Be Awesome (And if you are already, please keep at it)

I haven’t figured out where along the way people think, “You know what would make for a great career? To work with chronically homeless people with a whole bunch of co-occurring complex issues and help them get and sustain housing.” – and then decide to do it for goodness sake. This pertains to the fine folks on the frontline, program administrators, policy wonks, foundation types, elected officials that give a darn about homeless people and a whole raft of other people.

The mesmerizing and at time perplexing thing is that some people do decide that this is exactly how they want to spend their lives. In communities large and small. In countries close and far. And it is awesome.

Be awesome. Pretty good mantra, right?

If you are awesome, continue to be awesome and take time out to teach others to be awesome.

If a belief in a higher power made you awesome, then thanks be to that higher power.

If you fell into this career by accident and found you were awesome at it, then continue to count your lucky stars and still be awesome.

If the Yoda adage “Do or do not. There is no try.” made you want to give this a go and you found out you are awesome at it, then thanks be to Yoda.

If (like me) you were attracted to this field because it was a social issue that no one had previously solved, then continue to inspire awesomeness in problem solving.

But what do I mean by “awesome”? I’m not talking some post 1980 slang for “outstanding”. I’m old school and a nerd. So I am reaching back to the 1670’s – “to inspire awe”. In this case “inspire” refers to the ability to create an urge; a feeling…to animate and impel. “Awe” refers to reverence and admiration on a grand, even sublime scale.

Those on the frontline will never get rich in a financial sense from this work. But their sense of self worth and investment in humankind inspire awe in me.

Those organizations and communities that take huge risks to focus on what data tells them rather than the good story spun by people prone to excuses rather than solutions, inspire awe in me.

Those politicians who dare to make homelessness an issue worth investing in and focusing attention on – and risking social and political capital in the process – inspire awe in me. (David Millerand Joe Mihevc will always be heroes of mine.)

Secretary Donovan from HUD on The Daily Show putting the costs and reason why we need to invest in Housing First into the living rooms of hundreds of thousands of people inspires awe in me.

Organizations that were pioneers in their community in making the move from managing homeless to ending homelessness – even before funding caught on to the idea – inspire awe in me.

The families who support their loved ones in working in human services, inspire awe in me. (As an aside, people like to talk a good game about practicing self-care but loads of people bring some of that emotion home or rely on home to provide the emotional strength for another day in the trenches. That cannot be ignored.)

Phenomenal organizations that remain committed to ending homelessness inspire awe in me. This is especially true when local sentiments from some rather vocal groups can be in opposition to their message and blatantly ignore facts.

Social media giants like Mark Horvath (@hardlynormal) who raise the public consciousness about the issue of homelessness and have lived experience, inspire awe in me. (As an aside, I don’t always agree with everything Mark says like the Homeless Hotspots, but I think we are enriched by the dialogue that he creates.)

Researchers who make homelessness – and solutions to it – the focus of their inquiry, inspire awe in me.

Temples, synagogues, churches and other places of worship that open their doors and have their congregants try to meet immediate emergency needs for shelter and food night after night without financial reward inspire awe in me.

Organizations like the USICH that have an array of resources for people to learn from, and the amazing staff of the organization like Barbara Poppe, Laura Zeilinger, Jennifer Ho and Anthony Love who continue to tirelessly organize, effectively engage with other orders of government and promote an end to homelessness, inspire awe in me.

The smiles on the face of homeless children, fervent in their belief that tomorrow will be better than today inspire awe in me.

Fundraisers with integrity who can eke out a few more dollars for the mission of their organization, even in a troubled economy, so that programs and services can keep on operating inspire awe in me.

The Dean (Barbara Rahder) in the faculty where I teach who supports my practitioner bent to academia in a Graduate learning environment inspires awe in me.

Risk takers in the public service who believe in solutions to homelessness and that different departments can and should work effectively with each other rather than at odds (even if well intentioned), inspire awe in me.

Community leaders who have considerable strengths while still thirsty for professional development, inspire awe in me.

Media outlets that shun the sensationalism of the story to focus on the triumph of the human spirit and programs that truly work, while remaining objective and with journalistic integrity (here’s looking at you a lot of the times New York Times), inspire awe in me.

Those who never lose the forest for the trees – people like Bill Hobson at DESC in Seattle who still sees value in each and every person who achieves housing – inspires awe in me.

Housing Locators who fervently believes in meeting the needs of landlords while having chronically homeless people achieve community, inspires awe in me.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness for the conferences they spend hours laboring on to organize and for the information that they share and for the lobbying that they do, inspire awe in me.

Organizations like the Homeless Action Network of Detroit that realize the imperfections and perfections in their community and work their butts off to address the former and celebrate the latter, inspire awe in me.

Organizations in smaller communities that realize they need rural and remote solutions to their homelessness issues and invest in training for their local community even when resources are limited, inspire awe in me.

The OrgCode staff who decide that social planning is a cool career choice, supporting non-profits and governments in ending homelessness, inspire awe in me.

My young kids who have already accepted that my job keeps me away from home for long stretches of time, but remain supportive even at their young age, truly inspire awe in me (and keep me going).

Awesomeness breeds awesomeness. Please be awesome to each other. Please be supportive of each other. Would love to hear what inspires awe in you in this work.

Please believe in the awesome idea that homelessness can be ended, measured one person…one family…at a time.

About Iain De Jong

Iain is a playful nerd, hellbent on ending homelessness, increasing affordable housing, creating vibrant communities, and expanding the knowledge amongst leaders that influence social issues. Having held senior management and professional positions in government, non-profits, and the private sector, Iain has a wealth of experience and has garnered dozens of awards for his work across Canada and internationally. His work has taken him across Canada, the United States, and to Australia. In 2009, Iain joined OrgCode as its President & CEO, and in 2014 assumed full ownership of the firm. In addition to his work with OrgCode, Iain holds a part-time faculty position in the Graduate Urban Planning Programme at York University.


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