November 27, 2013

Thanks4giving Homelessness a Solution!

It's Thanksgiving and as many of you are undoubtedly doing, here I sit reflecting back on my life feeling grateful for all that I have. I have an amazing wife who still loves me and who I am still very much in love with after 20 years. She has me thoroughly convinced that despite all my flaws she still sees me as her best buddy and soul mate. I have kids who even after the paybacks that my mom warned me about still see me as their daddy who love them bunches (I know you really do!). I have friends who are still around even after I've messed up more than my share of things. And I am most deeply grateful for the people who have joined me (or is it that I've joined them?) on this journey to solve family homelessness, one family, one community at a time.

And I am grateful that after 22 years and tens of thousands of hours of connecting with people around what works and what doesn’t work when considering the problems and solutions related to homelessness that I still have the energy and the desire to keep going. I've had so many points where I had every reason or excuse to just give up and go work in a “normal” job. Whatever that is. Yet here I am…still believing in the dream that Solutions for Change can revolutionize the way we see, feel and act on homelessness.

So here goes again in my true fashion of using a holiday to offer my point of view when it comes to solving homelessness.

Those who follow my blog have heard me say many times that when it comes to homelessness I believe that we as a society have unintentionally created an underlying culture of ENABLING which in turn has created quite the monster. This monster in its present form is costing us about $200 billion a year to keep contained.  When you dig a little deeper into my logic you notice that I make a case that this monster has been expertly cloaked in some very cool looking designer clothing.  And as you peel back the collar you’d be surprised to see the wording on its designer label.  Since it will make for such a perfect focus for my next blog, you’ll have to wait until then to learn what that word is. Or you might ask one of my Solutionizer colleagues and they may slip it to you. But I digress.

This enabling dynamic has so pervaded our society over so many decades that it has now taken on a life not unlike that of a deadly cancer. This is where some of you scratch your heads and ask yourself, did he just say that homelessness is a cancer that we’ve created from our own enabling? I’m using multiple analogies here to illustrate a point but let's follow the analogy of cancer for a minute to see if I can connect the dots.

Although there is no cure to cancer there are measures that can be taken to contain it or arrest it or to slow it down. This is what we have done with homelessness. We've built elaborate programs, processes and systems that try and contain it, arrest it and manage it. In other words, even though we don't believe that homelessness is a cancer, our collective actions as a society treat it just like a cancer. And therein lies the entire problem.

Just like we've done over the past decades with real cancer (such as when we think of chemotherapy and radiation and the like) we've built elaborate responses and systems based on a design of containment, all done obviously out of compassion for wanting to alleviate suffering and save lives. Those systems are massive, costly and involve hundreds of thousands of people who are employed in positions that essentially are solely employed because of cancer and its impacts on people and society. They are there to "help" the best way they know how. For the most part they are working in a system that they truly believe is doing good things for people, and if you were to ask them if they wanted to see cancer cured, surely they would say yes, even knowing that their jobs would be eliminated.

The similarities to homelessness are strikingly the same. For decades now we’ve heard that we will cure (end) homelessness. Yet in the meantime we are engaged in systems and processes that use massive, costly and reactive containment strategies. Hundreds of thousands of people work in the field yet if you were to ask them if they wanted homelessness cured (ended) they would all say yes, even knowing that their jobs might all end.

Here comes the big ah'ha moment... There literally is no cure for cancer (yet) but there is a cure for homelessness (now). This is where some of you do the fist-pump and think that I am going to say, housing is a right and that we should provide housing to every single homeless person regardless of their situation. This is where you think I'm going to advocate for the government being the center of the solution and every person should get government subsidized housing, even deeply subsidized as in FREE housing if they so need it. This is where you think that I'm championing the Housing First and Rapid Rehousing movements and HUD underwriting these policies lock, stock and barrel.

Sorry to disappoint some of you. All of these things, in my opinion accelerate us to a very steep and dangerous cliff. The hidden danger in all of these strategies is that they are all based on the exact same thing that got us into this mess to begin you remember what that thing was? It’s ENABLING. And just because it’s suited up in the most amazing new designer suit you’ve ever set your eyes on, all chic and sexy looking, underneath it is still enabling. It is the same social monster all dressed up in a different look.   

There is a much better way, a much more sustainable way, a much more compassionate way and a much more American way to address a cure (a solution) to homelessness. Do you know what it is? I’ll write about it in my next blog. Until then HAPPY THANKSGIVING! If you’d like to sound off on your own ideas and solutions I’d like to hear them. I especially would love to hear your ideas on how you would fund your solution outside of the government funding it.  Thanks4Giving homelessness a solution!

Chris Megison
President and CEO

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