Today’s guest post comes to us from Aaron Bowen, Chief Operating Officer at the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties.
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.”
In the Oscar award-winning, Sidney Lumet-directed film “Network,” protagonist Howard Beale is just fed up – and I think many of us in the homeless assistance community can sympathize with his frustration.
Here in Lincoln, Nebraska, just over 830 people in a city of around 250,000 were identified as homeless during our January 26, 2011 Point in Time count. Though our overall homeless count dipped slightly from last year—thanks to a very well-run Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program—we remain worked up knowing that so many people still are homeless in Lincoln.
The trouble is, every group, task force, or coalition that does get together enters the strange and often frightening world of “planning” which can sap the life out of groups attempting to tackle the issue that matters to them most. But, like holding a magnifying glass at just the right angle to gather sunlight to its hottest point, planning is necesary in order to focus that “mad as hell” moment into a powerful force for change.
In Lincoln, that’s just what our Continuum of Care did—we planned! Partnering with experts from the National Alliance to End Homelessness’s Center for Capacity Building, we laid Lincoln’s homelessness services system on the table for dissection. We talked candidly about what we believe we do well and where we continue to stumble.
Through this work, we zeroed in on four main objectives:
- To assess and get folks appropriately housed as quickly as possible;
- to increase employment options for our consumers;
- to tackle youth homelessness; and
- to build more effective partnerships with landlords and realtors who may house the people we serve.
This resulting plan is something we’re proud of, but it’s the planning itself that produced something even more important. The process brought that magnifying focus to our work, helping us to find clarity in the midst of the million things we know must be done or changed to get and keep everyone housed, healthy, and safe.
We’re getting somewhere more quickly than we would have otherwise. We’re developing a shared housing assessment for local HMIS users. An initiative to make sure kids graduate is in the works. Landlords have assisted in drafting partnership agreements, and we’re focusing more on building and showcasing the employability of our consumers rather than on combating the barriers that stand between them and a good job.
My message to other communities out there: Your planning might not be perfect or all that pretty. Goals may shrink, go dark, and then resurface. People might not be as committed once they have to commit. But you’ll get better each time you try it. New people will listen and want a piece of the plan. You’ll find new purpose and perhaps new support, and you’ll likely lead some other coalition or continuum to planning.
Best of all, through it all, you can still be mad as hell.