I thought I would be able to live blog the conference, but that’s just not going to happen. The information is coming too fast and furious to keep up with. I have audio recorded the sessions I have attended. I’ll be able to write more about what I’m learning later as I re-listen and study and contemplate on the info. That’s more my style anyway. I think so deep that I can’t think fast. Sure, that’s my excuse. So, blog posts about specifics will come after. I hope that’s all right. The NAEH has paid for my entire trip, so I owe it to them to give them as much exposure as I can.
If you know me at all, you know that I can be quite critical of things, especially when it comes to homeless issues, and homeless service providers. And you know that when I have a problem with something, I won’t hesitate to say so. But I can honestly say that I’ve found little to take issue with at this conference. Maybe because people are finally coming around to seeing things my way 🙂
The conference seems to be mostly focused on governmental responses to homelessness, from funding to best practices on to how to run shelters and other service provider organizations. I haven’t seen or heard from faith based organizations. I think that’s mostly because faith based facilities do things their own way, based on their religious beliefs. They purposely don’t take government funding, so that they can avoid government intrusion into their operations.
There is a problem with that, though. Faith based services for the homeless have been doing the same things, the same way, for the past 50 to 100 years, and to be honest, their methods have had very little, if any, impact on actually reducing homelessness. For what they do, they do ok. Day after day, for years and years, without fail, they have provided food and shelter to countless homeless people. Yet they haven’t moved beyond that to actually impacting the state of homelessness. Perhaps this is because they are more concerned about converting homeless people to Christianity, than getting homeless people off the streets. In surveying the whole of the homelessness industry, HUD and others have discovered which approaches work best to alleviate homelessness, and like it or not, faith based homeless are not performing as well as other approaches to the problems of homelessness.
Ending homelessness is the focus. And yes, the solutions to homelessness are known. But to bring those solutions to fruition, two things must happen. First, those new, and better, approaches to ending homelessness must be funded. Americans, wishing to be frugal in their spending, usually try to put off spending money until it’s absolutely necessary. This reminds me of that old commercial about car maintenance. The quote is ‘You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” If you spend a little up front, doing things like regularly changing the oil in your car, you can prevent bigger problems down the road, like having to buy a whole new car, because you blew out the engine – all because you never changed the oil. Dealing with homelessness can be expensive, but if things are done right, up front, then more expensive, and difficult problems can be avoided down the road.
The second thing that needs to happen is that homeless service providers must adopt new paradigms, including re-engineering how they operate their facilities and provide services. Getting organizations to do these things is not easy. It’s easy for people to fall back into their old ways of thinking. They get into a rut, and for this, so too do the homeless people they service.
As some homeless service organizations become successful with these new approaches, others will be motivated to adapt to the new ways as well. Besides that, when it comes to funding, people with the money usually want to put their money with those who do the most good with it. If an organization stays stuck in the old ways, they may see their funding resources dry up.
Most of the people attending this conference seem to be government employee types who work in social services, or people who run shelters. And so it also seems that many of the workshops are focused on those people’s needs, teaching them how to negotiate government systems so to get funding and other resources. Discussion about faith based services providers seems to be marginalized, although I did see one guy here in a Salvation Army uniform. Every service provider I’ve had contact, in regards to my own homelessness, has been faith based. Faith Based homeless service providers are prolific, and I would hope that more effort will be made to ‘bring them to the table” in the future.