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Kumbaya, revisited
November 20, 2012

At national and state conferences of anti-homelessness organizations recently, I heard buzz about how “continuums of care” (or CoC: that’s HUD-speak for housing providers in the same geographic area, usually counties) should collaborate by using a shared assessment tool and database. A separate, shared provider database would list the CoC’s housing and services to direct people to the right program for them.

In other words, share information; target services effectively; end homelessness. That’s the end goal, right?

Seems simple – yet I am constantly amazed by the resistance some providers express. When I began my career in social service years ago, it coincided with the explosion of accessibility to the internet. Not to date myself, but this whole idea of websites and constant emailing was just taking hold and I kept thinking how fantastic it would be, as a case manager, to have a website I could search to find resources for my clients. So why would people not want a coordinated system?

Well…I just read a HuffPo blog, “Rethinking Collective Impact,” where the writer was concerned that collaboration would lead to homogeneity and infighting. So if we work too collaboratively with each other, we will dilute our differences or spend too much time fighting to resolve anything? I’m wondering if this is indicative of our challenge in this country about living with difference. We get so stuck in black-and-white. Either you are like me or you’re not. You are with me or against me.

What I mean is, the best way to solve the big problem – Ending Homelessness—is to think of one homeless person at a time. And each person has a different set of needs, which may be met by a variety of providers with different specialties. For physical needs, we go to physicians. For therapy, we go to therapists. For drug treatment, we go to a drug treatment provider. Any client will tell you that. Why can’t we providers see that wisdom, plotting our special skills on a continuum, serving the diverse needs of our clients in different ways?

If we take a client-centered approach, we can let go of fear of dilution or argument because we don’t agree on The. One. Right. Solution. Instead, we will be excited to sit at the same table with another organization to solve each client’s problems one at a time. And that individual approach might be the best way to achieve the larger goal we share: making sure everyone a home.

- By Jane King, Director of Housing Operations