Moving the Needle with Reluctant Funders/Politicians

This week we got two separate notes asking for a blog. They are related themes.

In the first note it asked for a blog about when communities have to make tough decisions on funding to move the needle forward. In that community they are taking loads of flak politically and in the media for changing funding to focus on ending homelessness. City Councillors are considering a motion to continue to fund services for another year to allow impacted organizations to transition. This after consultation and community engagement for the past 18 months to prepare for the transition.

In the second note it asked for a blog about what to do when communities have been moving forward to align funding to end homelessness rather than ineffective programs, but that those organizations most impacted have strong political connections, and those politicians are now exerting considerable pressure to reconsider what is best.



Consequences suck. Political involvement/interference sucks. Backlash from service providers sucks.

Sometimes “suckage” and “rightness” are directly related. The more “suckage” there is sometimes directly indicates that you are doing the EXACT RIGHT THING.


Service managers and COC leads have a responsibility. The responsibility is to achieve the greatest amount of effectiveness through service providers in the amount of funding available. They are also responsible to ensure that there is monitoring and oversight. When things are awry it is the service manager/COC best positioned to move the community towards system change.

There are good change processes and bad change processes. But let’s face it – change is always hard. What service managers need to appreciate is that the interest of a politician is different than the interest of a service manager. A service manager wants to end homelessness. A politician wants to keep constituencies happy – including non-profit organizations in many instances. Service managers live and breathe data and evidence and best practices. A politican lives and breathes optics, public image, and community engagement. Does that make one right and the other wrong? No. It does, however, means that there is not always alignment.

If you want to figure out how and why the politics of the right and just decision plays out the way it does, answer me this question: on a scale of 1-10, what is my favourite color in the alphabet?

You guessed it – it makes no sense.

In an era of believing (continuously) that we can charge less taxes and get better services, public servant after public servant; CoC lead after CoC lead is being asked to do more and better with less. They research. They go to conferences to learn. They consult. They consult again. They agonize internally on how to go about making huge changes. They educate. They put out information. They host information meetings. The form committees. And then form committees that come out of committees. And still? Politicians seem hell bent on maintaining the status quo or spending even more money to work through the change.

A weak public servant or COC lead caves to the pressure. They continue to fund the status quo. The give up. Change that was meaningful was in their grasp. What they don’t know is that political issues have a cycle. The one year of additional funding is about saving face in the present. Two years from now, political leaders will be patting themselves on the back for the decisions made at your pay grade.

A mentor of mine once pointed out to me that which I see more and more the older and more experienced I become: if you cannot critique content, you critique process. Chins up, my friends. Moving the needle is the bravest thing you will do in your entire careers. And it is the right thing to do. They only want to come up with transition funding or question what you have done because they know you are actually doing the right thing, but they need some political cover.

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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