It’s doin’ it knowing damn well the same damn thing is going to happen, and doin’ it anyhow.”
Self-Help Group Participant
Mathematicians bemoan a world-wide increase in the level of numeric illiteracy, or “numeracy”, which erodes our ability to process data vital to personal well-being. By example, they cite how most people think a billion is simply the next number after a million. To the contrary: a million seconds is 11.6 days; a billion seconds: 31.7 years; and a trillion seconds: 31.7 thousand years. These magnitudes explain the impact of tens of billions of dollars annually that were cut from U.S Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD)’s budget in the twenty-five years when homelessness became a national disgrace.
The fact that low income Americans did not live in large numbers until the 1980’s focuses attention on changing federal spending priorities in the early Eighties. But even someone like me who worked in homeless services didn’t even know that investment in low-cost housing was one-fourth of subsidies for home ownership ($684 billion vs $2.2 trillion) during the period in the chart at right. This policy shift most directly affected those facing unequal opportunities due to inferior education, inadequate health care, discriminatory justice, income inequality and the evolution from an industrial to technological economy.
These decades of reduced funding continued beyond our nation’s economic recovery from its Great Recession. In 2015, “sixty percent of federal housing spending … benefited households with incomes above $100,000. The 7 million households with incomes above $200,000 received a larger share of such spending than 55 million households with incomes below $50,000, even though lower-income families are far more likely to struggle to afford housing.
Homelessness is due to the unavailability of decent housing affordable to low income people. Period. It is estimated that a universal voucher program for families below the 30th percentile in median income would raise the federal housing budget to around $60 billion annually – exactly the amount being spent in 1980 before this debacle began; but “this figure is likely much less, as the estimate does not account for potential savings the expanded program would bring in the form of preventing homelessness, reducing healthcare costs, and curbing other costly consequences of the affordable housing crisis.”
GOOD DOERS, NOT DO GOODERS is new field guide that describes the application of the Resiliency Model to a homeless supportive housing program in Sacramento, CA. It describes how – and how not - to help those facing these “costly consequences” in the interim. Among staff and residents of Cottage Housing, Inc. confronting this challenge at the onset of the new millennium, there was some understanding of how inertia and other laws of physics influence any change process. And we might have guessed the meaning of analysis paralysis, idiosyncrasy credits, defensive routines, emotional intelligence, non-negative thinking, appreciative inquiry, relational trust, trauma-informed services, skilled incompetence, and the wounded healer.
But we certainly didn’t grasp distinctions between power and authority, inclusive versus exclusive professionalism, giving rather than taking care of people, above-the-line versus below-the-line accountability, or the necessity of cultivating resiliency instead of avoiding risk. And we knew nothing about entrainment, entropy, sub-optimization, cognitive dissonance, positive deviance, naturalistic fallacy, the Law of Parsimony, the Peter Principle, or the aptly named Fundamental Attribution Error.
Moving away from a top-down management system, paradoxically, requires a commitment to operate as a learning organization that can only come from an agency’s top leaders; and because “it is people who are the drivers of any organizational transformation,” these leaders succeed only by focusing at the individual rather than systems level.
Most staff training efforts concentrate on “what?” or “how?” methods when the greatest synergies are generated by addressing the question “why?” that certain mentalities work better than others.
Cottage Housing’s response eventually became grounded in two premises:
- We won’t help people today to prepare for tomorrow’s challenges using yesterday’s means;
- Nothing changes until someone does something differently.
 insightassessment.com – “Why Measure Quantitative Reasoning?”
 OECD Skills Studies - Skills Matter Further Results: From The Survey Of Adult Skills (2016)
 Western Regional Advocacy Project – Without Housing: Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks Massive Homelessness Policy Failure (2006) 2004 Constant Dollars, in billions, citing Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget - Public Budget Database
 Fischer, Wil, Sard, Barbara, “Chart Book: Federal Housing Spending Is Poorly Matched to Need” Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (11/4/16)
 Desmond, Matthew – Evicted (2016) 311-312 citing a 2013 study by the Bipartisan Policy Center
 Senge, Peter M. – The Fifth Discipline (2006) 280, quoting Commissoner Khoo Boom Hui of the Singapore Police Force
 Simek, Simon, Starting with Why (2011)