I had long knew of Marvin. Cynthia of the National Alliance to End Homelessness put a name to him when we did a session together at the summer conference a while back. You know Marvin too.

Who is Marvin?

Marvin is the guy that pops up in your rules for your program. Maybe not by the name "Marvin". But you have served Marvin and created rules because of him. 

It goes like this...

Once upon a time there was a guy named Marvin. He did some outlandish shit. You created a new rule because of Marvin. Everyone now must adhere to the rule because of Marvin even though it makes no sense that they do so.

For example: Marvin lit some paper on fire. Now you have a rule that no one is allowed to have a lighter in your shelter or drop-in center or food program. People must turn over their lighter upon coming on the premises. If they do not, services are terminated.


Marvin once clogged the toilet with toilet paper. Now every person who is going to use the toilet has to ask for toilet paper before going into the john. 


Marvin once wore a Guns'n'Roses t-shirt that other shelter guests found offensive. Now, no rock t-shirts may be worn on premises.


Marvin once re-enacted the Tom Cruise scene from Risky Business. Now no one is allowed to walk around in underpants or socks or lip-sync.


All of the above are real examples that I have seen in my travels. No joke. And somewhat appalling. But the fact of the matter remains that many service providers and even government funders have rules that were born from anomalies rather than what happens on a day to day basis. The impact of it is such that some people experiencing homelessness are not served - or not served well - because you still have Marvin rules.

So do me a favor (and probably Cynthia too given it was her idea to talk about the Marvin Rule in the first place): go through your policies and procedures. Go line by line. See if there is anything in there that has more to do with Marvin and less to do with most people that you see and serve every single day. Deal with the one off situations as one off situations. Delete any rules that are actually just because of Marvin.

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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