This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Modeling the Last Mile to Feed the Homeless part 6

This is the last post in this series examining relevant systems in developing an abstract financial model for the very real purpose of feeding the homeless. We have reached a particularly abstract juncture because our focus now is primarily on an unrealized future.  The difficulty with effectively putting a financial model together, so that it works within the parameters of a particular enterprise, at least on paper, has hopefully been conveyed. Making the actual enterprise a reality is even harder. It is, however, not the only path, good or bad, forward.

A number of times throughout this series the concept of ABCD or Asset Based Community Development has been referred to. Now I do not really know that much about ABCD in-depth having only started to learn so I am only referring to generalities. These would though be intentionally bottom up, community generated approaches. Jo illustrated examples of homeless working with her. In these cases, there is no scaling, simply direct assistance with the resources the community can muster. Faith-based organizations have used an ABCD approach before in addressing homelessness. Even institutions like libraries look to use an ABCD approach to assist their clientele, like the Denver Public Library working with homeless teenagers

In the last post, questions arose in determining scenarios for scaling the operational units from 1 to 3 units and perhaps beyond. Is it better to buy short buses or long buses and is it better to use 36 months or 60 months for the term of the financing and in what combination? The decision could add up to $0.80 per meal but could also create greater impact. 

The extended service food bus could help different organizations find people that could be helped further. The goal would be to move individuals from streets or camps to shelters to supportive housing options and back into the community. This would likely require a more Collective Impact effort supported by a backbone organization of which the “Last Mile Mobile Food and (now) Community” program might be a spearhead. Likely, we would need a bigger bus, raising the question whether it is actually possible to design a long bus which could handle both food delivery and additional services. A larger question is whether a more focused approach could make a long-term difference for some of the homeless or would a far less focused approach help more people if only temporarily.
This could mean getting as much value into each visit as possible to maximize impact. If more services were donated then it would provide more bang for the buck. One could perhaps supply personal hygiene items or even showers which are seen as very important, the homeless referring to toilet paper as "white gold”. There could also be community health interventions including ABCD approaches to community health through organizations such as the Commonwealth Fund, World Health Innovation Summit and other alternative community health approaches which could be explored and developed.

At the start, we said that all models are wrong but they can be useful. One reason they are wrong is models don’t reflect continually changing on the ground or granular reality. The RV to be donated for food delivery is now in use as a residence for two pregnant homeless women.

Models are also wrong because they never fully reflect the entire set of systems involved. One system we have not examined up to this point is the political one, or perhaps closer to the mark is the political reality. This last January, the mayor of Portland established “safe sleeping” meaning that homeless, sleeping in a doorway, would not be woken up by authorities to move to another location. This has now been rescinded. The mayor is also having major sweeps done around town with 72 hours notice, expecting everyone to pack up and move on but without giving options where to go and sometimes taking everything they have. The supporting advocacy groups are now extremely busy trying to find housing for hundreds of people or at least some place for them to pitch their tents and be safe.

The political force motivating this change in policy is known as Safe & Livable Portland, who assert that the “safe sleep” policy or homeless camps would not solve the problem of homelessness and, “…resulted in violence, unhealthy conditions, and pain and suffering for our most vulnerable residents."  The sincerity of this outlook though might be questioned by some closer to the situation. 

Other cities have taken a different approach. In Seattle, youth voted through participatory budgeting to spend $300,000 out of a $700,000 budget, on programs to address homelessness. This also though may have its own limitations, as to whether the programs being developed will actually effectively impact homelessness? It depends on the overall attitude held by those in power. In Los Angeles, the LAPD ordered officers to show 'compassion and empathy' to homeless people. The institutional system for helping the homeless though can be very bureaucratic.

Using a true community based ABCD approach could make developed systems more resilient, helping to protect it hopefully from entrenched institutional system’s political arbitrariness or overcomplicated bureaucracy.

At least for now, this turn of events has undone any further progress regarding the current efforts. It didn’t stop all efforts, though, just the path they were taking. Jo is currently looking at getting a 1987 Mercedes truck with a little over 14,000 miles on it for food deliveries. In this political environment will it be possible to get the resources to scale the enterprise? Are there other pathways that could be taken?

One idea we had discussed was an expansion of the Church delivery of homemade meals. There is a community food-sharing system out there. Unfortunately, it is currently illegal.

“There are lots of people out there that love to cook. Maybe I need an application that helps people find camps that need food and coordinates delivery.”  - Jo

Jo wondered how the laws affect people who are not selling the meal just delivering it. Another option could be working more closely with the Farmers Markets. 

The issue is that both add to the number of pick up points for food delivery. This is not necessarily an immediate problem as long as one has enough willing volunteers. However, there could be a point at which such a system is not able to respond adequately to the need and a more efficient system needs to be put in place. 

Another idea raised was working in low-income districts trying to get ahead of those who might become homeless. Although the idea had some merit, feeding the homeless for this assignment was seen as already a huge undertaking.

Rents across the board have gotten so high that most minimum wage people can no longer afford to rent. But it is also the people who have good income just too much debt. They get evicted and then can't find anywhere else to rent. - Jo

Another idea was providing the homeless with their own form of community currency which would have a better exchange rate than standard currency.  
The community currency idea is in the vein of the Farmers Markets, though it may not work with all homeless types. There are differences with the Farmers Markets program which seems to be absorbing the economic cost of doing and assumedly has a rationale for taking such an action. My idea was community-based backed by Social Impact Bonds, combining both to make it go further. There would have to be a great deal of community support. The community currency could only be used within the community with specific vendors. Community banks or something similar would also have to be involved. Selected vendors would accept the community currency and be reimbursed from a dedicated fund in standard currency. A Kumu map was created exploring the concept.

Social Impact Bonds also are known as "Pay for Success" have been used in Massachusetts to address the issue of chronic homelessness through the Home & Healthy for Good (HHG) low-threshold housing initiative. HHG has demonstrated that treatment of often traumatic and under-treated health conditions besetting chronically homeless individuals was better after a person gained a basic level of stabilization provided by permanent housing. HHG also demonstrated significant cost savings to the Commonwealth and successfully housed those often considered the hardest to serve. Whether it would be possible to obtain similar type funding or perhaps an extension of such funding is an open question? 

The inclusion of community currency doesn't really change the short term transaction costs but long term, at least potentially, could help tie the homeless back into the community through economic transactions. At some hopeful point in the future, those individuals become members of the community again, although only if they can find adequate housing. A final solution will be able to address challenges of a wicked nature, addressing not only the systemic processes and structures but the mental models associated with the problem as well. Whatever the configuration, it will likely be a model that helps us understand it. 

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