards. There is no consistent mechanism for evaluating whether one […] Read more »

Transphobia, Discrimination and the Delivery of Homeless Services

Look around your community and you may find there are some services that identify as being Women’s Services or Men’s Services. You may even find a co-ed shelter that has a Men’s Dorm and a Women’s Dorm. Is that based upon biological sex? Or is that based upon self-identified gender? For example, if someone that is biologically a male identifies as a female, is she (an intentional use of a pronoun here) accepted and permitted within the Women’s Services and Dorm? I am biologically male. I identify as male. I identify as heterosexual. I am overwhelmed by the amount of transphobia and discrimination within homeless service providers. Not all, to be sure, but enough that I felt compelled to write a blog about it. Too many services have no desire to consider service delivery based upon preferred gender identity. Instead, the default is exclusion, misgendering (assigning services based upon perceived gender […] Read more »

Health & Homelessness: This Should Make You Focus on Solutions

We need to focus on housing people experiencing homelessness – families, single adults, and youth. With only a few exceptions (obesity, cancer, stroke), people experiencing homelessness are more likely to experience every other category of chronic health condition. When you consider that some conditions like TB, HIV, diabetes, mental illness, etc. are extremely difficult to control, treat or cure without adequate housing, the impetus to focus on housing should be even greater. Charity – feeding people on the street, handing out clothes, casual handouts – will not provide an environment where these health conditions can be satisfactorily addressed. Sheltering will not provide an environment to address these health conditions satisfactorily. Housing is required. And then intensive supports and health care. Sometimes there are, what are called “innovations”, really intensive health supports in shelter settings, but these do not create the necessary environment for ongoing wellness. Certain illnesses while homeless are […] Read more »

Obesity and Homelessness: A Matter of Food & Lifestyle

Are rates of obesity higher than the general population? Women experiencing homelessness have higher rates of obesity than the general population; but generally speaking rates of obesity are the same between housed and homeless population. A Harvard Medical School study from 2012 proved that. The bigger question is how does a population group that have very little or no income get overweight to the point of becoming obese? Would it not be more logically expected that persons experiencing homelessness would be underweight? How does this happen? Lack of access to food while homeless is a myth. Most people experiencing homelessness have an abundance of food options, from soup kitchens and shelters to mobile feeding programs by well intentioned churches or student groups. Charitable feeding can fill a belly, but does not always have an eye to nutritional balance. A lot of the low-cost fast food that a person may spend […] Read more »

***SOLD OUT*** The Leadership Academy ***SOLD OUT***

**************SOLD OUT************** Thank you everyone for your interest! This year’s Leadership Academy is SOLD OUT. If you want to see what awesome stuff you will be missing you can continue to read below. Thanks again to everyone who signed up and we will be seeing you in October. Did you miss the opportunity to join this year’s event? Don’t fret just yet. We have a waiting list. If you want to get on the waiting list please send us your details at .   From October 20-22, 2015, at the renowned Stonewall Resort in West Virginia, OrgCode is holding our first ever Leadership Academy on Ending Homelessness. This is a professional goal of mine come true, and I really hope you will attend. You can learn more about it by visiting the OrgCode website:   Why did we pull together the Leadership Academy? One of the major barriers that comes […] Read more »