October, 2009

Just Released: Homelessness in Milwaukee

Every two years the Milwaukee Continuum of Care conducts a Point in Time count of homeless people.  Basically, this is a census — an effort to document the number of homeless people on one specific night – this year January 28, 2009.  Here’s the PDF report:

Milwaukee Point in Time 2009

A cadre of volunteers counts people in shelters, transitional housing programs, and on the street.  The street count is obviously the most difficult.  Conducted throughout the day, volunteers fan out to meal programs, public libraries, and other places or ‘known locations’ where homeless people are known to congregate.

A total of 1,660 homeless adults and children were counted in Milwaukee on January 28, 2009 — this is a significant increase over the 1,470 counted in 2007.  In addition to doing the count, however, volunteers also conducted face to face interviews with 919 homeless adults.  This report provides the results of those surveys.

Also included are comparisons to 2007 and comparisons between several key groups:  male/female, disabled/non-disabled, sheltered/unsheltered, and veterans/non-veterans.  There is a ton of information here for anyone who works with people experiencing homelessness.

Everytime I talk about this report, I say this:  This isn’t everybody! There are thousands more homeless people than could be counted in one night – families doubling up, young people ‘couch surfing’, homeless people living on the street in places volunteers simply couldn’t access that one night of the count.

So this report is just a snapshot — but it’s a good one.  The interviewers did an amazing job of reaching people and asking them to share their information.  Happy to answer any questions – just contact me at

Does It Matter if Your Boots Match?

Yesterday I facilitated a strategic planning session for a community coalition starting a major new project.  I’d gotten stuck in traffic so I’d arrived only about 30 minutes before the coalition members.  I like being really early for sessions like this – so I can get everything set up – wall displays, table toys, agendas, instruction sheets- and then be available to greet everyone at the door.  But that wasn’t to be yesterday — I hustled to get set up while trying very hard to look calm, collected and very together.

Stroke of 9:00 a.m. everything was in place and most seats were filled.   The meeting host did a nice welcome and ‘call to action’ which I’d helped him craft while putting a strategic plan on foam board with new pink pushpins.  Then he moved to my introduction.  Just as he was reviewing my credentials and experience (a good way to help a group feel like they’ve got competent guidance), I looked down to see that I was wearing one brown and one black boot.

So as I stood up to start the meeting, I decided to use this as my own icebreaker.  “Just to let you know,” I said, “Your planning session is in the hands of someone who’s wearing one brown and one black boot.”  We all chuckled.  The meeting felt immediately more relaxed.  Then a gentleman at the front table raised his hand and commented, “That’s not all.  Your name tag is upside down.”  I looked down.  Sure enough.  I was reading my name. 

It’s interesting at times like these how an experienced facilitator becomes a stand-up comic, rattling off one quip after another, hoping to convince the audience that while this particular thing seemed ‘off’, the planning session itself would be terrific.  It seemed to work especially after we moved into my favorite icebreaker which quickly unearthed plenty of other interesting tidbits about the meeting participants – many garnering major guffaws. Great — we were off to a good start.

So what’s the point? 

Getting people together to do important strategic planning takes a lot of preparation.  But no matter how good the preparation, things go wrong.  My strategic planning sessions are very ambitious — very work and product oriented.  I believe well-informed, committed people can accomplish a huge amount of work in a short period of time if activities are designed right.  In other words, my sessions are intense and focused.  When we walk out, we have products that will guide a group’s decision-making and build their capacity. 

This isn’t always the most elegant process, however.  There’s always something – name tags that won’t stick, balky projectors, a rogue participant, or boots that don’t match.  The trick – my trick – is to be relentless in pursuit of the process and the product.  What matters?  Not that I look good or never break a sweat.  What matters is that when we walk out at the end of the session, we’ve got gold —- the results of serious people trying hard to collaborate to solve a really big community problem. 

So who cares about the boots?