Five Things I Learned at the Annual Conference

written by naehblog
August 3, 2009

It’s August 3, 2009 – the Monday after the National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, D.C. The staff is back, almost recharged (Mondays are hard), and going over the last few days.

Here’s how it broke down:

  • 1200+ participants from across the country;
  • Almost 250 speakers sharing about housing strategies, best practices, and the newest data;
  • 62 workshops about matters ranging from housing, federal policy, best practices, and communications;
  • Six remarkable keynote speakers, including HUD Secretary Shaun DonovanWhite House Director of Urban Affairs Policy Adolfo Carrion, Jr., Senator Jack Reed, and a very boisterous account from Congressman Al Green.

This was my first conference – and I was overwhelmed with the response of the attendees. I learned a lot, but highlights included:

1. There are a LOT of us!

The fervor and passion and drive of service providers, policymakers, and advocates from far and wide was a moving testament to the goodwill that still exists in all of us – even in these trying economic times. More than once I heard of organizations “breaking the bank” so that their partners could benefit from our conference. We’re very touched – and much obliged.

2. We’re making some noise.

This was my first opportunity to see the new HUD Secretary live and in-person, and his carefully thought-out address may not have alleviated all my worries – but it did let me know that the federal government hasn’t turned a deaf ear to those most in need. Secretary Donovan brought light on veteran homelessness, chronic homelessness, the cost-efficient ways of reducing and preventing homelessness, and the relationship between healthcare and homelessness.

The Secretary said, “I believe that if we can spend trillions of dollars addressing these problems the wrong way – surely in America, with government working in partnership with the private sector, we can summon the strength and the courage to do it the right way and achieve the results we all want for our country. And if I know anything from working with so many of you over these many years, it’s that the experience of homeless housing and service providers is not only ready for prime-time in the greatest public policy debate of our generation – it is absolutely essential to making sure that debate reaches its right and just conclusion.”

Such a impassioned speech gives me hope that we will – despite all – make fruitful progress with the help, assistance, and support of our nation’s leadership. (Full text of the Secretary’s remarks are available here.)

3. It’s all about HPRP.

As a part of our responsibilities, the Alliance staff was required to evaluate every conference workshop (to help inform what we should do the next year). In the second workshop I evaluated – HPRP: Creating and Improving Homeless Prevention Programs – the room was not only full, but it was pretty much standing room only.

It wasn’t altogether a bug surprise that the new federal program was the focus of a lot of buzz – not only was the $1.5 billion prevention program lumped in with must-hyped stimulus efforts, but the funds are reaching communities right about NOW. In the next few months, organizations and states have the responsibility to implement the funds and reap real results.

4. There’s a need to connect.

Each community has their own special set of needs; each stakeholder has their own philosophy, practices, and paradigms. There are countless ways to approach this mired spiderweb of a problem – and each perspective is valid. Once a year, we have an opportunity to come together, learn from each other, and share our thoughts – but this is a conversation that we can have year-round if we put in the effort to connect with each other.

5. We can make a difference.

Which isn’t to say it’ll be easy. We’re facing some tough odds: a challenging economy, rising unemployment, a dearth of affordable housing – the cards seem stacked. But in the face of all this, the need for advocates like us is greater than ever. And the opportunities to make a tangible impact are as great – if not greater – than the challenges out there.

I know it’s corny, but I came away inspired. I hope you did too.

Hope to see you next year!