June 22, 2016

Break the rules

This morning, I met a really nice young man while getting coffee. He asked me about my work. I told him. He had only been to DC once. He’s a vet. He was there to receive medical care. Along his left leg, near the back of his knee was a massive scar. It looks like he nearly lost his leg in battle. He has clearly experienced some trauma. He has no ID. Last night, he slept behind the IHOP down the street.

I’ve walked beside too many people like him. The system will not help him. A disability(s), no ID and a criminal record (trespassing, assaulting an officer, public drunkenness). He will not get a job, housing, medical care. He won’t. Without ID, lacking the emotional and mental fortitude to endure the mind numbing forms, lines and interviews … it’s virtually impossible for a person with a roof over their head and a college education to overcome the hurdles required simply to get a menial job, subpar medical care or temporary housing.

Unless he hits a low that is worse than the horror he has already experienced on the other side of the world, he won’t get help. Of course, there is a system in place to help people in his position. But the system relies on a particular process. If you do not fit into the process you will not get help. That is, unless someone believes that delivering on charity, justice is more important than the process that exists to ensure that charity, justice is distributed fairly. Unless someone breaks the rules.

This applies to a lot of things. Not just ending homelessness–which my daughter and many others are on a mission to do. The housing first model broke the rules. That wasn’t how the process was supposed to work. But the process wasn’t working. Now, slowly but surely, housing first is becoming the system. But they had to break the rules first.

There are those that believe the process is more important than the end result. And there are those that believe the end result is more important than the process. Processes are important. But let’s be clear: they don’t change lives. Sometimes you have to step outside the process, in order to do that. Find the spot in your system where change is most tolerated. Start there. Asking for forgiveness is often easier than asking for permission. That’s how systems change.

Break the rules.