Say What Volume 2

The blog I did outlining the outrageous things I had seen and heard in the first quarter was so popular, I present to you “Say What Volume 2” which shares my favourites from April, May and June.

1. “Our faith tells us to serve the homeless. That doesn’t mean we end homelessness. If there were no homeless then how could we live our faith? What you propose – housing people – is against my faith. I find the whole idea offensive and against God’s wishes.”

Thank you nice man in Florida who felt compelled to email me after I delivered training there. If there is good news, he and his church are praying for my soul, and praying that I learn to listen to Jesus in my heart and appreciate that God wants the poor to be with us always so that we appreciate the gifts and blessings that God gives to his believers. Whew.

 

2. “We realized with cats and dogs that spaying and neutering was the answer. It’s about time someone had the courage to say the same thing about the poor and homeless.”

This was said in a whisper to me by the Deputy Director of Human Services in a mid-sized city before I started a workshop in the Northeast. There was no indication from her voice that this was meant as a joke – not that it would have been a funny one. I think she wanted me to say something (being the “someone” that would have the “courage to say”). I must have disappointed her when I said no such thing.

 

3. “All harm reduction does is condone drug use.”

Nope. Though that is a common myth. I get why this person from Alberta was struggling a bit with it, as a former user herself. Trying to explain to people that harm reduction accepts that some people will not cease using substances, but that does not mean the use is being condoned is difficult for some people to wrap their head around. The person using the substance is making the decision to use. It is accepted that they have the right to make that choice. While we want to help them use in ways that are less harmful to themselves and the broader community, an understanding that some will continue to use regardless of knowing the risks it presents, does not mean that all substances are sanctioned for use in all circumstances.

 

4. “The reason we don’t have enough money for housing is Obamacare.”

Maybe you have been to, live in, or has seen a certain news channel that hates the Affordable Care Act and sees it as the root cause of all that is wrong in America? Now imagine someone trying to tell you that the reason that they cannot end homelessness is because they have no money for housing and the ONLY reason there is no money for housing is Obamacare. The problem of homelessness in America, according to this lovely soul, lies squarely on the lap of Obama – and he should be ashamed of how his policies have resulted in millions of Americans becoming homeless. (Seriously folks, you can’t even make this stuff up.)

 

5. “The reason the VA classifies your website as a cult is because you are a cult.”

The truth is, people that work at the VA cannot access the OrgCode website at work. I have been told on several occasions it is because the website has been classified as a cult. I have never seen it. I cannot confirm whether it is true or not. But I do make jokes about it when training VA staff. However, the last time I made the jokes there was a gentleman at the back at the end of the training who declared that we are a cult – making people believe lies about how to help the homeless.

 

6. “I don’t care what anyone says or any data people have, our transitional housing should be a national model and we should have more of it.”

This time from Maryland. Some people are very protective of their transitional housing. In this case, the person was trying to argue that neither HUD nor any other organization has been trying to shift the conversation away from Transitional Housing. He also believed it was possible to genuinely say you welcome people that use substances, when what it really means is forced abstinence and treatment as soon as they arrive.

 

7. “If you had done this work for even a day in your life you’d know that all you talk about are stupid fairy tales and lies.”

I find this incredibly amusing. Thank you California dreamer. It doesn’t happen too often that people think I have no practical experience. Most often I get the opposite reaction – people grateful that I have done the work and know what it is like on the ground day after day. I guess if people don’t like the idea of ending homelessness, though, one strategy is to suggest the person talking about how to do it has no experience working directly with program participants.

 

8. “Our pastor created this ministry to show us each where the pathway to sin leads.”

The pastor of a church group in Michigan created a feeding program that goes out onto the streets to hand out sandwiches, juice and clothes. They meet as a congregation before they go out, and then again when they get back. This is another example, though, of the state of homelessness being seen as a sinful. The pastor uses the get together after handing out food and clothes to walk through all of the sins that were seen, and how God wants no one to live in that much sin, therefore stay true to the Word of God or else you will become homeless.

 

9. “The only reason we have teenagers that are homeless is a lack of discipline in the home, and absent fathers.”

When pressed, this LEADER OF A YOUTH-SERVING ORGANIZATION, was adamant this was the ONLY reason. He then went on to explain to other service providers in his community how he knew this to be true by telling selective stories of the young men and women served through his program. When challenged by me about things like abuse, substance use, lack of acceptance of sexual preference or gender identity, extreme poverty or the like, he was completely dismissive suggesting all that does is try to dilute the conversation away from the actual issue.

 

10. “It takes a few years to build a relationship with the street homeless before you can even bring up the idea of housing.”

If I had a nickel for every time I have heard statements like this over my career, I would probably have over $100 by now. I contend that some people think building a relationship means becoming friends rather than creating professional trust. I contend that some people think providing socks, sleeping bags, food, etc is necessary in order to build a relationship, rather than seeing it as potential bribery for conversation or creating dependency. I also contend that too often street outreach workers are entry level positions rather than being the most trained, experienced staff with the greatest skill level. All interactions should be about ending homelessness when it comes to working with people living outdoors.

 

11. “That afternoon he visited with some of the families in residence and ended up physically restraining one of the residents because she was being loud. He put his hand over her mouth and pulled her away from the rest of the group.”

This was written to me in an email from someone I really admire who was flabbergasted by the events that had transpired that day when a “professional” did this while engaging with a family. More amazing is that others did or thought nothing of it, and his employer refused to even investigate. Physical engagement with program participants should be in exceptionally rare cases, and matters where health and safety is truly at risk. Being loud doesn’t cut it – especially when the being loud is not violent or threatening.

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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