Thursday, October 22, 2015

Homelessness is Only One Piece of my Puzzle

I am one of the authors of this book, in which I begin to address the challenge of homelessness as I see it.  It's astounding to look back at this now and see the difference from the time I wrote it(a few years ago), until now.  Thankfully, I still believe most of what I said :)


Friday, October 16, 2015

Is Your City TRULY using Housing First?

How do you know whether or not your city is using the "Housing First" approach to ending homelessness?

Pam "You're a Jerk!"

Sam: "You know Pam, it's more helpful for me if you avoid 'You' statements and try to use 'I feel' statements.  It's a better communication model."

Pam "I feel you're a Jerk!"

And so goes the false "I feel" statement.  A clever communicator will spot the hidden "you" in the second quote, but on the surface, it appears to follow the model.

So it is with the Housing First Model: a community can create a Housing First program, but if the housing context is merit-based, the homeless person still has to jump through hoops to get to that program.
The advantage of the Housing First approach used by Tsemberis is that the homeless do not have to meet criteria to be housed.  The communities that have used his model simply acknowledge that it costs more to service homelessness than it does to offer supportive housing. They basically hand the keys over and ask what supports are needed to help this newly-housed person live in harmony.  I see it as a courageous move, to step up to the plate and make the commitment to help someone who needs it.
Yet screening forms permeate this network of non-profits and housing agencies, who all state they are interested in Housing First. In fact, many non-profits in my city are currently claiming "housing first" status, while endorsing the "Centralized Access to Supportive Housing" (CASH) program, which screens every single applicant for nearly every single supportive housing unit in the city. This scrutiny involves health care diagnosis details, criminal record checks, and requires the applicant to have "proper supports in place" before being offered a suite.  The applications are then taken to a panel of housing providers, who will be the future landlords of the applicant.  The whole process is the opposite of Housing First as described by Tsemberis.

I will not single out any non-profit, because it seems all I ever do as an advocate is help people get through screening and eligibility requirements.  Financial matters, legal matters, housing matters, shelter, detox, treatment-- everybody has their little form to fill out.

If a community hopes to employ a Housing First model, it needs to apply the model to as many related services as possible.  Housing First simply says, give the keys to the person on the street, and then support them as they try to stabilize their life.  It almost seems too easy, but I beg you to look at the results of Tsemberis' efforts around the continent, they are nothing short of amazing.

Communities need to think about how things look from the street.  People may say "those people could get housing/employment/treatment if they wanted it" but are they aware if the actual steps involved? As a case manager, I spent sometimes 9 months on one persons' file trying to get through the application process for addictions treatment! Now considering the fact that some supportive housing has the requirement of completing addiction treatment PRIOR to applying, (and once you are on the list for housing, it might be a year before you get a place) you can see that the road to housing can seem daunting indeed.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

A Different Political Approach to Ending Homelessness

I think the Internet has affected my communication style, and I am very glad I started to notice it. It seems so hyper-political out there, and the context lends itself to competition, because everybody wants to "show" the "other side." It especially feels that way during an election, and my tendency is follow suit, blasting people and trying to put them in their place. While this can give me a thrill as the blood rushes to my ever-expanding head, at the end of the day, homelessness will only be solved when ending it becomes a way of life for all Canadians, of all political leanings.

I haven't been as brutal online as some are, but I could definitely reach out more to the least-informed folks about the homeless experience, educating them rather than scolding. There is a very big difference between being cold-hearted and being uninformed, and most of those who call the homeless "lazy" or say "they choose that lifestyle" are the latter. The cure for ignorance is teaching, sharing, and educating, so why does it seem that we lean toward punishment, blaming, and shaming in the political realm?

In psychology, I learned that punishment is a very ineffective way to influence behaviour, very short-lived and thin. It is much better to positively reinforce, to point out what the person has done right, while informing them of their options.  As a case planner, that is what I did for people-- I helped them become aware of other options available, while getting behind their successes.  I also connected them to others who were knowledgeable in certain areas.  I need to treat all people with the same courtesy, to be a full human, so I intend to change what I do a little.

I want to find those who I think are strongly affecting the stigma against the homeless, and I want to sit down with them.  I want to understand where they are coming from, and make sure they feel heard.  I want to find the things in them that make them shine, and I want to win their support for ending homelessness by showing them the numbers, and the stories.

Now, if only I could find a few people like that...