One Big Thing

Empathy is a difficult thing to practice. How do we honestly go about having a true identification with, or vicarious experience of the thoughts, feelings, or attitudes of another? If you have never been chronically homeless before, in which ways can you go about deepening your understanding of what it is like to move into housing and go through the radical and disruptive change that comes with doing so?

That's right - radical and disruptive change. Think of any big change you want to make in your own life. Bet it sounds great...the outcome that is. Conceptually, we LOVE change. The practice of change, though, is really, really difficult. It is no wonder, then, that for a person or family experiencing chronic homelessness the concept of being housed is a welcome one that is likely to stir up a range of emotions from elation to fear (sometimes concurrently). But the practice of staying housed is a really difficult one. 

Let's explore why a little deeper - and then I have a request for you.

If you have been homeless for a long time, and have a disabling condition, but you have remained alive, there comes a time psychologically when you are no longer working to get yourself out of homelessness. There's like a switch that goes off. And once that switch is flipped you go from trying to escape homelessness to trying to survive or even thrive within homelessness. Your day to day routine is one of being the best person experiencing homelessness you can be. You know where to get food. You know where to attend to hygiene needs. You know where to get clothes. You know where to hang out. 

Along comes you (or someone like you) who, in a nutshell says, "Do you want housing?" and to that person who has experienced homelessness for a long time this is, in many instances, going to sound conceptually like a really good idea. If you were that person who has thrived within homelessness, you can likely see the benefits of preparing what you want to eat rather than what is served on that day. If you were that person, you can see the benefits of using your own toilet and shower rather than sharing one with others or signing up for your turn. If you were that person, you can likely see the benefits of locking your own door to feel safer. If you were that person, you can likely see the benefits of determining your own schedule of when you will go to sleep and when you will rise. 

None of this means there isn't concern or suspicion. None of this means there is no anxiety. However, the idea of putting this change into practice is alluring and feels worth doing.

Then it happens. And the transition is a hard one. Yes, some of the benefits are realized. But it is also really hard to sustain the change. Why? Because there is a complete disruption of routine and so much of what the person that was homeless knew how to do to keep themselves alive and even thrive. Now there is budgeting for groceries and light bulbs and toilet paper. Now there is cleaning up after meals and the apartment as a whole. Now there is loneliness. Now there are challenges not foreseen.

That same person may want to go back to that which was most familiar - homelessness. That same person who was so excited to have housing may be in a position to give up the thing there were excited to have in order to go back to life before the change. Because change is hard.

Now the request for you to try and increase your empathy. 

I want you to think about one BIG change you need to make in your life. To determine what this type of change needs to be, it has to meet the following conditions: it has to be something important to you; it has to be the sort of change that will disrupt your life in some way; it has to be something that would be of benefit to you; and, it has to be hard to accomplish. Some examples of the sort of change you may want to make: repairing a relationship; investing more time to be with your children; maintaining a higher level of cleanliness in your house and car and office; losing weight; quitting smoking and/or drinking; forming a relationship/friendship with someone you have always wanted to have a connection with; maintaining a chronic health condition better.

Then, I want you commit to doing it for 100 days minimum. I want you to keep track of your progress and your setbacks. I want you to spend time discerning how you feel throughout the change process. As you are comfortable, I want you to share your change with others, and all that goes with it. I want you to own every time you feel like giving up and going back to how your life was before you started the change process, and what you did to keep going. And then I want you to try and relate this back to how a chronically homeless person may feel in trying to sustain the change they are going through when they move into housing.

Remember, change is hard - and if you get through 100 days you will have to keep working to sustain the change still. For example, did you know that 6 out of 7 people that have a heart attack return to the lifestyle that caused their heart attack within 18 months of having their heart attack? That's how hard change is to sustain - even when it is a matter of life or death.

And here is my change that I will own out loud in this blog for transparency and which has been an issue in my life ever since I broke my hip a number of years back - I am going to take the steps necessary to lose 38 pounds. I need to for the sake of my health. It will be hard because I most often eat in restaurants and spend a lot of time on planes in a sedentary environment. It will come with sacrifice because when I am home I would much rather spend time with my kids than go out and exercise. I have had setbacks in previous attempts. I will see how close I move the needle towards achieving the goal within the first 100 days. Through my struggles to achieve this, I hope to deepen my empathy with just how hard change really is to accomplish. What will you do?

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Hope is the only currency we really deal in. Not false promises. Not dreams of a better day. Hope is a nuanced belief that life is worth living; that tomorrow can be better than today; that next week can be better than this week; that next month can be better than this month; that next year can be better than this year. Hope is about leaning into expectation, while concurrently creating the reality of that expectation. To have hope is to take meaningful action toward a desire future. As a belief, hope requires us to move from a crossing of the fingers and wishing upon a star to doing the work to create the desired future we want. Hope is difficult to quantify. There are not any reliable “hope” performance metrics. How many times did you help a family or person experiencing homelessness find hope? is not a common reporting question – nor should it be. Yet, if you don’t believe and support hope for every person you serve, you are likely in the wrong profession. You can’t say you support hope for some people you serve, but not for others. You can’t decide that some people are lost causes. The moment you think some people will never escape homelessness for stable housing is the same moment that you likely reached your tipping point of burn-out. Hope is essential for trauma-informed care and the spiritual scarring that comes with living through an exacerbated traumatic cycle. The impacts of the trauma may never totally heal, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to abandon hope or to think that recovery is hopeless. Hope is one of the foundations of a recovery-orientation to this work. A future where people move forward from the impacts of their mental illness is one that requires hope. Reclaiming capabilities, rights, responsibilities, roles and the like will not happen without hope. Hope makes us champions of a future not yet realized. Ask yourself not only if you believe in hope – but if you are living hope. And if you are not, then time for deep reflection on how you put hope into practice. 1 reaction Share

The Three Metrics I Admire Most

When a community starts wondering what data to collect and look at when measuring progress to end homelessness, it is easy to generate a number of pieces of data that may be interesting to look at. Before you know it, there are over a hundred fields...the proverbial elephant being a horse drawn by committee. And what happens? The data does not get captured. Or it is inconsistently captured. Or there are time delays in data entry. Overall - a bunch of crap. 

So if you want to simplify this - the Brown M&Ms if you will - focus on measuring three things really well.

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10 Critical Questions for Every Shelter and Shelter System

At National Alliance to End Homelessness Conferences the past couple years, in our training and transforming of shelter providers and shelter systems, and one of the foci of our upcoming How to Be an Awesome Shelter Learning Clinic in Dallas, are these 10 critical questions that every shelter and shelter system should be asking themselves:

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Signs of a Bad Shelter Proposal

Recently I was asked to provide commentary on a new shelter being proposed in Florida. Shelters are an important asset in ending homelessness when they are focused on helping people get into housing as quickly as possible. Every community needs an adequate number of shelter spaces relatively to the demands in their specific community. And in this Florida community, they have woefully few shelter beds and definitely need more.

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Three Major Reactions to Change

There are a handful of communities where the three major reactions to change are front and center in my work these days, and probably a healthy reminder to us all of how normal these reactions are:

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Important & Ready

Whether you are trying to make change within yourself, your organization, or your community there are two critical success factors that must be addressed if you are going to achieve what you set out to achieve. The first is whether or not people feel the change is important. The second is whether or not people are ready for the change.

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2017 – What Will it Bring?

Welcome to the first blog of 2017. As I do every year, I want to kick off the first blog of the year with things that concern me and some hope for the year ahead.

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The Best of 2016

That time of the year to look back on the highlights from the year before. There are many for us at OrgCode. So, I am focusing on those 10 things where we felt we had the greatest impact or the community really look a leap forward in ending homelessness, or events I just can’t keep smiling about when thinking about it.

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Depression & The Holidays


If you live with depression there may be no anxiety inducing period like the holidays. In a nutshell, people want you to make the spirit bright and you may not feel like it, and then you feel even worse that you are letting other people down and destroying their holiday season. If you have a friend or loved one that lives with depression (like yours truly), some helpful tips:

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