Re-Housing is Not Failure

Welcome to 2015! Like many others, I suspect you have made a resolution or two for the year ahead. Let me go out on a limb and suggest you – or someone you know – has resolved to lose weight this year.

Obesity is an epidemic. The percentage of the population over-weight is staggering. No doubt, people that are not a healthy body weight deciding to become a health body weight is a good idea.

The science of weight loss is simple: a reduction of 3,500 calories is equal to a reduction of one pound. If you reduce your caloric intake and increase your aerobic exercise, weight will come off.

Some people with their resolution for 2015 are trying a miracle diet of some sort. Even though the science is clear that these are less likely to be sustained changes, people will do anything to find a shortcut to get the weight off.

Many people planning on losing weight have a shiny new gym membership right now. The fitness industry counts on you showing up about now. The first few weeks of this month the gym will be crowded. Then the herd will thin.

See, you know that making a decision to change is relatively easy. Maintaining the change is relatively hard.

By February, the miracle diet will be a thing of the past. People get fed up feeling hungry all the time, or the bland food, or the taste of cabbage or whatever. By February, hitting the gym three or four times a week will become once or twice. By March you may get there once every two weeks. By April you may be regretting buying the 12 month membership.

BUT…

If you are serious about losing weight, you can get right back to it. You can learn from what worked and what did not in the changes to your eating habits. You may come to realize that evidence is your friend, and that appropriate portion control and caloric intake coupled with physical activity is the way to go. You probably recalibrate your expectations and timelines for losing weight. You may enlist the assistance of someone to support you – whether that be a professional or a friend.

What am I getting at?

Sustained change is really difficult. Whether it is losing weight or quitting smoking or reducing drinking or budgeting better or having a more positive peer network or packing a lunch more than going out – any of these sorts of things are hard to maintain.

Then consider, if you will, the experience of a person or family that has been homeless for some time and has a range of things happening in their life that they are coping with on a daily basis. Once they move into housing it may not stick the first time. Being housed represents a dramatic change in their life. There are experiences and skills and challenges that they may be under-prepared to handle.

We shouldn’t punish any household if their housing doesn’t stick the first time. The worst thing we can do is put them to the bottom of some list or not see them as a priority. If they were prioritized by their depth of need to get housed the first time, why would they be a lower priority the next time?

Much like the attempt at weight loss that comes up short the first time (or two or three or ten), so too might the first attempt at being housed out of homelessness. We can learn from the first experience to increase the likelihood of success the second go around (or third or fourth or tenth). The metric that matters isn’t how many people stay at the first address they move into. The metric that matters is how many people stay housed regardless of how many address changes it takes to get to that state of being. Re-housing is not failure. For a large number of people you support you might even say it is expected.

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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