Engaging Communities to Dramatically Reduce Homelessness

Engaging vs. Enabling ("Smart-Love")

"Street Services," such as street feeding, that are provided to and for homeless individuals are very well intended by the generous folks providing these services.  Unfortunately, most of the time, these services are enabling in nature and are not engaging.  It is critical only to provide services that engage and promote transformation.  Dr. Marbut calls this "Smart-Love" - use both the heart and the brain.

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Dignity and Respect

Homeless individuals and families should always be treated with respect and dignity. All services and processes must be dignifying and respectful of the individuals being served.

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Sensational Media Coverage

There is a tendency within the media to cover the extreme points of view and/or to selectively focus on narrow issues out of context. Sophisticated and holistic solutions that really work are often very nuanced and non-sensational and are thus not covered by the media.  Too often media outlets do not take the time to truly “learn” the real issues around homelessness, but instead focus on fringe advocates.

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Meet Folks Where They Are

Max Lucado writes and talks often about this concept.  When engaging homeless individuals, we must always start by meeting homeless individuals where they are, not where you want them to be.

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Agency-centric Politics

Because of agency egos, and competition for funds and volunteers, inter-agency politics are often the number one reason why holistic system improvements are not made.   Sadly, this hurts the very individuals and families these agencies are supposed to be helping.

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Far-left v. Far-right

Both the far-left and far-right many times have inaccurate understandings of the root causes of homelessness.  These unfounded views of homelessness lead to very unproductive proposals and often lead to inaction.  True success occurs in the logical middle.  Communities that have realized dramatic decreases in homelessness have all pursued solution-oriented plans of action rather than extreme dogmatic approaches.

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Laws are important for a civil society to operate and help to establish appropriate levels of behavior, but arresting homeless individuals has never ended homelessness.  Voluntary compliance and engagement are the preferred approaches and have proven to be more sustainable.  Enforcement should be used as a last resort and only after all other engagement activities have been tried.

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If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes

If the approach you are using does not cultivate change, you need to change your approach.

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Never Give Up On Anybody

Never ever give up on anybody. You never know which seeds you are planting today will grow tomorrow, and you never know when something might “take.” There are hundreds of stories about sustainable transformation that occurred after dozens of attempts.

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Core Tenets


The holistic process of creating an environment that promotes sustainable change. To be successful, a community needs to create an environment of transformation.  It is important to remember that true change always comes from within.

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Dogmatic One-size-fits-all Approaches

There are many advocates that promote one-size-fits-all programs.   Sadly, many of these efforts are overly simplistic and naive, are not grounded in facts and simply do not work for everyone.   Some of these advocates are very well intended, while others have deep self-interest tied to their proposals.   Successful initiatives are grounded in the knowledge that different homeless sub-groups need different types of help, and different approaches work better for different groups.

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Street Feeding

Although well intended, by very generous volunteers, street feeding is very enabling and seldom engages a homeless individual.

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Just Start

Planning without action is a waste of time and treasure.  Successfully addressing the homeless issue in a local community is complex, but it is not complicated.  There are many actions steps that can be taken immediately to start addressing homelessness in one’s local community.

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© Marbut Consulting. 
Prepared October 23, 2010 by Robert G. Marbut Jr., Ph.D.
Reproduction permitted with appropriate citation.

Aligning Service Magnets

Services of any kind are magnets on the street. Mental health support, primary medical care and job training are all magnets, so are 24/7 bathrooms, showers and street feeding.  Service magnets can be aligned positively or negatively.  The goal is to align all service magnets in a positive way in order to engage homeless individuals and to create an overall transformative environment.

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Marbut Consulting