10 Things I Learned this Year: Part One

I get around – in a good way. There were only two 7-day consecutive stretches since 2013 started that I was home. In every other week I was somewhere else one or more days, and when you add it all up, I will spend about 300 days on the road this year unless something changes between writing this blog and December 31. In response to the most frequently asked questions I get about all of my travel: Yes, I have super duper airmile-frequent-flyer-point status. No, I don’t hate travelling, but every airport, restaurant and hotel starts to look the same after a while – with a few exceptions. Of all the places I have been, I love where you live best. I parent through FaceTime. I travel as much as I do because I feel passionate about what I do. But that isn’t what this blog is about. This blog […] Read more »

5 Internal Thoughts of Program Leaders

Over the past month or so I have been tapping some managers, team leaders, supervisors and directors on the shoulder to get their input on a range of matters as I revamp some of our leadership training. Every one is in some type of middle-management position. These are all people I respect on many levels and where trust has been built over time. Because of that trust, one of the things I have been interested in knowing from a handful of them are the internal thoughts that they can never share with their staff, but which goes through their minds more than perhaps they’d like to admit. This is by no means scientific, but the common threads of the responses even though they work in different cities and different types of services I found to be quite illuminating. If you are a leader of people, perhaps you can see yourself […] Read more »


Dedicated to my pal Andy Burns who started a rather hilarious Facebook chat on how the next person who used the phrase “take it to the next level” was going to get punched in the taco. Once communities started the job of organizing homeless and housing programs to operate services like a system instead of a collection of projects/programs, it has invited business jargon into human services unlike anything I have ever seen.  What am I talking about? I’m talking about a data-driven paradigm shift to create a win-win in the interface between the service users and providers. After some blue skying about how to make the process run smoother, what most communities found is that they had to double back to the parking lot to take another look for the obvious – assuming they still had the bandwidth to do so and leaving the kimono open didn’t reveal that […] Read more »

Sobriety is NOT a Precondition for Housing Success – Look at the Facts

Once people hit the age of majority, they are entitled to drink legally. Everyone can have their own opinions about their own consumption. These opinions may be based upon their personal values, religious beliefs, upbringing or whatever. BUT – making sobriety a precondition for assisting a person who is homeless for accessing a housing program is egregiously misguided. Let us look at 8 facts… More adults consume alcohol than adults that do not [this Gallup Poll shows 67% of Americans consume alcohol, for example] Most adults that consume alcohol or other drugs never experience homelessness, even when their use may be considered to be problematic or substance abuse [if you look at Point in Time Count data from HUD, while almost 664,000 people are homeless on any given night, this occurs within a country of 312,000,000; and 23.2 million Americans are considered to have an addiction…so some very simple math […] Read more »

Does Everybody that Experiences Chronic Homelessness Need Permanent Supportive Housing?

I have heard many well-intentioned service providers speak of Permanent Supportive Housing as the only housing option for persons that have experienced chronic homelessness. Permanent Supportive Housing is an important housing option for all communities to have, and many persons that have experienced chronic homelessness may choose this option. But let me repeat: may choose this option. Let us also be clear about chronic homelessness and use the HUD definition: An unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more OR has had at least four (4) episodes of homelessness in the past three (3) years. The individual must have been on the streets or in an emergency shelter (not transitional housing) during these episodes. Where there is error is thinking that Permanent Supportive Housing, whether it is through a scattered-site model of supports or a congregate model of supports, is […] Read more »

Back to Basics – What Exactly is Housing First & Rapid Re-Housing?

A lot of the time I find “Housing First” and “Rapid Re-Housing” to be misused terms. Below I briefly outline the definitions and service components to each. When asked to assist organizations or communities realign their service delivery to be more effective or to evaluate their housing programs, this is the understanding of Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing that I try to generate awareness of in the community. As this is a blog and not a two or three day training seminar, I am focusing on hitting the high points. (Maybe some day I will find a publisher that will take me on to write the more exhaustive description, program examples, etc – but I digress.) As a philosophy housing first (intentionally a lower case “h” and lower case “f”) focuses on any attempt to help people who have experienced homelessness to access housing before providing assistance and support with […] Read more »

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen & Gentlewomen

We’re winding down another year here at OrgCode. Heck, we’re even going to shut the door and turn off the phones for a week between Christmas and the New Year and that will be a first since we re-booted the company in Q4 2009. God rest us merry gentlemen and gentlewomen. It’s hard to believe that it has been two years since John Whitesell and I shook hands to grab the reins of OrgCode together – and a real honor for me given John had been leading the company as Managing Director for over 25 years. Taking a retrospective gander at 2011 there are some things that stand out for me as great opportunities as well as lessons learned. They are: Our professional integrity remains intact. We truly want to be catalysts for better outcomes and when we were challenged in a “bait and switch” RFP to be the mouthpiece […] Read more »

Professional Works Gets Professional Results

[serialposts] PART EIGHT: Professional Works Gets Professional Results Successful housing programs have a professional orientation. Well-trained staff deliver the housing program. Successful housing programs tend not to be those operated in a charity context where “well intentioned” is sufficient to get the job done. There is too much at stake, and generally too much complexity for a layperson without training to help a client achieve long-term sustainability. I am not anti-charity. There is a time and place for it. And in fact it is often charitable organizations that hire the professional staff to deliver the housing program. The mistake, however, is when untrained staff are directly involved in client interactions. Truth is, it can do more harm than good. With the properly trained staff, housing programs get better outcomes. Here are some of the essential ingredients for ensuring your housing program is provided by professionals who get professional results. Start […] Read more »

Helping Landlords Help You

[serialposts] PART FIVE: Helping Landlords Help You There should be a range of housing options for clients of your housing program to consider. In the best of circumstances this will include everything from permanent supportive housing to private market housing (with or without vouchers or rent supplements) and public/social housing. It will hopefully include a wide variety of units from multi-unit residential buildings to suites in the secondary market like basement suites or rented houses. It may also include the likes of well-maintained and managed rooming houses or boarding homes. And I could go on with the diverse types of housing. The key is to have a range of options that clients can CHOOSE from. Choice is fundamental to housing program success. If your organization does housing placements instead of offering housing choices, you are missing an important part of program success. In one research study it found that clients […] Read more »

The 5 Essential and Sequential Elements

[serialposts] 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 […] Read more »

The Structure of the Housing Team and Its Functions

[serialposts] PART THREE: The Structure of the Housing Team and Its Functions Successful housing programs have three different types of positions: Team Leader – supervises the work, coaches team members and creates opportunities for professional development, assigns households to different case managers, sets priorities and ensures fidelity to the approach. (Read more about Team Leaders, their importance and why they need specialized training.) Housing Case Manager – provides direct support to households (individuals or families) that have been housed and works with them to create an individualized service plan that will help them achieve housing and life stability. Housing Locator – works directly with landlords, property management firms, etc. to secure available units for the housing program. (There is an entire future blog dedicated to how to make this work.) My experience suggests that in most cases social workers tend to make crappy landlords and landlords tend to make crappy […] Read more »