Thursday, January 25, 2007

Communities of Empowerment ARE the key to Ending Homelessness!

The Calgary Committee to End Homelessness is now in place, with a mission to end homelessness in 10 years, and we have a recent white paper published by the City of Calgary, which outlines the four strategic steps for ending homelessness in Calgary over over a similar period, namely (copied and pasted from the City of Calgary):
  1. Plan for Outcomes:
    establish solid baseline data and create a planning process that focuses on the outcome of ending homeless, rather than managing it
  2. Close the Front Door:
    reduce the number of people entering the homeless system from other systems such as mental health, justice, and child welfare
  3. Open the Back Door:
    focus on moving individuals into permanent supportive housing as quickly as possible (i.e. housing linked to support services to ensure they remain housed)
  4. Build and Strengthen the Infrastructure:
    deal with the root causes of homelessness (e.g. address poverty, develop supportive
    and affordable housing, institute creative land use policies, ensure supports such as
    rent subsidies)
These are admirable, noble and achievable aims, using a top-down approach that relies on concerted contribution from governmental and non-governmental entities. However, are they likely to be successful? Like any change that is defined and driven from the top-down, the biggest challenge will be so-called "buy-in" from the people outside of the design process who need to be involved in the creation of the change that will eventually trickle through them. Ideally a tipping point must be sought so that the change is drawn-through, rather than pushed down.

In the case of ending homelessness, the "problem" is not people not having a roof over their head. The problem is what we create when we encounter anyone who presents a view of the world that conflicts with our belief about what is real. A homeless person often challenges our delusion of security and strength by reminding us just how frail our existence is, for example, and we tend to react in one of three ways to the unreal or strange: fight, flee or fix - all standard, proven strategies for problem solving. With ending homelessness we can fix the material needs of some of the people with a roof, we can make land and buildings more affordable and we can reduce the numbers of people "falling through the cracks" of the penal, mental health and welfare systems. However, as long as I see a bum on the street, he will still be a bum when he has a roof over him - and the 10 year plan will have eradicated one form of homelessness and replaced it with another.

Homelessness is a state of not feeling like you have a home, and we confuse the word "home" with "house". "Home IS where the heart is" and that means knowing I belong here, knowing I can safely grow here, knowing I can take responsibility, try and possibly fail here and know there is space to forgive, be forgiven and be generous of spirit. To me, "Home" is all those things and it is not a state that is commonly achievable alone. Actually, at home I also have a responsibility to others as well as myself. I am co-responsible for making and supporting a space that fosters a sense of belonging, personal mastery, independence and generosity towards others.

So you see that "home" is a system of responsible, interdependent people who look out for each other as well as themselves. And because we are thankfully all different as human beings, this system of co-activity is in a permanent state of flux. You could say that home is a process.

Unless the City of Calgary, The Calgary Committee to End Homelessness, you and I also work responsibly towards ensuring "home" is possible for people experiencing harsh circumstances, we will only ever be issuing top-down fixes and turning a blind eye to a shifting problem of prejudice, mistrust and occasional open warfare. From the bottom up, the feeling will be justified in our minds that the top layer are, once again, "throwing good money after bad" and the problem will entrench even further into the cracks of our communities.

I propose that simply moving that which makes us uncomfortable out of sight is not sustainable, not a good use of resources and is a waste of a huge economic potential in unrecognized talent. Our opportunity is to embrace that which we believe we cannot be with in our lives, learn to love it and eradicate fear. The opportunity is for society to focus on eradicating the FEAR OF HOMELESSNESS AND HOMELESS PEOPLE - it is only then that the problem will evaporate; it is a problem we non-homeless folks have made up in our minds, which is a reflection of who we are, rather than who they are. After that we'll see clearly enough to be with people experiencing a rough time in their lives and create the empowering sense of home that will have them punch through the walls of self doubt and become great assets to our society.

And there is still something missing. It IS the key. What is missing in all this is "Community". "Home" is at the core of community because community could be described as a mutually supportive grouping of people who feel "at home", a "meta-home", if you will. It is only by creating a sense of "homeliness" in community that the space and permission will be granted for homeless people to truly try to become great. There is no reason why you couldn't be voting for someone who is or was homeless into high office; why not?

Homelessness is a gift to our communities. It is a chance for us to take a good look at ourselves and notice where we can create a stronger sense of belonging for ourselves and others, where we can grow and encourage growth better, where we allow free action and engender higher respect for differences of opinion and appearence and where we feel free to be more generous and accept what others bring heartily. It is a chance for us to invite "the homeless" home, and be prepared to be changed as a result. The homeless issue is finally a chance for Calgary to lead Canada by example and show that Calgary is "the Heart of Canada".

So how do we go about it? A clue is in remembering that home is a process, that is both personal (internal) and collective (external), and that community can be thought of as a "meta-home". So we can decide that a combination of inside-out and outside-in approaches can be made. Also, it will serve to remember that the "un-housed" portion of the homelessness puzzle is the bit that ordinary people have little contact with or feeling of responsibility for, tending, as they would, to assume that it would be taken care of by others. But that personal and collective responsibility is at the core of the individuals in any "homely" organizational system.

So I propose the answer lies somewhere in an approach that builds community spirit and responsibility so that ALL people are encouraged to belong, to grow, to act and possibly fail and to give and receive of each other, regardless of housed status.

The outside-in and inside-out approach is not just a personal/collective perspective, it extends out with a ripple effect from each of us, so that all of the organizational systems to which we all belong resonate with the sense of "home". Practically, this means not just creating stronger communities at the City level, but also at the shelter and welfare provision level, remembering, most importantly, that homeless people are an essential, vibrant, high-potential part of all of those systems and the interwoven systems to which they belong.

So let's look for opportunities to strengthen the sense of home in individual shelters, in the community of all the shelters, in the community of local government, provincial and federal, in the social networks of all volunteers and their networks, in companies and in a sense of purpose of every resident in the city.

What I propose could be a vast or complicated undertaking, so we must either be clever or we can die going for broke. I opt for the "clever" road. Focus on building "homeliness" in communities that will demonstrate a high impact and invite more outside-in participation until tipping point is reached, and target the communities that will encourage empowerment from the inside out. This might be called the "low hanging fruit approach" to community empowerment; and only pick the biggest, juiciest low-hangers.

An example of an inside-out community that will create a massive impact on the confidence of the homeless population is the currently fractured system of all the shelters, their staff and their guests. The work would be served by including the supporting systems of police, probation, EMS and other services not employed but interconnected with the shelters. The opportunity for the shelters is to earn the right to be at the high table of the Committee to End Homelessness by putting ideological and fund-competing differences aside and align under one flag, say the flag of "empowering homeless people", so they can share best and worst practices freely and not be afraid of losing the attention of backers or even losing face. "Align" is the key word here, because this allows for all the shelters to preserve their uniqueness, yet all serve the same cause.

An example of an outside-in community that is already starting to form is the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness. How can they engender homeliness and spread that spirit out to their interconnected systems of relationships, in a spirit of reaching out the invitational hand of fellow-humanity to the poor, disenfranchised and unhoused? One way would be to learn about homelessness and homeless people by actually meeting them where they are, practice seeing them as human beings and really be listening. The Committee could also unite under one flag: "shifting the public perceptions of homelessness" - this would ensure the foundations are laid for far more than affordable houses into the future - the chance to build a strong, courageous and kind heart in the Heart of Canada.

Thank you.
Phil Durnford
Calgary, Canada

"Community is a process" is a mantra of sociology education. An excellent model for community that presents itself at this time, which serves to explain the value of community is the Circle of Courage model, after Brendtro, Brokenleg and Van Bockern (1990). Circle of Courage is taken from Native American tradition and has been applied commonly to classroom management and "reclaiming" disaffected Native young people, yet it is a powerful model for building and strengthening any community, including the communities in which Homeless people reside, in my opinion.
THANK YOU to Allan Broughton, a talented coach in the Stone Soup project, for highlighting some areas of improvement which led to this version of this article and also to Suzanne Jacket of Herizon Coaching for her support.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Shifting the public perception of homelessness?

That the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness has kicked-off their ten year effort is laudable and inspiring. (Calgary Herald, Wednesday 10th Jan 2007) It will, no doubt, be supported at least in spirit by the majority of Calgarians, including me. I am loving that the leaders have created a vision that is bold; to "eradicate homelessness", because it will give me permission, for example, to send my imagination beyond just the usual solutions when I look for possibilities.

Bishop Henry and Ruth Ramsden-Wood both said on CBC Radio on Wednesday that what needs to change in order for this enterprise to be successful is a shift in the public perception of homelessness; I agree, if they mean we stop seeing "a bum" and instead start seeing a human being like us, and if we stop blaming the homeless person for the problem of homelessness and look in the mirror instead for the source of our discomfort.

What is the problem of homelessness? The challenge is complex, but a major factor that contributes to people being stuck where they are, or sliding into addiction, is their total disbelief in their own capabilities. This lack of confidence is magnified as long as "regular folks" make homeless people feel wrong, and we do; every time we cross the street to avoid, every time we look down our nose, every time we write angrily to the paper about "not in my back yard", every time we patronise with good advice, and every time we make them line up and justify to a front line worker their need for basics. In a very real sense, our complaining makes the problem even more real, with significant economic and human well-being knock-on effects.

Why will a lack of perception-shift lead to failure? Two reasons: Firstly, if we make this "all about them", as in any top-down change attempted in any organisational system, where the leaders are not "walking their talk", there will be objectors at all levels, with tons of rational, political or emotional reasons for not shifting and who will not be led-by-example to shift their own thinking. As long as a significant percentage of the public even secretly thinks that a possible solution will be "throwing good money after bad", the committee's efforts would result in "those homeless bums" being perceived as being "those housed bums" and the problem of homelessness will still be there, with a different name. Secondly, when would-be-homeless people are safely in their affordable or sheltered house or finally receiving the treatment that will allow them to contribute back to society, and they are thriving because of a micro loan that gave them a kick-start, we the masses will find someone else to blame for our problems; we will have learned nothing. That would be a shame.

So what can we ordinary folk do to start shifting our perspectives on homelessness? Here are ten ideas: (1) Get curious about any reactions you have (no matter how big or small) to a person you think is homeless. (2) Actively approach a panhandler and ask them about their dreams and ambitions, then see how yours are different or the same (3) Volunteer to serve a meal at one of the shelters, and notice what you are surprised at. (4) Try sleeping rough for one night, and imagine what that would be like if you had no home to bolt to locally if it got too cold or scary (5) Think of your life and imagine the chain of events that might lead to your own homelessness (remember to be grateful after this exercise) (6) Imagine to yourself what resources and resiliences must be called upon to survive on the street; even better, ask someone living on the street (7) Invite a homeless person home for dinner (8) Volunteer to serve a night shift in the drunk tank at the Drop-in Centre (9) Wander the streets for a day and do not spend a dime (10) For a thought exercise, imagine how it could be possible for someone currently homeless to become mayor of Calgary, and what that would be like.

It is all well and good for us to do some shifting and by "us" I include our neighbours who don't have a place to call their own, but what about the great men and women of the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness? I have no way of knowing what they know or not about homelessness and homeless people. My opinion is that if someone on that committee thinks that statistics and personal experience of panhandlers is enough knowledge, then they are not qualified to be on that team. I would love for that group to serve an evening meal in at least one of the shelters and share their experiences and impressions. I would love for them to speak to real street people and actually ask them what they want. I would love for Dermot Baldwin of the Drop-in Centre to be invited to that committee.

To echo the words of Mayor Dave Bronconnier, "It's time to end the blame game and start looking at long-term solutions"; yes, that includes looking at ourselves too.

Phil Durnford
Calgary, 12 January 2006

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Beyond Invisibility; Seeing Greatness

I believe human beings have 5 basic needs: (1) Water (2) Food (3) Protection from the Elements (4) A sense of purpose (5) Love. Without the first 3 our bodies ultimately break down. Without the last two our minds and spirits eventually break down.

Over millenia we have evolved all manner of ingenious means to satisfy the first three needs. It is only recently that we have started collectively waking up to our need for a sense of purpose and our need for love. And not a moment too soon: when individuals feel no purpose or feel cut off from love they have a huge impact on us all: crime, substance abuse, violence, war, fear, psychosomatic illness.

It IS our responsibility to be in support of other peoples need for a purpose and for love; by serving them, not only do we serve ourselves but we also serve the systems of interlinked communities to which we belong.

Every person we move into the vicinity of in life is a potential teacher. Everyone has the potential to catalyse the latent greatness in me into full expression.

Yet I am usually closed to this opportunity. "I got my own shit to deal with, so I'm not interested in yours.(!)"

I might believe that I have it all together, that I am the big man and that people do what I say. I might believe that I choose my time and my place for being a friend, being a boss, being a dad, and that I am open to new people only in a context of my choosing, for example "down the pub, meeting friends of a friend" or at a "networking event".

And yet, compartmentalising like that serves what purpose? What am I choosing? I might think I have control over my relationships or control over my life. I might believe that control will get me to what I want. That is a dilusion. I am choosing a closed down sort of life, where I am open to new experience some of the time - because I have a plan to stick to.

What am I missing? What's it going to take to be available to opportunity?

Openness. Being open to other people. It is like an invitation: "Open for business". Some people decide to spend time and connect; others do not. Some will, some won't; so what?

Openness is, however, not enough on it's own. Just to be open is like saying "It's not my responsibility", and expecting to do none of the work. The other attitude and practice that is required is to be positive; to actually choose to see the beauty and greatness in people.

Perspectives on Stone Soup

Depending on where you stand, you'll see the STONE SOUP movement differently; we'll all have different perspectives on this project, based on our experience and our agendae. Here I offer you some of the views that I have explored:

Community Leadership Incubator:

Homeless leaders and "mainstream" leaders will meet regularly in order to grow and support each others' growth as leaders. The place that they will calibrate themselves as leaders will be in "the community". The means by which they shall practice their leadership will be through their own, co-created community projects. The learning and growth process will be supported at an individual and group level with (volunteer) professional leadership coaching, experiential workshops and publication of our learning.

Community Project Incubator:

Homeless leaders and "mainstream" leaders co-create and co-lead community projects. The connection between idea and real change is a (volunteer) Resource Panel, comprised of highly placed individuals, who network the idea out and network the necessary resources back.

A Cause-driven Social Network:

Some of us express our values through "helping the needy", others through "pushing our limits", others through "growing the profession of coaching", yet others through "pushing my agenda". However, the cause around which we all stand is "See greatness and be rewarded with greatness!". This is actually all there is to it; when we have one clear stake, there is room for all of our ideologies, all of our approaches and and all of us - we become the accepted ingredients in the soup. Given that, we can focus our creative energies on powerful relationships and opportunities to synergise with other initiatives. The only way to make this high impact and easy, at the same time, is through social networking. Social networking is simply a series of connected, diverse conversations and referrals that lead to mutual benefit, in this case delivery of a community project.

An Experimental Application of the "Circle of Courage":

The Website "The Reclaiming Youth Network" describes the Circle of Courage thus:
"The Circle of Courage is a model of positive youth development first described in the book Reclaiming Youth at Risk, co-authored by Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg, and Steve Van Bockern. The model integrates Native American philosophies of child-rearing, the heritage of early pioneers in education and youth work, and contemporary resilience research. The Circle of Courage is based in four universal growth needs of all children: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity."

We believe that this framework of values is potentially the bedrock of any learning community, be it focused around a common practice or a geographic community. We will take an introspective view on designing STONE SOUP's own attitudes and behaviours around these values. We shall take a servant leader view on developing and supporting, mutually, the attitudes and behaviours of individuals inside the circle, and we shall take a systems view on integrating these values into our connections and impact in the wider community.

A later blog shall go into more detail; for now I just wish to say we are very excited about the possibilities for this model, because it is simple enough to get intuitively, it covers a broad enough range of key emotional intelligence attributes to have novel and lasting impacts on people, and we haven't found anyone yet applying this wisdom outside of school or youth work.

A LeaderBy Example:

We dare to know that when you see greatness you'll be rewarded with greatness and we are prepared to face the political storm (especially in Calgary) and wrath of the "Haves", in working closely with a "problem group"; "the homeless".
We are proving that you can make something out of apparently nothing, a zero financial investment but a big investment of our time, energy, expertise.

We are walking our thought leadership talk of the Circle of Courage: proving that there is room for service of other people's mastery, independence, generosity and belonging. We are proving that there is another way to do projects; the content comes from the inside out, rather than the experts bringing the content in.

As far as we can make out, STONE SOUP is the first homeless leadership initiative that focuses on creative, community building processes; the first to elevate the homeless leader beyond advocacy or protest-driven activism. I intend no disrespect towards the fine work of homeless-led advocacy groups around the world; they are doing absolutely necessary work to bring dignity and human rights to an overlooked segment of society. And we aim higher than necessary human rights or rehabilitation; we will be working with future world leaders to help realise their biggest ambitions. We advocate an appreciative, opportunity driven approach, rather than a problem solving approach.

A Vehicle ofCorporate Social Responsibility:

At time of writing we have no sponsors yet. However, research among various local (Calgary) NPOs and corporations, STONE SOUP is a focused, powerful and differentiated idea. In other words it is attractive to people working in corporate social responsibility.

We seek contributions of meeting space, inside experts, members of the Resourcing Panel, bursaries, wardrobe allowances, food and refreshments, affordable accommodation, website, graphic design and PR support - all these things will be opportunities for businesses, government and NPOs to get involved, in return for publicity, learning and a warm feeling. We are aiming to be entirely staffed with volunteers and we aim to integrate our activities with existing activities or sources of materials wherever possible; micro-funding might be the only financing some of the community projects might need - this too is an opportunity for sponsorship.

Call +1(403)6070264 to discuss the opportunity.

A Publisher of Newly Applied Knowledge:

It is difficult to find published work about leadership development amongst people experiencing homelessness. It is also almost impossible to find professional coaches who have worked en masse with a marginalised population outside the US prison system. We are excited about the opportunity to stretch and redefine the definitions of professionalism and effective coaching in the context of leaders who are in survival mode (e.g. having a planning horizon, often, of 1-2 hours). We shall not only share all our learning internally, but we shall also publish our work, for the sake of public education about seeing greatness and for the sake of growing the profession of coaching.


We're making soup!

There is an old legend from Europe, which tells of how the intention of one man, an outsider, engaged the passion of a starving village and united them in a magical feast, created from apparently nothing, just a pebble.

Today the lessons of that story are being applied towards providing opportunities for leaders from marginalised and from "mainstream" populations and for communities seeking betterment. The World will learn from this that when we choose to see greatness and beauty, we will be rewarded with greatness and beauty.

Every week, more volunteers are contributing delicious ingredients to the STONE SOUP that is cooking in Calgary, Alberta. A movement is starting to happen, volunteer driven, socially entrepreneurial, community centric, leadership focused and social-networking-dependent. The name of the movement is STONE SOUP....