Mar 312014

I am writing this about halfway through the first leg of the statewide SPDAT tour of Michigan. Michigan, in all her VAST glory, has joined a number of states and provinces that have decided that they want the same common assessment tool used across the entire State. Not just a community-by-community decision – a full, statewide implementation. Every Continuum of Care…all programs that get funding through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, Department of Human Services or Department of Community Health…all regions…all types of communities (urban, rural, remote) – all using the exact same tool. This was the State’s idea. OrgCode didn’t push it or sell them on the idea. And while they were not the first to go this route (hello forward thinking Newfoundland & Labrador), we applaud the State and the handful of other states and provinces that have gone this direction. We also hope that other States and Provinces considering going this route pay close attention. It is a great idea to see the Big Picture and go statewide (or province wide) with implementation of the same common assessment tool. Here’s 10 reasons why:  Different funding sources doing work with the same population all work using the same language and approach to assessing needs, decreasing conflict across departments or funding sources.  State funding sources are aligned with federal funding sources in the use of the same tool.  The State doesn’t have to try and make sense of whether different tools are showing different acuity levels or really [...]

Jan 132014

From December 16-21, 2013 I spent time with Micah Projects in Brisbane, Australia. It was a fabulous opportunity to share the SPDAT with another community, as well as informally take in homelessness services first hand in another part of the world. Here are six things I took away from that trip: 1. Mobile Government Benefit Workers Is Possible I have encountered several communities in North America that have worked hard to get streamlined access to government benefit offices to get income supports. I have seen income support staff attend weekly case conferences and offer helpful commentary. And now I have seen what I thought was only a dream actually happen. Centrelink is an agency of the Department of Human Services. They actually have staff with laptops that go out to locations where homeless people are (in this instance a food program where there was also outreach) and have the ability to do applications, amend benefits, make notes and approve income supports. Imagine a person in your community in charge of public benefits sitting on a ledge in a park with laptop perched on her knees with a homeless person sitting beside her, and her having the ability to pull up his file, amend information, and approve a payment to him to be picked up the same afternoon. This all was happening before my eyes before 7am. Skull blown. 2. Homelessness is Homelessness and the Cure is the Same No matter where I go in Canada or the United States I [...]

Jul 152013

Whether it is direct service, working with community partners to improve the service system, government policy, or funding – you have to consider the three R’s of your mindset. Each one impacts your perspective and approach. One of the R’s is proven to get better results than the others – though it should be acknowledged that none of them are perfect. Retribution We need to get out of the mindset of retribution. Coercion, threats, intimidation, and/or undue pressure do not result in everlasting change, positive results, “buy-in”, trust or sustainable relationships. It also neutralizes the possibility of creating an opportunity for dialogue when there are divergent points of view. Reciprocity We need to get out of the mindset of reciprocity. Bargaining, paybacks, obligation through ingratiation, “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”, and/or trade-offs do not result in transparent decision-making. It also fails to take into account that agents involved in the deal making change, as do the circumstances and stakes of what is being reciprocated. An approach that uses reciprocity also runs the risk of someone or organization being asked to bend their rules, amend their values, or turn a blind eye when what they are being asked to reciprocate collides with who or what they truly are – but there is a feeling of owing. Reasoning Reasoning is the preferred approach that results in better, longer-lasting, sustainable, transparent and defensible approaches to engagement. With a reasoning mindset there is a presentation of facts (not opinions), an appeal to [...]

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 [...]

Jun 062012

Welcome to today’s Latin lesson. “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” means “after it, therefore because of it”. It is the title of a West Wing episode from Season 1 (and you can watch the scene here where it is discussed). It also happens to be the sort of thing they teach you if you study logic and comes in handy if you love data and helping organizations improve services. In a nutshell, you can write up the formula like this: X happened, then Y happened Therefore, X caused Y You can also have people reverse elements of the equation. Let’s say it really sucks for Y to happen. In that case, if you avoid or prevent X then Y won’t occur. If you look just at the order of events rather than the influences on the events you can draw oodles of false conclusions. A temporal succession of events is not evidence of a causal relation. Does a rooster raising a cacophony just before the sun rises cause the sun to rise? A lot of times when engaged with people, there is a reliance on anecdotes to explain causation rather than examining influences independently. The problem with anecdotes (amongst many) is that they are open to subjective interpretation, have the bias of the anecdote teller, rely considerably on intuition and frequently ask the listener to believe based upon the existing relationship between anecdote-teller and anecdote-listener rather than facts. For those of you who love to support or play sports, you [...]

May 232012

Kathryn Schulz is a “wrongologist”, with a stellar ability to explain why we shouldn’t regret regret and provides some very credible and compelling thoughts on being wrong. I am a fan. Her book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error is a terrific read and if you have never seen her TED talks, I recommend both. One of her quotes which I have used over and over again because of the brilliance of it is, “The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t.” People make mistakes. They should. Theories need to be tested and will frequently be wrong or prove something unintended. Being wrong doesn’t make someone a bad person. Being wrong, however, can hinder our ability to be better at our jobs and in our lives when we fail to make distinctions between what we think – sometimes are beliefs not backed up by facts – and what we know – things that can be proven. Over the past couple of decades being engaged with various social justice initiatives I have seen evidence over and over again that what we think is often different than what we know. The difference manifests itself in a couple of problematic ways. For one, there is a tendency to ignore knowledge when it flies in the face of what we think – on a personal, community or organizational level. For example, there is still a [...]

May 012012

If you work in the homeless service sector you should have a very simple career goal – to put yourself out of a job. I have this belief that homeless and housing support services exist to end homelessness. They don’t exist to make people in human services feel good about themselves. They don’t exist to cleanse the consciousness of corporations through their philanthropy. They don’t exist to keep government bureaucracies humming along. There is a difference between wanting to end homelessness and committing to end homelessness. If you want to do something, you may or may not achieve it, and likely only under certain favorable conditions. If you commit to do something you will have steadfast fixity of purpose. When the conditions are unfavorable you will be the catalyst to actively change those conditions, remaining solution-focused all the while instead of accepting barriers as immovable, intractable problems that get in the way of ending homelessness. Am I so naïve to think we will never need homeless shelters again? Heck no. But we will have a lot less of them and they will return to their original use – short term, infrequent stays to meet emergency needs. They will no longer be de facto housing. They will no longer be places that we load in program incentives that actually make it difficult to leave. I like to think of homeless shelters in the same way that I think of fire stations – I hope I never need the fire department, but [...]

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 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 092011

In this multi-part blog series we are examining the essential elements of successful housing programs that focus on ending homelessness. We pick up here in Part 2 looking at the Service Orientation that is necessary. PART TWO: Service Orientation The secret to a successful housing program? Meet people where they are at in their life journey. Don’t set up barriers or unattainable expectations. Accept the decisions that people have made in their life and how they became homeless at face value, help them achieve housing, and then provide the supports necessary to help them achieve long-term residential stability. In case you missed the subtlety – house people, then support them. If you put together an elaborate service plan or case plan prior to helping someone get housing you are doing it “bass ackwards”. House people then support them. The evidence is clear that people achieve better long-term housing outcomes and achieve a more positive quality of life when this is the sequence of evidence. While it remains popular for there to be life skills training, budgeting classes, skills upgrading, addiction treatment, etc prior to helping people achieve housing, the evidence would suggest that this is unwarranted and actually results in poorer housing outcomes long term. We shouldn’t have different standards of behavior for people who access human services compared to others in society generally. For example, sobriety is not a precondition for successful long-term housing. Statistically, most people who are alcoholics or who use other substances are housed, not homeless. [...]

Sep 232011

One of the themes that we weave through a lot of our work in Human Services is the importance of creating or recreating a healthy social network for individuals and families that have experienced considerable marginalization, poverty, homelessness and the like. We also speak about the importance of focusing on wellness instead of illness. If we consider illness to wellness as a continuum as opposed to a either-or construct, then we even further appreciate that achieving wellness is a journey…a process…something that can occur incrementally. We need to move beyond labels and pathology to focus on the individual’s potential and the remarkable ability of the human being to heal – physically, socially, emotionally. Our ability to heal is absolutely remarkable. It is even more impactful if we do not confuse “healing” with “cure” – as they are dangerously considered synonymous by some. So what is the link between a healthy social network and wellness? Lots. And as you read below, I hope you will become even more convinced that one of the fundamental jobs of support workers is to reduce social isolation by improving access to healthy social networks. I remember hearing a story – don’t know if it is true – about a doctor who specialized in addressing heart disease and a swami. As a guest of the doctor’s, the swami was asked what the difference was between “illness” and “wellness”. The swami circled the “I” in “illness” and the “we” in wellness. And it turns out that the [...]

Jun 162011

When I do work in Detroit, I tend to stay at the Motorcity Casino Hotel. The main reasons: it is located close to the offices of the organization I am doing work for; and, it is the cheapest hotel in the area on Expedia by a lot. I stay in a lot of hotels. This is one of the best. Amazing staff. Clean. Fast WiFi. Oh, and the casino has a Star Wars slot machine (that only focuses on the original three movies, so it is cool – Jar Jar Binks free). Yesterday at check-in they asked me if I wanted a free upgrade. I wish these sorts of things happened more often. I said sure. Danielle – the super awesome check-in lady – wanted me to know that the suite they were providing me was on part of a floor where all of the suites are also accessible for people with physical disabilities. No problem to me, unless I would be taking it away from someone who needed an accessible suite. At around 3am, the fire alarm went off. This isn’t the first time that this has happened when I have stayed in a hotel. It is annoying to be sure. But I have never experienced a vibrating bed and pulsing strobe lights and ear splitting pitches that make fire engine sirens sound tame. After the first few minutes, I thought it might be a real fire. The alarm indicators (vibrations, lights, pitches) weren’t stopping. Then I did the [...]

May 242011

In human services delivery, there are several effective approaches to performance measurement. My leaning is towards an approach that is comprehensive and system-focused, while remaining client-centred. A comprehensive approach will have four essential elements: Identifying the chronically underperforming services. Identifying the services that can meet performance standards with a little coaching and/or technical assistance. Identifying outstanding services that not only exceed performance targets, but also have a unified commitment throughout the organization on performance excellence, use of evidence-based practices and a sincere commitment to continuous improvement. Emphasis on financial stewardship. Identifying chronically underperforming services to some may seem intuitive. “Haven’t we always known they weren’t very good at meeting the needs of the households they are funded to serve?” While true in some instances, it has also been my experience that a framework will show you that some of these seemingly chronic underperformers actually will do just fine with coaching and technical assistance (they aren’t as bad as you thought). And, it has also been my experience that there are some services that turn out to be chronic underperformers (but with a panache for spin) that you thought only needed a little coaching to operate well. In an era of limited resources, it is important that we put our emphasis on coaching and technical assistance with those organizations that would benefit from it the most.  Outstanding services will need training and professional development too, but not the sort of coaching and technical assistance that other lesser performing organizations will need. [...]