A Homeless Enumeration is a community-level count and survey of people experiencing homelessness at a particular point in time. These are mandated by the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, but they are conducted regularly in other jurisdictions in Canada and beyond.
Most homeless enumerations in Ontario use a combined methodology of a PiT (Point in Time) count, as well as a survey to try to glean more information that communities can then act on to improve our understanding of homelessness, inform efforts to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness in a given community as well as long-term strategies to prevent and reduce homelessness, and more.
The website for the one here in Simcoe County reads “Our goal is to end homelessness in Simcoe County. The data we gather helps us do that.”
I wrote that sentence. I have supported our communications efforts through four enumerations.
We do gather some good data from enumerations that help us better understand the demographics we are trying to support - how many people, what type of housing they want and where, what barriers they face - but the more I am learning (and unlearning) about homelessness, the less I believe that the enumeration we are doing supports ending homelessness. In fact, I now believe it perpetuates harmful stereotypes.
“Nobody wants to work anymore.” You’ve heard it. You might have even said it. It’s a dominant narrative, from fed-up employers to grumpy waiting customers and everyone in between.
But is it true?
As a reminder, this is part deux of last month’s blog post inspired by Story or Die by Lisa Cron.
I left you at the end of chapter 4, completely convinced of the power of story, ready to turn the page into the section entitled “Your Audience, Their Story, Your Point.” And friends, I will tell you now, I had high hopes that for $22.99 plus applicable taxes, I had stumbled onto the guide that would help me, and us, tell the stories that would persuade everyone to do what we want them to do.
Soooo, there’s a lot going on, locally and globally.
As one Twitter user noted: “hey sorry if I seem tired they did like fifty years worth of bad stuff in a week.”
For us hopey changey folks, there have been some...setbacks lately. It can feel like we are banging our heads against a wall as we advocate for things we feel are obvious.
On some level, that comes with the advocacy territory. It's a long game. But also, I can’t shake the feeling that a lot of our well-meaning messages poll well in our echo chambers but just aren’t landing with the folks we’re trying to persuade. My instinct here is that better stories are at least part of the solution - not necessarily slicker, more polished stories. But a more strategic use and understanding of them maybe.
So, after some moping, I’m digging into a book I’ve had in my TBR pile for a few months: Story Or Die by Lisa Cron.
Full disclosure, I’m only on chapter four. BUT Cron has already dropped some seriously good points and tips that I want to share. Because not to be dramatic or anything, but the stakes are really high in some of the fights we are in right now and we need to be putting our best foot forward.
It’s voting day here in Ontario. I heart democracy, and I take my privilege and responsibility to vote very seriously. Even with my love of democracy and my shiny optimism, it can be hard to get excited about elections where we watch politicians backed by wealthy donors ‘win’ a majority government with less than 50% of the vote. Especially when a number of those candidates that will likely be elected tonight avoided all public debates.
BUT. For my mental health, I'm not writing that rant today.
In honour of the provincial election today, and in preparation for the municipal one we will have this fall, today’s post is a more positive democracy round-up: some history, some insights, and some inspiration.
I finished Jordan Flaherty’s book No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentailty this weekend. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m increasingly aware of saviourism in the non-profit sector, and so the title of this book grabbed my attention and I was quick to click the “add to cart” button.
While the specific stories and struggles Flaherty shares are mostly American and largely racial in nature, there was still a lot here that I found relevant. Importantly, some good takeaways for us on how to avoid falling into saviourism ourselves.
For no particular reason at all, apropos of nothing in particular, a book called High Conflict: Why we get trapped and how we get out, by Amanda Ripley, caught my eye a few weeks ago.
Ripley distinguishes between healthy conflict and high conflict. Healthy conflict she describes as “useful friction” rooted in curiosity, passion, and where all sides want a solution. It can get stressful and heated, but everyone’s dignity stays intact.
High conflict is something else altogether, when discord distills into a good-versus-evil, us-versus-them feud where curiosity is replaced with certainly and righteous rage. The fight is no longer about the original issue, it becomes about the conflict itself. And there seems to be little interest in moving through it to the other side.
Sound familiar? Any number of local, national, and international examples may be popping into your head right now.
The book is very illuminating with stacks of stories as examples. One of my biggest takeaways for us is the role of narrative in perpetuating or getting out of high conflict, and that’s what I want to share with you here.
There is a lot going on in the world right now. Big problems and big feelings in our faces, all the time. But in the midst of it, if you look for them, are story after story of ordinary people using what they have and standing up to bullies. So what I'm sharing today is a collection of resources that have come to my attention over the last few months that could help equip you for whatever disruption you are cooking up, big or small. Because we need you!
Friends, I’m reading Mutual Aid by Dean Spade, and it’s shifting everything for me. I’m not exaggerating. I work with a number of non-profits, and I almost feel like I need to read this book once for each organization so I can focus on how it should be applied in each setting.
If you’ve been here very long at all, you know I’m paying attention to how we talk about our work as non-profits, and using a justice approach so we are doing social change, not just social service.
But Spade is pushing me further in the how we organize for social change, and SOLIDARITY is my word for 2022. Because all the bits that make me uncomfortable about how we are working currently, like professionalizing taking care of each other, and the saviourism that creeps in, and not doing a good job of including people with lived experience, that all gets blown apart with Spade’s guidance in mutual aid projects and moving toward “solidarity over charity.”
The author provides lots of practical advice on setting up mutual aid organizations, but for me, the biggest takeaways are around foundational values and messaging.
Let’s back up.
Happy New Year! Here we are, one year after I wrote and shared my New Year’s Revolution/40th Birthday Manifesto. Whether you’ve been following along since day one or if you’re brand new here, thanks for joining in on this conversation. We’ve been talking about taking a justice approach to our work and how we can better talk about the work of the non-profit sector, exploring some “alternate narratives” along the way.
Since most of the motivation for this Disrupt For Good project comes from books I’m reading, I thought it would make sense to do a round-up of the books that have influenced my thinking (and writing) the most in 2021.
If you comment below by January 9, 2022 with your favourite post from 2021 and which book you’d most like to read from the list, your name will go in a draw for a chance to win that book!
I'm Jennifer. I am an advocacy and communications strategist working with multiple charities and nonprofits. And I want to disrupt our sector for good.