2014 National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference: 10 Take Aways

For the 10th year in a row, I have been a speaker at the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference on Ending Homelessness. Here are my major takeaways from this year:

1. This is Still the Best Conference on Ending Homelessness.

The talent the Alliance can assemble for the conference is unparalleled and for that the Alliance deserves a major high five. The diversity of information and types of presentations appeals to a variety of learners. That said, there was a lot of youth and family content at this summer conference, which historically has been reserved for the winter conference. Is the Alliance moving towards one conference instead of two? (Well, not in the near term with the Youth and Family Conference in San Diego in early 2015)

2. Cory Booker and Michelle Obama and Jennifer Ho and Ann Oliva and Laura Zeillinger Rock

No one has ever moved me in a speech the way Senator Booker did.

No one has ever demonstrated the conviction of an administration on ending homelessness the way Michelle Obama has.

No one has shown me the commitment of HUD the way that Jennifer Ho and Ann Oliva have. They are not stogy disconnected bureaucrats with their heads up their butts.

No one has demonstrated the passion of making government agencies work together the way that Laura Zeillinger has.

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2013 National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference: The Top 3 Things I Took Away from This Summer’s Conference

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 time to look at those that are seeing success. But I should point out that each of these communities had to make tough choices to not provide business as usual. Success came from doing things differently – not doing the same things but expecting different results.

2. There is still confusion of some key concepts and terms

It is unfortunate – but an opportunity for improvement – to help people get greater clarity on several key concepts and terms: Housing First; Rapid Re-Housing; Prevention; Diversion; Acuity; Assessment; Collaboration; Case Management; Permanent Supportive Housing. For each of these, I encountered it used incorrectly on more than one occasion. If we are going to move forward collectively in the pursuit of ending homelessness, I think it will be important to all get on the same page when it comes to the concepts and terms used quite frequently. If we aren’t all on the same page, chances are we will think we are talking about the same things when we are not, or drawing upon a body of evidence and data in an incomplete or incorrect manner.

While I have addressed many of these in blogs and videos on our website, I think a consolidated glossary would probably be helpful too. I should really get on that.

3. Good data results in good decisions

The conference reinforced the importance of data many, many times. Data will only continue to become more important for decision-making as funding remains stagnant or decreases. And it is becoming more and more important for philanthropic investments.

It was encouraging to see communities like Tulsa use data so effectively for increasing the housing stock while also demonstrating social return on investment. It was excellent to see the likes of San Francisco demonstrate, through data, the relationship between the child welfare system and homelessness – and when the support intervention may work best. It was helpful to see how USICH and HUD both shared data to demonstrate where there has been effectiveness, and where improvements still need to be made.


It is a real delight to attend the Alliance conferences and learn. The next conference focuses on homeless youth and families and is being held in New Orleans in February. Stay tuned to endhomelessness.org to get more information – it is time and scarce money well invested!

Generating Data is Outstripping our Ability to Interpret It

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 […] Read more »

Be Awesome (And if you are already, please keep at it)

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 […] 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 »

National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference 2011 – aka #naeh11

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 […] Read more »

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 […] Read more »

Why I am stoked about the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference

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. […] Read more »

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 […] Read more »