Dec 092013

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 is the 10 Things That I Learned This Year. More than a lot of people that may just see the perspective of their own community or may talk to some folks in other communities and go to the occasional conference, I really do get here, there and everywhere across Canada, the United States and even Australia this year. Maybe what I see will be of value to you as you plan ahead in 2014. This blog looks at the first five items in the list. Come back next week to read the final five! 1. Ending homelessness is like teenage [...]

Nov 042013

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 in these. If you are a frontline staff person, know that it is quite possible your boss is thinking these very things today. And if you are the boss of the boss, you may want to think about how you can provide support to these five common internal thoughts. 1. “I miss the rush of the frontline.” You can work your butt off to move up the ladder and end up in a supervisory position. You may do so because you think you have perspective and expertise that will be of value to an entire staff team, and perhaps do [...]

Sep 302013

You’ll have to excuse me I’m not at my best I’ve been gone for a month I’ve been drunk since I left These so called vacations Will soon be my death I’m so sick from the drink I need home for a rest There is a certain crowd who would have read the above lines and immediately recognized them as lyrics to one of the greatest Spirit of the West songs to party to. It’s the sentiment of the song that I love – needing home for a rest after indulging beyond what might be considered a healthy consumption threshold. As far as I’m concerned any person can choose to drink or not drink. That is their business, not mine. As I have argued previously, sobriety is not a precondition for housing success. This doesn’t mean there won’t be some people that may choose to have sober living. I support that choice for people as well. I have many dear friends and professional colleagues that have found sobriety in their lives because it made sense to them. It also doesn’t mean that drinking doesn’t come with consequences. It does. For some people, the consequences are quite severe. But I will not judge because of an addiction. There remains no shortage of homeless programs out there where the consumption of alcohol or other drugs after a period of sobriety will result in immediate exit from the program – even eviction in most instances. Seems to me that people that are in [...]

Sep 242013

A reader asked me to talk about where Transitional Housing fits into Coordinated Access and Common Assessment. In their community there is quite a bit of Transitional Housing. While they feel that the Transitional Housing works well there, they say so without having the data to support the claim. Nonetheless, they are open to considering better ways of using their Transitional Housing – even if it means changing the Transitional Housing operating model in their community – if there are solid reasons to consider it within a Coordinated Access and Common Assessment Model. These are my thoughts. I didn’t want to wait and just put it into the regular blog cycle as I have come to appreciate there are several communities wrestling with the same/similar issues.   So, you have some Transitional Housing and wondering how that all fits with Coordinated Access. Perhaps you’ve taken a look at the VI-SPDAT and thought – “I see Permanent Supportive Housing, Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing, but what about Transitional Housing?” It is no accident that you do not see Transitional Housing. There isn’t evidence to support Transitional Housing as an effective support and housing intervention – as it is most frequently implemented in communities.  What does that mean? Well, the notion of compliance-based, rigidly time limited, program-centric supports and housing with a focus on “housing readiness” is likely never going to be a good idea. But that doesn’t mean there is no place for your Transitional Housing within your continuum of services [...]

Jul 012013

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 the Emperor had no clothes. Change initiatives like this are really about squaring the circle. It’s a fact that most CoC’s came to the realization that if they didn’t step up by the time the rubber hit the road they’d be facing a perfect storm. And anybody worth their salt knows that when you are facing stiff headwinds it is best to put the mirror shoulder high, focus on core competencies and stick to knitting. All of this may sound like a broken record to you, but this is the only way known to move the needle. When that needle [...]

May 202013

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 - .002 of the population is homeless on any given day, while .07 have an addiction on any given day] Even for those individuals that choose to access treatment for substance use, there is no universally accepted definition for what constitutes rehabilitation or treatment [and here is a great opinion piece from Time Magazine that discusses that very issue in the article] It is not well understood why some approaches to addiction treatment work for some people and not for others [the same Time article reference for Fact #3 is relevant here too if you want a layperson’s discussion of [...]

Nov 052012

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 the only housing model that will work for people that have experienced chronic homelessness. That type of mentality reinforces a housing placement mindset rather than a housing choice mindset. If we believe in client-centered service delivery then we need to wrap our heads around what it means to offer meaningful choices, not on thinking we know what is best for the people that we serve. A 2007 study examined what Housing First means to people served through a Housing First program. It shows a very strong relationship between housing satisfaction and whether the individual felt they had a choice in [...]

May 152012

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 any other life issues. In this orientation, the intervention of Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing both fit. Given housing is the only known cure to homelessness, the success comes with helping ideal candidates achieve the cure sooner rather than later. As an intervention Housing First is a specific type of service delivery. Delivered through Intensive Case Management or Assertive Community Treatment, fidelity to the core aspects of the service can be measured. Housing First is specifically not a “first come, first served” intervention. It intentionally seeks out chronically homeless individuals that have complex, and most often co-occurring issues, and serves [...]

Dec 212011

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 for somebody else’s agenda after we won the project, we noisily declined to continue and ended the engagement. If you listen carefully, sleepless nights can be informative in and of themselves. The National Alliance to End Homelessness still rocks. I just totally dig their staff and everything the organization stands for. The fact that they decided to let me start guest blogging this year is and honor and icing on the proverbial cake. Speaking of blogs, I finally got the hang of taking point for the OrgCode blog this year. The 10 part series on the essential elements of successful [...]

Nov 222011

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 with the Right Job Description I love to take a poll when I do training about whether the job people are in with their organization is exactly how it sounded on paper when they applied. My non-scientific polling results would suggest that between 90-100% of people in any given audience say the job is different than how it looked in the job description. I encourage organizations to pull together professionally polished and accurate job descriptions for their housing staff team. (You can learn more about the staff compliment for a successful housing team here.) Be clear on the qualifications that you [...]

Nov 162011

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 who felt that they had a choice in where they lived were most happy with their housing, whereas those who felt that had less choice were much less happy with their housing. The latter is also more likely to move and/or experience a return to homelessness. For the purpose of this blog, I want to focus attention on working with private market landlords – even if your organization does not have access to any type of financial assistance to provide to landlords. In a perfect world there would be an infinite number of subsidies to provide; immediate access to subsidized housing; [...]

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 [...]

Nov 112011

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 social workers. While there will always be exceptions, I would argue that keeping them separate functions helps. The best Housing Locators I have ever met, for example, are not schooled in social work or other helping professions. They know how to speak “landlord” and how to make the business transaction part of the housing program work. But I digress…and again getting ahead of myself and a future blog. Each housing case manager can serve a MAXIMUM of 20 households at any one time. Any more than that and you have a list of people that you aim to serve, but truly [...]