Friday, December 29, 2017

Single-Loop Learning, Double-Loop Learning and Homelessness – Bonus Post - Total Consciousness

Homelessness is no laughing matter, but in thinking about single-loop learning and double-loop learning, I could not help, but think about this iconic scene, in which the character says he was a “looper”:

The thing is, if you think about what the story is really all about, you must admit, it is obvious... single-loop learning and double-loop learning! 

These parts of the story go against the “governing variables” of what we know or assume we know about Tibet and the Dalai Lama:

  • The existence of a golf course in Tibet;
  • The Dalai Lama playing golf, in his robes no less;
  • The Dalai Lama’s strength, as a “big hitter,”;
  • The Dalai Lama, the epitome of morality, “stiffing” his caddy.

However, the Dalai Lama then engages in double-loop learning, at its best:
  • He does not accept the idea that the caddy’s tip must be monetary;
  • He tells the caddy that the tip he will give him is much better;
  • He convinces the caddy that total consciousness on his death bed is better than money!
The postscript to this is that many years later, someone actually asked the Dalai Lama about this story:
This too is an instance of single-loop learning vs. double-loop learning. After all, an important implicit governing variable of interviews with the Dalai Lama is that you probably don’t want to ask him about Caddyshack. Brett Baier was not deterred by that. He questioned the governing variable, and finally, we have our answer…

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Single-Loop and Double-Loop Learning and Homelessness – Part III – Capitalism

In Part II of this series, we wrote: “Nothing is preventing us from investing more in housing for those on the lower rungs of the economic scale, than we do for those on the upper rungs. Nothing is preventing us from enacting policies that will make all the investments we make, as a nation, in a more equitable manner. We can create a more equitable society, with much less income and wealth inequality.”

Implicitly, though, up until now, in this series, we have accepted capitalism, which undergirds our economy, as an unquestionable governing variable. The language we now use, across the country, that we will make homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring, implicitly, if not explicitly, is based on the acceptance of this governing variable. We can make homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring, but we can’t end homelessness in the absolute sense of the word, because in a capitalist society, there will always be economic churn. 

What if we were to question that governing variable? Double-loop learning compels us think about this. In a recent episode of the excellent KERA show, Think, Can Capitalism Work Forever? the host Krys Boyd interviewed Raj Patel and they considered this very question. Patel and Jason W. Moore recently published A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet. The book is a marvelous example of broad and encompassing double-loop learning

As Bill McKibben writes, it, “helps us see the startling reality behind what we usually dismiss as the obvious and everyday.” It does this by looking back, and according to Kim Stanley Robinson, offering a, “compelling interpretation of how we got to where we are now.” More importantly, it offers some ideas for, “how we might go on to create a more just and sustainable civilization.” We highly recommend listening to this Think episode to learn more about what might replace the current system. 

Obviously, we don’t know if Patel and Moore’s ideas will work. It is thinking about the ideas we have raised in this series, and not being afraid to question the governing variables that undergird our society, which is important. Such thinking has particular urgency because the effects of our current way of life are, quite literally, killing us. 

Raj Patel
(Courtesy of Raj Patel and Sheila Menezes)
This is not hyperbole. Homelessness kills: As our President and CEO, Cindy J. Crain warned us, in a haunting piece about a year and a half ago, the life expectancy of chronically homeless individuals, in the United States, is in the mid-sixties. Inequality kills: As the World Bank tells us, “Crime rates and inequality are positively correlated (within each country and, particularly, between countries), and it appears that this correlation reflects causation from inequality to crime rates, even controlling for other crime determinants.” Capitalism, unfettered and unregulated, as it is practiced today, kills: As Patel and Moore remind us, it threatens to leave us all homeless, as it endangers, our very existence, as a species, in this, our home, Planet Earth.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Single-Loop Learning, Double-Loop Learning and Homelessness – Part II – Rethinking Our Investments

The idea of single-loop learning and double-loop learning can be further useful in thinking about how we, as a nation, have decided (implicitly and explicitly) to address the modern homelessness crisis.

All one needs to do is look at how much we spend on the main federal program to house the homeless, the Continuum of Care Program: $2 billion. That may sound like a lot of money, however, out of a budget of $4 trillion, it is a drop in the bucket. One aircraft carrier, for comparison, costs $13 billion.

Especially over the last decade, we have become extremely skillful at building systems that maximize the impact of these $2 billion. However, as a nation, we have not explored the idea of significantly adding to that funding. We have accepted the governing variable that around $2 billion, in 2017 dollars, is enough to defeat a social ill that has been with us for forty years and counting.

Underinvestment in housing for those who are in critical need of help is not confined to the fight to end homelessness. We see this also in what the federal government calls “worst case housing needs.” “Worst case needs are defined as renters with very low incomes – no more than 50 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) – who do not receive government housing assistance and who pay more than one-half of their income for rent, live in severely inadequate conditions, or both.” While those experiencing homelessness at any one time, number around 554,000 persons, this other category includes around 8.3 million households! 

It’s not that we don’t invest in housing, in aggregate; it is just that federal support for housing is heavily skewed towards those on the upper rungs of the economic ladder. Will Fischer and Barbara Sard present this in a strikingly visual way. Here are just two of their charts:

They further clarify that, “The federal government spent $190 billion in 2015 to help Americans buy or rent homes, but little of that spending went to the families who struggle the most to afford housing… Federal housing expenditures are unbalanced in two respects: they target a disproportionate share of subsidies on higher-income households and they favor homeownership over renting. Lower-income renters are far likelier than homeowners or higher-income renters to pay very high shares of their income for housing and to experience problems such as homelessness, housing instability, and overcrowding. Federal rental assistance is highly effective at helping these vulnerable families, but rental assistance programs are deeply underfunded and as a result reach only about one in four eligible households.”

Of course, this is still only part of the story. Dr. Barbara DiPietro, who shared these charts with us, also shared this fascinating video, which clarifies the larger picture of income inequality in America, and how it is driven by policies we, as a nation, have put in place:  

Barbara urged us to think about all the policy decisions we have made as a nation. Nothing is preventing us, as a society, from investing more in ending homelessness. Nothing is preventing us from investing more in housing for those on the lower rungs of the economic scale, than we do for those on the upper rungs. Nothing is preventing us from enacting policies that will make all the investments we make, as a nation, in a more equitable manner. We can create a more equitable society, with much less income and wealth inequality.
However, there is only one way we will get there. We can’t just engage in single-loop learning. We can’t just adjust what we do. Different strategies and actions alone will not help. We need to break out of our current paradigms, and engage in double-loop learning. We need to question the values and beliefs that led to the current crises, in which we find our nation. We need to change the governing variables, and act upon them. Will we have the courage to do so?

Monday, December 18, 2017

We Need to Talk about Race - the Homeless Response System Community Dashboard Race Addendum

Today, we are fulfilling an important action item on our Continuum of Care Strategic Work Plan, to “track and report race and ethnicity data within all CoC reporting tools and as an addendum to the CoC Quarterly Homeless Response System Community Dashboard(Goal VII, Action Item 2).

Goal VII: Address Racial Disparities in Homelessness and Service Delivery was included in the plan, due to our commitment to tackle the overrepresentation of African Americans in the homeless population. We began this effort in the aftermath of the July 7, 2016 tragedy, with the help of a $32,700 grant from United Way of Metropolitan DallasUnite Dallas Relief Fund. Partnering with other cities across the country, we joined a new research and action program from the Center for Social Innovation (C4) titledRacism and Homelessness – Addressing Inequity in 10 American Cities”, which is part of C4’s SPARC (Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities) effort.

The MDHA Homeless Response System Community Dashboard Race Addendum, highlights the above mentioned overrepresentation, and zeros in on three specific groups, veterans, emergency shelter (ES) guests and permanent supportive housing (PSH) residents. In all three groups, it includes overall percentages. With regards to veterans, it highlights percentages of those housed and those newly coming into the system. With regards to emergency shelter (ES) guests and permanent supportive housing (PSH) residents, it highlights positive exits to permanent housing (PH), as well as negative exits.
As with the MDHA Homeless Response System Community Dashboard last released, it includes a Housing Priority List (HPL) tracker. This HPL tracker, however, is broken down specifically by race. This provides a visually arresting display of the overrepresentation of African Americans in the homeless population, over the course of the last twelve months. As Lester R. Collins, Jr., our Continuum of Care Performance Analyst points out, when viewed in tandem, with the standard HPL tracker, what stands out is how little difference one sees. With the overrepresentation of African Americans in the homeless population being so high, this is not surprising.
This coming February, MDHA will participate in SPARC’s 2018 Racial Equity and Homelessness Summit: Redesign with Racial Equity, in Seattle, Washington, underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Raikes Foundation. Attending on our behalf are Cindy J. Crain, MDHA President and CEO, Shanette Eaden, City of Plano Housing and Community Services Manager and MDHA board member, David S. Gruber, MDHA Development and Communications Director, Larry James, CitySquare CEO, and Rev. Dr. Michael W. Waters, founder and Senior Pastor of Joy Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church. This summit will bring together SPARC communities, national and local leaders, and philanthropic partners for an in-depth conversation about how to center racial equity within homelessness prevention and response systems. We look forward to sharing these innovative tools, highlighted here today, with summit attendees.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Open Letter to the Mayor and City Manager of the City of Dallas

Click here to read:

Once again, for future reference, both are posted on our Key Documents page, on the MDHA website