This is a guest blog from Jeff Standell. Last time he wrote a guest blog he was employed elsewhere. A couple months back he joined OrgCode full time. Every now and then, Jeff is going to contribute to this space as well, now that he is with OrgCode. Every time he does, given I (Iain) am the usual blog author, you will be told that it is a contribution from Jeff.
I like ambitious targets. I like lofty goals. I like feeling a little freaked out by the scale of what has been committed to.
A small and most likely manageable target doesn’t inspire the same type of creativity and all hands on deck type of thinking that drives innovation and makes the impossible to achieve not only possible, but impossible not to achieve.
I sat at a pre-conference session last week at the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness National Conference listening to Paul Howard, Jessica Venegas, and LoriAnn Girvan from Community Solutions talk about how they are sharing their expertise from the 100K Homes Campaign to inspire the Canadian 20K Homes Campaign. I got excited. Excited in the ‘holy crap is this even possible but I don’t care because I want to help make this happen’ sense.
The next morning the 20K Homes Campaign (not sure if that is or will be the official name yet) was launched. Within a day and a half 27 communities from across Canada had already signed on.
I feel the need to provide a little Canadian context to our American friends. They might be saying, “20,000, so what, we housed over 100,000”. Canada has roughly 10% of America’s population and we committed to hit 20% of your target. Our demographics are different, our geography is different, our government structures are different. Trust me, 20K is ambitious.
This was the first national conference on anything that I have ever attended. It was great to see past colleagues and catch up. It was better to meet new people from parts of the country I have yet to visit and hear about the awesome work that they are doing to end homelessness. That was the glue that brought us all there, we are all crazy enough to believe that we will end homelessness.
I got thinking during the conference and in the time since about what it will take to house 20,000 of our most vulnerable and difficult to house citizens. I want to share these thoughts here and hope that they can be part of the genesis of a larger conversation. I want to spread the ripples from my stone in the pond.
I believe, first and foremost, that we don’t need to re-invent the wheel, and that trying to do so is counter-productive. Here’s what we know, housing first works. It works in Canada. It works in the United States. I learned during the conference that it also works in Europe. It looks a little different in its structure depending on the community or country, but the notion of client driven housing choice, client driven service planning, and providing supports to people in their homes instead of trying to make them perfect before then bestowing housing on them, works. In Canada we have already fought that battle, and though there are still, and likely always will be, some holdouts, we don’t have to re-invent housing first.
How do we know it works?
Canada has some outstanding success stories, the At Home/Chez Soi project and accompanying research shows that housing first works. Cities like Saskatoon are seeing the very quick benefits of housing first. There are countless other success stories that I could share.
I will, however, share this. I live in Medicine Hat, Alberta. It was announced several times before and during the conference that we are poised to be the first city in North America to end homelessness. Some people want to reflexively attack when they hear this. Some people want to celebrate and start patting others on the back. Some people want to take that success and show it off. There are various reactions when someone says that Medicine Hat will end homelessness first.
I cringe whenever I hear that.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly proud of the work that I did while working in Medicine Hat. There are some incredibly passionate and remarkably skilled people working to end homelessness there. This next statement will make me very unpopular in my home town but it needs to be said.
Being the first city to end homelessness doesn’t matter.
What matters is which city is the last to end homelessness, and how long that takes is crucial. The homeless family in Kingston, Ontario doesn’t care. The homeless guy in Clark County, Nevada doesn’t care. The mom and kids fleeing domestic violence in Yellowknife, NWT don’t care. They care about ending their own homelessness. Every day they are homeless they are vulnerable to the risks of homelessness. Our goal is to help them end their homelessness.
It is important to recognize and celebrate success, but it is more important to recognize that homelessness is not a city by city issue. It is not okay to compete to ‘be better’ than the next guy. If we are really serious about housing 20,000 people, and further, to end homelessness, then the next thing we need to do is check our egos at the door.
I have learned in my brief time with OrgCode that we are in a very unique position. When we work and travel in the United States we are often questioned about how it is that as Canadians we think we can help them out. What could we possibly offer them that would be of benefit? Conversely, while in Canada, because we work in the U.S. we are often viewed as tainted and that whatever we have to say should be ignored because we are just trying to ‘Americanize’ the conversation.
Here’s the thing.
Ideas don’t have passports.
If we can take knowledge from the 100K Homes Campaign that will help us does it matter that the folks providing it have Social Security Numbers and not Social Insurance Numbers?
If we can learn from Camden Housing Project in London Borough things that will help us in Canada does it matter if the folks teaching us drive on the left side of the road?
As professionals and service providers it might, but it shouldn’t. As municipal, provincial, and federal funders it might, but it shouldn’t. Because to the 235,000 unique Canadians that experienced homelessness last year, they don’t care where the help comes from, as long as it comes. It is their lives at stake, and our egos be damned.
As Canadians we pride ourselves on being humble. Humility is defined as a modest or low view of one’s own importance. I thinks that this definition along with maple syrup in many ways sums us up, and I’m okay with that. I was fortunate to listen to a number of amazing Canadians during the conference.
However, the most humble speaker I heard was a friend from the south. Becky Kanis Margiotta is a big thinker. I don’t think that she is an outside the box thinker, I think that she doesn’t believe that a box is there. She led a team that accomplished something truly inspirational and amazing. But she didn’t take credit, she didn’t talk about how great she was. She talked about her fears, she talked about asking others for help, and she talked about the possible consequences of failure. Despite doing something larger than life she was incredibly down to earth. She wrapped up by wishing us success and offering her encouragement and support.
I’m one of the Crazy Canucks that believes we will house 20,000 people by July 1, 2018. I’m crazy enough to think we will surpass this. I will do whatever I can to help my fellow Canadians from coast to coast to coast reach this goal.