10 Things to Keep in Mind if You Are Serious About Ending Homelessness

1. Don’t just think about it – do it!

Imperfect action trumps perfect planning. Experiment in a thoughtful and deliberate manner. Evaluate what you are doing. Learn from it. Improve.

2. Be your own community, but don’t dismiss proven practices from elsewhere.

You have to make ideas fit where you live, not changing where you live to fit ideas. While there will always be local context to consider, avoid making excuses as to why a specific approach won’t work where you live. Instead, try to figure out how to make proven practices work where you live.

3. Make strategic partnerships – don’t be needy or excessively eager.

Strategic partnerships have mutual gain. They are not one-sided. Getting an organization or institution to do what they are mandated to do is not a partnership – that is accountability. To form strategic partnerships there has to be something in it for both parties. That can mean compromise. Don’t be too demanding.

4. Use humor, carefully.

This work is really, really hard. It is okay to find times to laugh and relax and reflect casually on why and how you are doing what you do. Remember that outsiders rarely understand our context or demands. What is blowing off steam for us may seem disrespectfully or uninterested to them, so be careful where and how you use humour. But my goodness, use humor. A lot.

5. Don’t reinforce or reward bad practices.

Every time you make an excuse for an under-performing organization or person on your staff team you are saying it is okay not to succeed. I don’t think the people you serve think it is okay to suck. You shouldn’t either.

6. Don’t play favorites.

If you are a funder, competition for available funds will help cream rise to the top without interference on your part of picking your favorite organization. If you are a service provider, don’t play favorites with service users. The person/family that may use the most colorful language – or say nothing at all – may, in fact, be the person/family that needs your services the most.

7. Accept that some people/organizations just won’t get it.

Try to get people on board. Use facts. Use moral persuasion. Make an ethical argument. Haul out pie charts. Show them the economics of homelessness versus housing. Use pressure from peers, allies and elected officials. Use funding. And then if they still don’t want to get on board with ending homelessness, let them go. As I have heard many times, “It isn’t me. It’s you.” This time, it’s true.

8. Relax.

If you are Type A on steroids working to end homelessness everyone will hate your guts. You’ll come across as a self-determined, glory-seeking, zealot. Be cool. This problem wasn’t created over night. It won’t end over night either. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

9. See the glass half full.

Find evidence of success then exude positivity about it realistically and enthusiastically. This helps remind others (and yourselves) that success is possible, and that success breeds success. If you are the “sky is falling” sort, people will not get on board with what you are trying to achieve. There are a litany of things to conquer – discharge planning, economic poverty, inadequate supply of supportive housing, etc. If all you see is the stuff that still needs to be tackled instead of the success you have already realized, people will not be motivated to continue to journey to the ultimate destination.

10. Be confident in the big picture and the long-term plan.

Your confidence can carry your organization/community over the hump from informed pessimism to informed realism in the goal of ending homelessness. It is hard work. There will be a lot of hard days. Some people will remind you that what you are trying to do cannot be done. New leaders will take office. Trusted service providers will have staff turnover. Some people will return to homelessness. That doesn’t mean you aren’t doing it right. It means you have to see the long-term. It means you have to investigate and evaluate your plan to update it and make improvements. And it means you have to embrace your potential to be awesome.

About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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