January 27, 2017

San Diego's Codependent Relationship with the Homeless

Today volunteers from around San Diego County hit the streets to count the homeless as part of our annual We All Count in hopes that we can get more federal funding for our region. This caused me to reflect on my 25th year being On Point in this effort to lead folks out of homelessness, while serving our public in a Serve to Solve focused Mission. And so with this in mind, I hope you enjoy reading my perspective on the dynamic of codependency between San Diego and its homeless.

The first homeless program that I ran was a place for chronic street men in 1994 at a rural ranch in Vista. I thought the idea of being far away from the urban environment would be a huge factor in helping these men get healthy. The key however wasn't the serene peaceful location (although it didn't hurt), the key was found in the interactions between the men and the helpers who worked there.

The group who had run the programs before me had created a beautiful retreat center type environment where the homeless would come to escape the rigors of the LA's infamous Skid Row. What happened though in nearly every case was that they became dependent on the programs…they’d live there for a year or two…fall out and go back to Skid Row…then come back and do it over again and again. This happened despite all of the men working various jobs at the ranch and getting a lot of support and counseling.

Why did the men fail? Why couldn't the program, despite the very caring and competent staff and volunteers succeed in helping the men end their homelessness? 

What I learned here would later become the single most important factor in designing and managing every one of the nearly two dozen programs that we have since built at Solutions for Change

There is an innate human tendency that is deeply ingrained in the makeup of most people who choose to work in this field that can create a very dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship between the helper and the one being helped. It is hard to see and even harder to talk about for most. It has a name that has been widely used in the addiction recovery field but has recently been more widely applied to social issues where groups (nonprofits, churches, government programs) serve needy clients. The name is Codependency.

The book "When Helping Hurts" is a good place to start if you want to learn more about how this dynamic can be a sneaky and silent killer in any homeless or poverty effort.

Codependency can play out in a one-on-one relationship say between a parent and child, in a church with dozens of volunteers serving many homeless, in a region with hundreds of well-intentioned groups helping thousands of homeless, or in an entire society grappling with what to do with a massive homeless problem.

I believe that the urban core of San Diego is suffering hugely from this exact dynamic. The community fabric here is interwoven with a type of codependent glue that has been well entwined between the helpers and the homeless for decades. Will counting more homeless so that San Diego can get more funding solve this problem? Will building 5000 more affordable housing units for the homeless do the trick? Will getting every single advocate, government agency, nonprofit, church, donor and volunteer to collaborate together on the same plan finally bring us to the promised land? Those are all the things being discussed and focused on but none of them will work for a long term solution. In fact, all of these things will very likely make the problem worse.

Here is why it gets worse...because these things create more dependency and more dependency will ALWAYS create more COdependency. So even though you've got dozens of self described homeless experts down there championing a design of Housing First and centralized coordination, the only thing you'll get is more unhealthy relationships between them and the other helpers and the homeless who will now be dependent, but coordinated and behind a door somewhere. And as soon as the helpers start patting themselves on the back, more homeless will appear, but it won't be just 6,000 more homeless. It will be three times that number. Why? Because the hundreds of thousands in deep poverty (there are 20M nationally) will see that you can be rewarded with a free apartment in America's Finest City if you are homeless.

What is needed isn’t more money, more shelter or more free Housing First units…it is a community-wide intervention. San Diego needs a leader to lead that intervention conversation. Only after that, will San Diego have a real shot at sticking a flag in the ground that says Victory! 

June 24, 2016

Will San Diego Surrender to The Churn?

Twenty-four years ago I was one of the four pioneers who started formalizing the process of addressing homelessness in San Diego which is now known as the San Diego CoC. I used to go to a lot of the meetings like the one discussed in this article published today in the Union Tribune.  
Over the next few years I saw that the entire system was designed to contain homelessness...like it was a disease...where the homeless had to be put somewhere and then dealt with. The symptoms of homelessness, which would manifest into the need for food, shelter and even compassionate and emergency social service care, would get addressed. But time and time again I would notice that the food and the shelter and the hugs would only meet the first 5% of what these human beings really needed. Yet this constant cycle, which I later named The Churn, would spin over and over and over.
And because only the symptoms would get met, the real problems would never get addressed and so predictably, the homeless numbers would grow. Seeing this dynamic play out time and time again and then studying it from the funding side and then also the public policy side...it hit me like a ton of bricks. The whole system had operationalized and systematized around an underlying dynamic that I had learned a lot about as a professional in the addiction treatment and recovery field, which I had served in for many years as a counselor before I jumped into the homeless issue.
That dynamic is referred to as codependency and it was oftentimes one of the most difficult issues we would have to deal with when helping the addict or alcoholic. You see, the condition of addiction is very hard to progress without codependents, without the spouse, family member, friend or coworker enabling the addict. Of course those closest to the person should care greatly, but through this caring and compassion it is an unfortunate reality that they get locked into and become part of the sickness. There are hundreds of books written on this dynamic and all of them call for the codependent to heal and detach and allow the hurting person to feel the full brunt of their addiction, without "helping" them! Helping, in the traditional sense, actually hurts! By detaching with real compassion and allowing the addict to feel the full natural consequences, positive change can come, and will often come fully and very quickly.
Do you see the connection?
The Churn is fueled by a fully operationalized codependent system. It's taken on a life of its own. And as we see again, the case now is being made that there is an even more urgent need, so there is a demand for more money, more helpers, more, more more.
So The Churn will now be fed more. See my short video description of The Churn here.
I would often stand up in the meetings and say stuff like, "hey guys what if instead of more money and resources what if we changed the way we think about this problem...what if we changed the design?" But the notion of admitting that we were collectively actually feeding The Churn, that we were really codependent and enabling homelessness would be scoffed at and later I would be dismissed as "that guy." Today, those whom I am called to serve nearly all understand this logic and agree with this point of view. But the homeless advocates and their public sector supporters (many whom are surprisingly the same social engineers who built The Churn) still dismiss this theory. Lately they have been upping their attacks on me personally and on Solutions for Change.

Eventually I left the meetings and focused on what I could have influence over which was architecting our own programs based on a redesign. Solutions for Change became that redesign.

Now The Churn is massive. Look at the numbers of homeless. And, the same social engineers are now crying for this new way called Housing First. But look at the change they ask for...they want to take hurting people and move them behind a door in "permanent housing" paid for by the taxpayer...indefinitely. With, and get this....no strings attached.
Sound familiar?
So now there is a frenzied effort to get over 1000 units of housing where we can pluck the homeless off the streets and move them out of sight. Sounds like an evolved design of the same thing, right? It's a newly fashioned containment design.
So back to what we learned two decades ago which was that symptom relief doesn't solve the underlying causes of what got the person homeless. Providing someone a no strings attached apartment where they can continue to use drugs, be dependent and abuse their children is just a refined method of containment. So in my mind, this is San Diego raising the white flag and, very possibly, fully surrendering to The Churn by jumping All-In on a massive codependency operation under a new banner called Housing First. 

If you agree then please forward this to your elected representative. Ask them not to endorse housing first programs for homeless families without also supporting other programmatic options like the life changing services provided by organizations like Solutions for Change. The one-size-fits-all polices and practices coming down from our federal and state government are threatening community based privately led solutions. We need your help!


September 21, 2015

An Evening to Remember with...Our American Heroes!

Speech by Chris Megison, CEO Solutions for Change
An Evening to Remember with Our American Heroes
Sep 19, 2015 at Jet Source Carlsbad Airport
Good evening everyone and again welcome to our little hangar! How do you like it? We’ve done some pretty crazy things over the years but never have we transformed an airplane hangar into something this cool! 
Tonight we honor our American Heroes - and as we lift them up we are also calling on their warrior spirit to stand with you to lift up Solutions for Change in a battle that we face every day here with our people. 

This is a battle that is personal to me. It became personal when I lost my brother to his fight with addiction. It became personal one night 15 years ago while helping out at a homeless shelter designed for men when a little girl by the name of Jessica pulled on my sleeve and innocently asked me if I lived in the shelter with her and her baby sister and her mom - she asked it in such an innocent way - like somehow it was okay to live on the cold concrete floor of a shelter. And this wasn’t in one of the many third world counties I was in as a Marine - this was right here in northern San Diego. In my city - and that made it personal enough - for me.  

The ongoing causalities of the war on homelessness, with hundreds of thousands of lost, broken and hurting people, can be seen and felt everywhere. What was once a problem confined to single men in inner cities, has now spread to claim some 200,000 children and their parents in suburbs like northern San Diego. And with the US Dept. of Education saying that there are another 2.5 million children who are teetering on the edge of homelessness, now is not the time for a retreat. Now is the time for a full on surge. And tonight we have some interesting people here who know a little something about how to surge - they know how to move forward in the face of enormous challenges - they know what it’s like to sacrifice and serve for the sake of others – Thank you Taya and Clint, Thank you Dick Marcinko, Ed Eaton, Craig “Sawman” Sawyer and thank you to the dozens of veteran and active duty here tonight - thank you all for your sacrifice that you’ve given to each of us. [Applause]

As we look at the damage that this war is dealing, the impacts go deeper than many of us think - they go right to our patriotic core. The impacts claim many thousands of our country’s veterans new and old, those who’ve served and sacrificed big for us, now try to survive on the streets. They try to survive on OUR streets, with their kids - with kids in OUR community.  In the Marine Corps we used a term called UNSAT, which stands for unsatisfactory. Getting an UNSAT meant shame and failure, something that no Marine ever wanted to hear. 

Having 200,000 kids and their parents; many of them veterans on our streets…IS an UNSAT for America! And although we know that we aren’t going to solve it tonight…we are going to do something about it. We are going to bring our best foot forward and we are going to give it everything we’ve got. Tonight, on behalf of the Board of Directors and our Community Leadership Team, I am pleased to announce our next pig push to solve family homelessness, it will be our boldest effort ever in our 25 years of battling homelessness - it is an initiative that we will simply call Mission: Solve Family Homelessness - or SOLVE IT for short.
We are launching it before the end of the year, but I wanted you to hear about it tonight so when you walk out of here you know this just wasn’t a really cool experience in an airplane hangar and that it’s all over now. I want you to know that we, all of us hereincluding the over 500 homeless kids and their parents who are on the comeback trail right now in our programs, our champions…the Issa’s and the Bakers, the Minarik’s and the Kehoe’s, the Horn’s, the Mayors and the hundreds of others who give- our incredible Solutionizer Warrior staff - all of us…that this is the beginning of one of the most important surge’s in our nation. And our goal won’t be to just “deal” with homelessness – our intent is to SOLVE IT, permanently!

The message is that we are all in and that if you are a homeless kid out there living on a cold floor somewhere, or a veteran waking up in a freezing car with your kids, or a homeless mom like Trinity…we are coming for you! And we are coming with everything that we’ve got!!

Thank You and God Bless!
News coverage of the event can be found here:

July 3, 2015

What America Means To Me

Special Section of July 3, 2015 San Diego Union Tribune - Honored to be selected as one of a few veterans to share my thoughts of what America means to me, on this anniversary of our great nation's independence.

I want to express my gratitude to Joe Tash, freelance writer for the UT for this interview. 

Credit San Diego Union Tribune

Chris Megison

Chris Megison / photo by Charlie Neuman * U-T

*Age: 52
*Residence: Oceanside
*Background: Co-founder, with his wife, Tammy, of North County Solutions for Change, a Vista-based nonprofit group that helps homeless families get back on their feet. Megison also is a Marine veteran.
Question: You served for 11 years in the Marine Corps and have worked with the homeless for more than 20 years. Have your careers reflected your overall American experience?
Answer: As a Marine, you make a pledge. You are going to serve your country and be willing to die for it if need be. (Now) I’ve chosen a different war, I’m fighting a different battle. I’m pushing the impacts of homelessness back. These impacts are a tough, tough opponent. They are kicking down the doors of middle-class America and going into the bedrooms of kids and stealing kids right out of their homes. The kids are innocent. What are they going to do?
Q: You’re critical of some efforts, particularly those of the federal government, to help the poor and homeless. What specifically are your objections?
A: We’ve become expert symptom relievers. We keep feeding people and sheltering people and hugging people, and we expect that’s going to solve the problem, when in fact it’s only managing the symptoms.
Q: Then what needs to be done?
A: What we have to do is go deeper. If you can go deeper with a human being, then you can get to the source, which is multigenerational poverty. There’s a way to solve that. We’re solving it here all the time. It’s education, employment and health-related solutions all bundled into one.
Q: What comes to mind when you think about the United States?
A: We’re the greatest country in the world … (but) we’re losing our way. We’re experiencing, maybe for the first time ever, the crippling of our country.
Q: How are we losing our way?
A: Our country was built on this idea of shoulder-to-shoulder, people-to-people. That’s what made us a great country. We all would work together for the common good, serve for the sake of others. I do believe the people who run the government, they’re all trying to do the right thing. But there’s a thing called unintended consequences. What’s happening is we’re getting to a point where there’s not going to be enough people to pull the cart because so many people are in the cart.
Q: Are you disillusioned about the country?
A: I’m a patriot. I’m so excited about the resiliency of our country. I’m excited, but we’ve got to return to our roots. There has to be almost a revival for our country. It’s shoulder-to-shoulder, heart-to-heart, working for each other, fighting for each other, sacrificing for each other. We’re all more connected than ever, yet we’re all so disconnected.
Q: Who has influenced you?
A: Dr. Ben Carson (a 2016 presidential candidate) and his book “One Nation.” I had dinner with him and his wife last year. This is a guy who grew up right down the street from me in Detroit, and he grew up in deep poverty. His story moved me so deeply. … (He made) this decision, if my circumstances are going to change, I’m going to be the one to make it happen. He went on to become, in my mind and many people’s minds, one of the greatest neurosurgeons in the world.
Q: How does San Diego fit into your viewpoint of America?
A: San Diego is a gem. Like any gem, we have to treat it as precious … take care of the environment, protect our natural resources, keep building the community smart and take care of each other.
Q&A by Joe Tash, a freelance writer in Oceanside.