What My Dad Has Taught Me About Ending Homelessness

My dad is retired. He spent his career leading the chemistry department in a steel mill. Now his days are spent trying to figure out what cruise to go on with my mom; which species of bird is at his feeder at his home on Lake Huron; whether golf courses in Arizona or Florida are better; and whether or not the fish are going to be biting today.

The older I get (I have one of those milestone birthdays just around the corner) the more I appreciate the wisdom imparted to me by my father, and how that relates to ending homelessness. This past weekend he gave me two framed pieces that he hung in his office for decades. I never knew they existed before now. And one of them sums up my relationship with my father and my life’s work in a nutshell:


The man who follows the crowd, will usually get no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before.

Creativity in living is not without its attendant difficulties, for peculiarity breeds contempt. And the unfortunate thing about being ahead of your time is that when people finally realize you were right, they’ll say it was obvious all along.

You have two choices in life: you can dissolve into the mainstream, or you can be distinct. To be distinct, you must be different. To be different, you must strive to be what no one else but you can be…

So, I raise a glass to celebrate my father for Father’s Day, and say:

  1. Here’s to appreciating that every person served in homeless and housing services is different than the next. Each is a unique person. The uniqueness has to be appreciated if we are going to help people achieve their goals.
  2. Here’s to deciding to find ways to end homelessness rather than continue to manage it. Do the same things, always get the same results. We have to do something different.
  3. Here’s to days of loneliness and being misunderstood in the pursuit of that dream, from time to time, because sometimes trying to forge a new direction and approach in a creative way comes without support.
  4. Here’s to letting go and allowing others to take credit for your ideas and hard work when it is necessary for them in believing it was obvious all along.
  5. Here’s to being distinct in ideas, processes, use of data, presentation of the problem, and the outline of solutions.
  6. Here’s to being different in how to talk about one of the most complex social issues of our time.
  7. Here’s to achieving the me that I am meant to be, and striving to do that each and every day.
  8. Here’s to the ones closest to us – like dads – that remind us that even though we may never get rich doing this sort of work, the richness comes from making society better.

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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