What did I get out of the NAEH Conference? Well, I should probably stop gushing over Iain de Jong from OrgCode.com but it's gonna be difficult. I was so blown away by his pre-conference presentation, "Creating a Narrative of Success", in which he discussed the current state of homeless service provider organizations, how the work, how they fail to achieve success, and what needs to happen if these organizations are to achieve the results they want. There is no question that Iain understands this thing we call homelessness, and better than anyone else does. He doesn't mince words. He sees how most programs and services provided to the homeless are defective. He understands why homeless people are so leery of people and services offered to them. BUT he also knows how to go about fixing things so that programs and services for the homeless can be more effective and efficient. I recorded his presentation and now have it as an MP3 file. I will be listening to it often. His presentation was nearly 3 hours long and my laptop battery didn't last, but I have about 2 and 1/2 hours of it. His company OrgCode.com can be found in every form of social media, from youtube to facebook. You should seek him out and see what all he has to offer.
It is time for a change in the way the world thinks about homelessness, about homeless people, and about the services that are provided to the homeless. The old ways just are not cutting it anymore. Society expects more, and there's no reason why homeless services providers cannot meet this new challenge. Society is no longer satisfied with service providers just feeding, clothing, and warehousing the homeless. Society wants homelessness to end. And though realistically there's no way to stop people from becoming homeless, no way to stop families from breaking up, no way to stop houses from catching fire and burning to the ground, no way to stop a person from experiencing financial ruin, what can stop is the ineffectual response to these people, when certain things happen to put them on the streets. There are approaches to the problem of homelessness that have been PROVEN to be more effective than others. It is time for all homeless service providers to seek out these better ideas, and implement them. And they need to be constantly thinking about ways to improve their services, always with the goal in mind of meeting society's demand that they END homelessness. Homeless service providers should be working, not to grow their organizations, but to put themselves out of business.
The first person I met up with at the conference was Mark Horvath of http://invisiblepeople.tv. He introduced me to another homeless advocate from San Diego, and we had dinner at 5 Guys. I was quite impressed with this individual too. He owned a business that was successful enough that he could devote the majority of his time (not just his spare time) being an advocate for homeless people. Surprisingly, people like that do exist - rare though they be.
I really did over do it my first day, which was actually the day before the conference started, and so I was physically and emotionally exhausted the next day. Though I did try to regain and regroup, I never fully recovered. I just kept pushing myself to do as much as I could. The biggest problem for me was the social anxiety. Over 1600 people were attending the conference, more people than the organizers had planned for, so every conference room was packed to over flowing. In between sessions, the hallways reminded me of high school, everyone bumping into everyone else trying to get to the next session, lots of chatting going on, creating a din at a volume that was difficult to deal with. Part of my anxiety issues is brought on by the auditory problems I have. I can't hear anything at all when their is considerable cross talk in a room. Because of this, I did skip some sessions, and went for walks instead, wandering the city to see what there was to see. And yes, there are considerable sights to see in D.C.
I did see homeless people around D.C., but there were no groups of homeless people congregated anywhere - a drunk here or there, a few panhandlers. but, more than anything else, I saw people selling the homeless newspaper "Street Sense".
Myself, I live mostly as a hermit. I stay away from people, don't engage them unless absolutely necessary. So, I don't travel. I was surprised at how well I did in negotiating around this unfamiliar city. I learned I have skills I wasn't aware of. Maybe I'll allow myself to do some more traveling.
Everything about this conference was a positive. Things are looking up for homeless people and the overall state of homelessness. Except for obvious fluctuations, the homeless population is on the decline across the country. Proven methods for getting people off the streets, and for good, are available to those to wish to impact the homeless in a positive way. And those methods are constantly being improved upon. What is needed now is for homeless service providers to adapt to these new ways of working with the homeless, and for society to understand that these new ideas are worth investing in, financially, and politically.