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The Manifesto

“So what is it that you actually DO?” I get that question a lot. Almost as much as I get the question, “Oh “Zach Brown”? Like the band?” And boiling down what we do into an “elevator pitch” (being able to explain your organization in the time it takes to ride an elevator to your destination floor) can be a tall order. Honing in on our identity as an organization and deciding where time is best spent is an ongoing struggle and an ongoing work in progress. It’s a question of vision, management, funding, and the ability to remain flexible and realistic. It’s the ultimate exercise in “switching gears”.

As many of you are aware, we’re currently working with an epidemiologist from WVU, Dr. David Parker. Just the other day, he and I were discussing his presentation for our Annual Meeting, and we were specifically talking about the 100,000 Homes Campaign that we’re currently involved with, and how the campaign intersects with the research we’re doing with him. He took a quick spin around the 100K Homes website and said to me, “any organization that, upfront, has a “manifesto” is very cool”. That sort of stuck with me, mostly because I agree with it.

A lot of things get assumed about the WV Coalition to End Homelessness. Questions like “What is your end goal?” “What are you asking for?” “What are you doing?” come up quite a bit. We answer them as needed, in sort of a piecemeal fashion, but like any good stream of communication, it’s also important that we communicate that to the wider world. So, perhaps a “manifesto” can achieve a little bit of that. We’ll see how it goes.

Ending Homelessness: We’re not interested in managing homelessness, dancing around homelessness, pretending that we’re trying to end homelessness, or perpetuating services and mindsets that allow homelessness to continue. We’re not interested in the survival of our organization for the mere sake of its survival. We’re not interested in expanding our organization to be bigger, better, or larger just for the sake of doing so. Our goal is that our organization shouldn’t need to exist and we will behave accordingly. Our goal is that our children will see the idea of someone living on the street, in a car, in the woods, or under a bridge barbaric and unthinkable when they are adults. We’ll expand, change, and grow to meet the need. Nothing more.

Using Evidence: Washing your car with bottled water will indeed work. Your car will end up being clean. But evidence shows that it will take way longer and will be way more expensive. That’s how evidence works. There’s enough of a body of evidence out there showing that rapid re-housing, housing first, and diversion work, are less costly, and are more effective. Sure, you can find the odd study that tries to paint a different picture, but when looking at the breadth of evidence, what works and what doesn’t work becomes pretty clear. So, let’s do more of the stuff that works and stop doing stuff that doesn’t.

Collaboration: Success in ending homelessness is not about the individual organization. It’s about a system of housing and services, across programs and agencies that work together toward one end goal. Sentiments like “my clients”, “my community”, “my agency”, and “my plan” do nothing to build a system prepared to end homelessness. We’ve done this for a long time. It hasn’t worked. If it had worked, then I wouldn’t have a job and thus wouldn’t be writing this. We would have ended homelessness already. So, let’s inject some words into our discussion like “our problem”, “our clients”, “our goal”. Let’s collaborate across agencies and come up with community solutions. Look at it this way, if it still fails, we’re not any worse off than we already have been. If you are really dying for a competition, then let’s see which community can eliminate chronic, veteran, or family homelessness first.

Creating Solutions: It’s cool to disagree on things. Disagreement is communication, versus the sort of passive aggressive silence that embodies the antithesis of communication. But constant denial of factual information makes us all look a little goofy, honestly, and it’s not going to impede us from moving forward. We have no lack of stubborn people around the state (me included) and if we can all get fixed on one general goal (ending homelessness) we can fashion that stubbornness into a cruise missile of effectiveness. So, let’s go ahead and argue and debate, just as long as at the end of the conversation we arrive at a solution. Discussion, argument, re-assessment, and change works. That’s called “a feedback loop”. And we dig feedback loops in all things (other than music concerts, perhaps).

Changing: We have changed with the times and will continue to do so. Like anything that exists over time, we can’t remain static. We try things, learn new things, and rethink others. We respond to the environment, and to the needs that present themselves. It’s not always pretty and well organized, but being dynamic is not usually pretty and well organized. And we strive to be two things more than anything: dynamic and effective.

So, in the end, we are several things on any given day. And believe it or not, we really enjoy that. Particularly, we enjoy traversing the state, working with communities, and talking to people who are experiencing homelessness and the people who are trying to end it. But, we are ever changing and will be whatever ending homelessness and the prevalent evidence dictates we need to be until homelessness is a thing of the past. 

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WV Coalition to End Homelessness | PO Box 4697, Bridgeport, WV 26330 | 304-842-9522 | info@wvceh.org | website by brickswithoutstraw