May 11, 2011

Put Godzilla Back In His Cage

Over the past five months since 2011 began, the impacts of homelessne­ss have kicked down another 128,462 bedroom doors of America's children, claiming more causalitie­s in a battle that we as American's can win and absolutely should win. Astonishin­gly, in cities across America we act as if the best we can do is open a winter homeless family shelter for four months. Then when the shelters close, like those in San Diego did this past few weeks we go back to reacting, managing the impacts with symptom relief programs, and trying to contain the impacts with services. Do the impacts of homelessness just slow down for the spring and summer months while we plan on opening the doors for next year's winter shelters? Of course not. This battle plan is obvioulsy so deeply flawed that it would be laughed out of any war room. And yet we just keep showing up to the fight, year after year, with a pitchfork.

It's like we have accepted defeat and have already submitted to the ruin of hundreds of thousands of our children’s futures. And boy we can sure blog about it. Everyone who has anything to say about homelessne­ss has a blog nowadays.

We do a great job about blogging about what works and what doesn't work, all the while writing more stories, attending more meetings and launching more "comprehen­sive strategies­". I wish I was a cartoonist for the Union Tribune. Picture Godzilla with a yellow wristband that says "Impacts of Homelessne­ss" thrashing undeterred through our suburbs. Now glance­at's all of us with pitch forks and axes chopping at his toes.

A big part of what needs to happen, what MUST happen, is that we must allow ourselves to see the impacts of homelessne­ss on our children as dangerous to them as if a band of terrorist enemies were ravaging our neighborho­ods. Until we start treating this as a real threat, with a real battle plan to push Godzilla back into his cage where he belongs, more innocent lives and more precious futures will be damaged.

Chris Megison
Solutions for Change
President and Executive Director

March 17, 2011

What Homelessness and Linus Have In Common

Many who are mad about the homeless problem in San Diego and around the nation are mad because we keep throwing billions of dollars at it yet the problem gets worse. I can't blame them. If you read articles about homelessness in almost any online newspaper today you'll see many bloggers who people refer to as the "haters". The haters don’t know why the homeless problem gets worse so they blame the homeless themselves calling them lazy and other names. But these judgments against the homeless are ill placed. The reason why we are failing is not because the homeless are addicted, mentally ill, or just plain lazy. It is because of how we as a collective community of non profits, churches, governments and people respond to addiction, mental illness or laziness among those that are homeless. Our attitudes and actions are largely those of containment...treating homelessness like a disease that has to be contained...managing the symptoms instead of dealing with the root causes. This battle plan of containment has failed. It has failed the homeless and it has failed all of us. Yet we cling to it like Linus clung to his blankey.

Because slinging shelter beds, soup bowls, motel vouchers, water bottles and safe parking lot zones is simple...and it makes a lot of people FEEL like they are doing something. But what they don’t understand is that the something that they are doing is really making the problem much WORSE. They feel like they are helping but in reality they are enabling the problem to grow into gigantic uncontrollable form...which then creates more of a need...which then creates more containment opportunities. It creates a bigger blanket to be dependent on. If we change our attitudes and actions, if we can abandon the old battle plan of managing the symptoms of homelessness and redesign around a new plan based on the core values of solving this problem for BOTH the homeless person AND the community, homelessness is beatable. We can defeat it but it will require leadership that is willing to abandon the old battle plan and redesign around access to permanent solutions. Or, to use the angle of this will require us to give up the familiar, well worn and now very big, gnarly, smelly blanket.

January 26, 2011

Police Intervention and the Homeless Issue

I was recently asked to share my views for an out of town newspaper article about the value of social service engagement in contrast to police intervention tactics. This made me really think from the police officer's view about how he or she must feel when dealing with the impacts of homelessness in their city. So I offer my thoughts...perhaps not what you would expect from someone running a "social service" type agency. I'd be interested in your thoughts on the matter.

It’s a trust thing.

How many times have we collectively, as a nation of homeless service providers, made promises that we are going to end homelessness? We are great at issuing intentions but when it comes to delivery on those intentions we haven’t done a very good job, have we? As a collective body, we can come up with a million excuses, some of them very legit that help to explain why, but what I am simply saying is that we’ve issued promise after promise to end homelessness and time after time we’ve failed to deliver on that promise. And we rarely admit it. We just go on to the next plan and the next one and the next… That is a really bad business model. The result is that we as a nation of homeless service providers have conditioned the public to believe that despite what we say, that homelessness can’t really be solved, that it will never really end.

The good news is that every day I see more evidence that shows me that there are some leaders out there in the fight to defeat homelessness who are abandoning the old battle plans that have failed us as a people, failed our communities and failed our neighbor - the neighbor that we call “the homeless”. These failed battle plans; the “containment system” of managing the impacts of homelessness through shelters, soup kitchens, free housing (Housing First designs) and servicing the homeless are being shredded and replaced with bold new thinking and audacious new strategies primarily fixed around the transformational housing model like what Solutions for Change has adapted. It’s not happening fast enough, but it is happening and it is mainly occurring through these almost rogue like social entrepreneurial insurgency operators who are daring to move people around outrageous visions and models (oh my) of actually solving homelessness.

Recovering from decades of executing a failed battle plan is going to take time. As it is now when I say that we are solving homelessness to the police officer, the elected official or the churchgoer, among many others, it’s like I can hear them say to themselves, “yeah right, here we go again, I’ve heard this one before”. As someone on the front lines battling the impacts of homelessness I know that it’s up to me to deliver on promise. Do I like it when the police officer intervenes into a homeless situation using law enforcement as their primary option? No I don’t because I know that there are so many other effective ways to deal with the greater underlying causative factors of the problem. But I can understand it. I understand it because for decades we’ve said to the cop wait a sec, I’ve got this one. Only to watch the impacts of homelessness on communities explode in the cops face.

It’s going to take time to gain the trust of the police officer, the elected official, the faith community and with the public in general. If our national leaders insist on making promises like “ending homelessness” then I’d recommend that they find a way to deliver on that promise pronto because their words mean very little to the cop, the elected official or the churchgoers at this point in time. Make promises that we can keep, and watch our relationship with law enforcement and other community partners take a huge turn for the better.