When Ego Was Gone

Ever notice how some people make homelessness about them and not the people they serve?

Ever notice that they will make it sound like a hardship no one can possible understand and wear their work like a badge of honour? Martyr syndrome. Messed up.

Ever notice that some organizations will change their message depending on who they are speaking with? If it is one funder, they are all about ending homelessness. If it is another funder, it is all about how some people can never be housed. Completely phoney.

Ever hear an organization talk about their “brand” as if their services are a precious commodity? Me too. “Giving Tuesday” made me want to vomit numerous times.


This is the greatest work we will ever do. It is a privilege to serve others. Have you done everything you can to make your work a service worthy of the highest esteem of those that receive it? Or do you make it about you?

My finest minute in my darkest hour was realizing this work is not and will never be about me. Or any other consultant, service provider, policy wonk, national organization, or celebrity for that matter. Our work is about putting those we serve at the centre of attention.

We are all broken. I refuse to accept the moral superiority that some flex in their attempt to do this work. People that are homeless are no worse nor better than housed people – just different. Some of us read like novels and others like short stories in how we have weathered life. But whether your story is long or short, I refuse to believe that anyone needs to change who they are before we give them what they need. I will give anyone the crutch of my shoulder.

Signs that a person or organization thinks more of themselves than the people they serve can be found in their name. Does their title or name empower the people they serve? Or does it diminish the capacity of those they serve? Do they make it about service or service recipients? Do they represent social service or social control?

I want a selflessness that abounds in our work. I want a hindsight that is less than 20/20 so that we are not caught up in the past but rather focused on the future. And the future is what we make of it for the people we have the privilege of serving.

This work is hard. It is supposed to be. It isn’t for everyone. It shouldn’t be. But do not complain to me. We are LUCKY to do this work. We are called. We are chosen. We get to make a difference.

How do we let go of all the things we shouldn’t carry? The truth is, we don’t need much. It starts with home. Can we give people that? Once upon a now and happily whenever after is the timespan we work within. We cannot change anyone’s past. What a privilege that we get to join anyone on the journey in the here and now.

Is there anything left to give? The tangible memories I want as an old man is that we found something to give when we should have had nothing left. I want to tell the story of when we maybe should have given up but didn’t. I want to tell the true story of our history of ending homelessness. The failure of our youth is what makes up the beauty of our age. We should make loads of mistakes. Each chapter should remain unedited. Our mistakes in ending homelessness is what got us to a place where it is possible…where we all look back and wonder why it took us so long or why it seemed so hard.

Without ego.



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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