Jul 292013

Every summer, for almost a decade now, the Conference on Ending Homelessness put together by the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington, DC has been a highlight for me. It has become a tradition. It reinvigorates me. It teaches me. It reminds me why we do this work – day in and day out. There is no way to fully capture in this blog everything that was discussed at the conference. If you search the hash tag #naeh13 you can see the thread of some of the most dominant themes by some rather prolific tweeters. In this blog, I wanted to reflect on the top three things that I took away from the conference this year – which may also be of interest to those unable to attend: 1. Success is possible. It is inspiring to see the success of communities like New Orleans on track to end chronic homelessness. It is invigorating to see the results of the 100K Homes campaign, especially the 43 communities in the 2.5% club. It is refreshing to hear how communities like Grand Rapids and Cleveland made the necessary, but difficult, decisions to properly coordinate access into their homeless service delivery system. It is awesome to hear how organizations like UMOM in Phoenix transformed their resources to focus on serving people with higher acuity and many barriers to housing stability. And I could go on. For anyone who feels that the job of working to end homelessness is an impossible task, take the [...]

Jun 142012

I was reading a newspaper article the other day about it now being possible to create the genetic map of an unborn child. Fascinating stuff. But there was one line in the article that really got me thinking about data more than genetics itself: “The capacity of genomics to generate data is outstripping our ability to interpret it in useful ways.” I don’t think this phenomenon is limited to genomics. I can think of lots of fields and industries and individual organizations that place a premium on collecting data but do not have the ability to interpret it in useful ways. Some errors that drive me around the bend: Data for data’s sake. I have encountered too many organizations where they jumped on the data bandwagon and collected oodles of info that they never use. They devote loads of time to data for data sake without doing anything with the data. Data should drive decisions and program improvements. Feeling. I once had a boss that used gut check and nothing else to see if he could use the data to tell the story he wanted to tell. Ugh. If ever the data collided with his world view he would either want to bury the data, have us re-run the analysis (which came up with the same conclusions time and again) or would challenge the methods of data collection (there was nothing wrong with the collection methods). We cannot shy away from data when it tells us something different than what [...]

Mar 162012

I haven’t figured out where along the way people think, “You know what would make for a great career? To work with chronically homeless people with a whole bunch of co-occurring complex issues and help them get and sustain housing.” – and then decide to do it for goodness sake. This pertains to the fine folks on the frontline, program administrators, policy wonks, foundation types, elected officials that give a darn about homeless people and a whole raft of other people. The mesmerizing and at time perplexing thing is that some people do decide that this is exactly how they want to spend their lives. In communities large and small. In countries close and far. And it is awesome. Be awesome. Pretty good mantra, right? If you are awesome, continue to be awesome and take time out to teach others to be awesome. If a belief in a higher power made you awesome, then thanks be to that higher power. If you fell into this career by accident and found you were awesome at it, then continue to count your lucky stars and still be awesome. If the Yoda adage “Do or do not. There is no try.” made you want to give this a go and you found out you are awesome at it, then thanks be to Yoda. If (like me) you were attracted to this field because it was a social issue that no one had previously solved, then continue to inspire awesomeness in problem solving. 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 [...]

Jul 192011

My last tweet from the conference claimed that #naeh11 rocked harder than KISS on a stadium tour. I stand behind that even as the days pass since the conference ended and reflection sets in and turns in part to wisdom. I think what made it rock for me this year was different than past conferences. From my vantage point there was a bit of an edge amongst conference delegates. The edge wasn’t defiance. It wasn’t even anger per se. It struck me that there was frustration. The source of the frustration? I heard over and over again the impact of the economy on local communities and state governments and decreased fundraising efforts. I heard over and over again about increasing demand for services. But I actually don’t think it was solely either or limited to both of those things. I think there are communities that entered into 10 Year planning fully committed to seeing homelessness ended. But now they see the 10 Year Plan sit on a shelf or the local leadership shift or the resources made unavailable. I think there are people and organizations that understand truly what effective approaches and evidence-based practices are and work hard to implement them, only to find other organizations still questioning Housing First, Rapid Re-housing, Critical Time Intervention, Harm Reduction, Trauma Informed Service Delivery and the like. They feel it is a constant, up-hill battle. I think that the misuse of phrases and terms is stoking the frustration. There was Sam Tsemberis – [...]

Jul 062011
Making Sense of Data

On one of my recent hotel stays, this is what the dashboard showed inside the elevator: Now, there are a few interesting tidbits that make this story even better. First, when I checked in I was told I was on the 1st Floor, which is AKA “L”. Second, 5 is really the second floor. Third, there are only four floors to the hotel. I suspect to the people that work at the hotel and use the elevator daily, this number series makes complete sense. To me, well, it reminded me of those times that I have been parachuted into homeless management systems to help make sense of what is going on. In most instances, they have a collection of data points – sometimes with peculiar labels like this elevator dashboard – and an assumption that everyone knows what the starting point is. Truth is, for any information system to have meaning, it has to be easily understood and be logical. Next week I will be in Washington, DC speaking at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference. One of the sessions I am doing with Amanda Sternberg, Susan McGee and Kimberly Walker is on performance measurement. During that presentation I will be stressing these key points: Begin the design of your performance measurement system with the end in mind. Too often organizations or communities have been collecting oodles of data without knowing why they are doing it or what it is going to tell them. I say articulate in one [...]

Jun 232011

I love the National Alliance to End Homelessness conferences. Great networking. Great learning. Best conference there is on homelessness hands down. Did I mention that I have been doing presentations at the conferences for many years now? All around, super duper awesomeness. I will probably blog about this more, but in the fashion of The Late Show, here is my Top 10 list of why I am stoked about this year’s conference: 10. It’s in Washington. When not at the conference there are amazing things to see and do even if the city was built on a swamp and the humidity can be intense. A couple of years ago I went to the Holocaust Museum. Changed me forever – and I am not easily moved. (Okay, so I cried at the end, but don’t tell anyone – and I am not Jewish.) 9. Cool cats. Movers and shakers. Industry leaders. Stalwarts of change. Motivation that all may be alright in the universe. Every year I meet that one person (or persons) who make me want to keep going for another year. Given my personality, these are not your usual touchy-feely burnt out social worker types. These are people who see the world from a different angle and see the beauty in problem solving. 8. Some of the best friends I have I met in Washington. In my adult life, I have always found making new friends to be hard. But something magical happens in Washington where I am exposed to [...]

Apr 292011
Prioritizing Who Gets Served Next Matters – The Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (SPDAT)

When I led the largest Housing First program in North America, one of the things that bothered me was that we had no defensible way to prioritize who we served next. We dabbled with different instruments and had some stellar research thanks to folks like Toby Druce – but couldn’t quite put our finger on exactly how to prioritize who got served next and why. At least not in a defensible, reliable, consistent and valid way. Sure, there are some awesome instruments out there like the Vulnerability Index used by Common Ground and now the 100k Homes Campaign (and we are big fans of both); the Camberwell Assessment of Needs; the Outcome Star; the Denver Acuity Scale. But none of these were a perfect fit for the type of Housing First program that I was leading or other Housing First programs that I was familiar with. One of the first things I started working on when I made the move to OrgCode was to develop the right tool for determining who should get served by what type of housing intervention and why. Being the nerd that I am, I took an inventory of all existing tools that I could get my hands on – hoping that I had just missed something in my previous work. No point re-inventing the wheel. Truth is, not much with credible overlap other than the ones previously mentioned – and even then, too many limitations or shortcomings. I found a small number of communities and [...]