Funders should consider these points in order to supporting the work of ending homelessness.
Last year I visited 37 different communities related to my work on ending homelessness. When I consider that my presence in some of these places was to provide a keynote or seminar that attracted people from many other cities, the number of communities I connected with climbs into the hundreds, if not thousands.
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog that caught on like wildfire. It outlines 15 things that should be stopped in 2013 if people are serious about wanting to end homelessness. It was inspired by my time in all of these communities, and put into the context of what we need to do differently if people truly want to end homelessness. I want to highlight 5 things from that blog that I think are helpful for Funders to consider so that you too can do a better job supporting the work of ending homelessness.
Money doesn’t solve everything. Service providers need to stop treating funders like ATMs. Money doesn’t have a brain, but service providers and community leaders do. Until your community can prove that they are effectively implementing proven practices, funding should not be increased. Most communities can’t even tell you the full dollar amount of investment in housing and homeless programs from all sources. Can yours? In any other industry would a new investor enter the game until they knew how much was already in the pot from others?
Uniqueness. I suspect one or more organization – or perhaps the service community as a whole – may have tried to tell you that they are unlike any other service provider or community. You, having not seen homeless and housing programs across a bunch of countries and regions within countries, likely have no idea if that is true or not. I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but your community is unique just like everyone else. Sure, your community likely has some unique attributes, but homelessness is homelessness (the absence of stable housing) and the cure is the same everywhere (housing is the only known cure to homelessness, with the appropriate supports as necessary). Practices evaluated and proven to work in other communities are going to work in your community. Precious resources are almost always misspent when we invest in approaches that are not proven to work. If you don’t know where to get good information on practices that work, start with these three sources that are more reliable than others – and will save you from wading through Google results:
We have to be smart about this work. I know a lot of people do this work because they have a big heart and are well intentioned. Truth be told, doing this work the right way – which actually focuses on ending homelessness rather than inadvertently creating or prolonging homelessness – requires extensive training and professional development. We are talking about effectively serving some people that have the most complex needs in our entire society. You wouldn’t let someone without training just start practicing medicine. Don’t let people without the right training try to serve homeless people either, where undoubtedly some of their presenting issues are remarkably difficult to assess and support without advanced training. It may not be as sexy as bricks and mortar and ribbons cuttings, but one of the greatest investment you can make is in knowledge transfer and professionalizing the service delivery system, including comprehensive training to committed volunteers.
Stop settling for business as usual. There has to be a return on investment in this work. Investing the same amount or more money year after year and watching homelessness stay the same or increase is not acceptable, unless the service is fully professionalized and the demands are outside the control of service providers. Perhaps you’ve heard of throwing good money after bad? Unless the community is setting realistic service targets that demonstrate reductions in homelessness and reductions in returns to homelessness – and have a coherent plan to take action on those targets, take pause. Targets are not an aspiration. They are a critical, functional component to ensuring services are aligned to ending homelessness and hold all services accountable for doing their part to achieve the targets.
- Data matters. While this industry has taken huge strides in the collection and use of data, more can be done to have data analysis completed to inform decision-making, investments, and public messaging. Too often people make excuses for the data. Data tells the narrative of service delivery. The plural of “data” is not “anecdote” – don’t settle for stories when evidence is required. We all like the heart-warming individual success story, but that is very rarely indicative of service delivery as a whole. Start by using data to look at the big picture, and then drill down into specific areas of service delivery. Also, use it to tell you about the longer-term impact of the services. For example, someone telling you that they housed 100 people last year actually doesn’t tell you that much. The ability to tell you how many of those people remained housed and the changes in their lives as a result of being housed tells you much, much more.
Iain De Jong is committed to ending homelessness. Educator, consultant, blogger, advocate, researcher, speaker, practitioner, trainer, ranter, and award-winning international crusader to advance knowledge and practice in ending homelessness, Iain is the President & CEO of OrgCode Consulting and on the Faculty of York University. You can read Iain’s popular blog on ending homelessness at www.orgcode.com. You can also find him on Twitter @orgcode or Facebook www.facebook.com/orgcode.