Fwd: [oacaf] Homeless Services Synposium (Part 1)

Morgan Brown (morganbrown@hotmail.com)
Sun, 01 Nov 1998 12:56:03 EST


Below is a forward which may be of interest to you and others you may 

Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown  
Montpelier Vermont USA
Norsehorse's Home Turf: http://members.tripod.com/~Norsehorse/


-------Forwarded message-------

On: Sunday, November 1, 1998 at 08:02:24 -0600
Vicki Fox Wieselthier <vickifw@stlouis.missouri.org> sent:
[oacaf] Homeless Services Synposium (Part 1)

Forward begins here===>

Report on National Symposium On Homeless Research:  What Works?
October 29, 20 Arlington, VA

I attended this symposium and wanted to share some of what I learned and 
let you know what happened.  This is going to take awhile, so I 
apologize in advance people who prefer short, pithy posts.  This 
symposium is, I think, important to us for a couple of reasons.  PACT 
was prominently featured.  It also is illustrative of the way research 
and funding directions/policy are all interwoven.  There will be several 


The symposium was sponsored by US Departments of HUD and HHS.  HUD and 
HHS began the process of co-sponsoring events like this last year when 
they jointly did one to develop a tool kit for Safe Havens.  The idea 
behind this kind of meeting is that leading researchers in a given field 
will present research findings to a gathering of people who are believed 
to be experts in the field, formal commentaries on the papers will be 
delivered, and the audience will then comment on both the papers and the 
formal responses.  The researchers are then expected to incorporate the 
additional information obtained at the symposium into the final papers 
which will then by published and made available through the feds.  The 
authors of the papers are paid for their work, responders get their 
expenses paid, and the audience includes some fed selected individuals 
who also have their expenses picked up.  This meeting was limited to 150 
people--most of whom were personally invited.

The authors were instructed to do a review and summary of significant
research, synthesize the findings with a "what works" focus, and suggest 
some future directions for new research in the area and other follow-up. 
The respondents got the papers they were asked to comment on about a 
week ahead of time.  I was asked to respond to a paper by Deborah 
Dennis, Joe Cocozza and Hank Steadman on Systems Integration and 
Homeless ness.

For folks who are not familiar with my job-job, this may seem to be a
strange assignment, but it is actually a good fit.  I am a community
organizer by trade and have been the "system's integrator" for the 
ACCESS federal homeless services demonstration project for the last few 
years. The feds also counted me as a TwoHats, and that was not a very 
good fit. They apparently realized they needed to have some homeless 
people or formerly homeless people there and counted me in that number.  
And while I have been (briefly) homeless, counting me in this way is 
like counting a person who had two sessions of marital counseling as a 

And that gets at part what was wrong with the symposium.  While at first 
blush this seems to be an efficient and reasonable way to gather the 
knowledge in a particular field together and present it in ways that 
have meaning, there are some huge pitfalls--and the feds got stuck in 
every single one of them this time.  Note:  I am using user rather than 
CSX throughout this because their were people who use homeless services 
other than *us* that should have been included.

Research in the Real World

Pitfall #1:  An unwillingness to insist on inclusion

On our side, we have been vocal about "Nothing About Us, Without Us". 
It's time for the feds to fund research and conferences in such a way as 
to clearly enforce "Nothing About Them, Without Them".  Without this 
bottom line requirement, the feds contract with some individual or some 
organization to put together a conference or a publication and then, at 
the last minute, find themselves inserting CSX and other service users 
in as an after thought.  We won't get to sit at the big table until the 
feds start funding our full inclusion, vetting all contractor planning, 
and rejecting proposals that do not include us in meaningful, 
significant ways.   This willful disregard of our right to be at the 
table does not happen when the subject is a racial or ethnocultural 
minority and it should not happen to us either.

For this particular symposium, that would have meant a requirement that 
all literature reviews include findings by service system users, a 
discussion of research (fully cited) conducted by users and user 
researchers, and a user author in each area as part of each author 
group.  There would also have been a 12th paper with an overview of user 
perspectives, significant findings, and suggestions for future research.  
It should have been done at the beginning, but it is not too late to add 
this on now.  As I understand it, the feds are staying hands off and 
leaving it up to the researchers to decide if they are going to revise 
their work to include ours or solicit another paper (or both).  And of 
course, at this point, it will mean that either the feds will have to 
belly up for some more money for the people who will be included, or the 
existing paid researchers will have to share the wealth.  Doing it for 
free should not be an option.

Pitfall #2:  Taking the easy way, getting it on the cheap

Although many federal employees at the agencies that work on our issues 
started out as researchers or service providers (and occasionally even 
as service users) themselves, they have, in general, put that in moth 
balls and approach things from a bureaucratic perspective.  They no 
longer look critically at the content of the "deliverables" they have 
contracted for, trusting that the project management folks will produce 
acceptable results and "do the right thing".  It is their job to 
conceptualize the basics of the project (based on past projects, that 
were based on earlier projects ad
infinitum), prepare the documents needed to invite bids or proposals, 
and then award the contracts themselves.  They steer all this according 
to lessons learned from other projects that were done in the same sort 
of way. And of course, the lessons learned have yet to include the 
lesson that we must be involved in significant ways--from the beginning.

The researchers are also looking for the easy way out.  They have a body 
of knowledge that interests them and that they have been paid well to 
research.  They also are familiar with each other's work.  When asked to 
write something, they may open up their file cabinets, but they do not 
necessarily open up their minds.  And our work is not in their file 
cabinets.  At the symposium, one of the authors went up to the 
microphone and asked us to send us citations for inclusion as she did 
not know any of our work and she had no time to search for it.  
Harrumph.  I would think that if she were being paid to do a review, 
then the expectation would be that she would actually have to work a 
little. But it isn't.

Pitfall #3:  Working with the people you always work with

In the area of homelessness (just as in the CSX arena) there is an "in" 
group of researchers that CMHS and the other federal agencies feel 
comfortable with.  They have used them in the past; they are all either 
friends with each other, or at least not publicly hostile; and they have 
collaborated on projects together many times in the past.  It's all 
pretty incestuous.  The researchers include each other as subcontractors 
on their various projects, as co-authors on their papers, use one 
another's citations and findings, and generally scratch each other's 
backs.  When they have questions, they turn to each other for the 
answers.  More importantly, they turn to each other for the questions 
themselves--effectively excluding other areas of inquiry.

Although we generally think of researchers as being university faculty, 
that is not necessarily the case.  There is a whole group of them out 
there who have formed organizations that stay in business by contracting 
for one study or another with various governmental agencies.  So that 
you have research that is supposed to be objective and "scientific" 
being done by people who must win contracts over and over again in order 
to stay in business.  Recently one of the big shots in one of these 
research groups told a CSX activist/consultant that she had not been 
given any consulting work by the agency because one of the CMHS bigwigs 
didn't want her used. This isn't my story to tell or I would name names.

And the university connected researchers are also out there beating the 
federal bushes for lucrative consulting contracts.  Everyone is on "soft 
money", meaning that their employment, compensation, and perks are 
dependent on how much money they bring in.  Bringing in money means that 
there is staff for empire building--graduate assistants, research 
interns, and expansion of the researcher's fiefdom.  Provider agencies 
(including CSX providers), research groups, independent consultants, and 
university researchers alike use the administrative costs to pay basic 
operating expenses--keeping the light on, the trash picked up, and 
paying for the bookkeepers, computer wonks and other staff.

Makes you think about this stuff in a new way doesn't it?

Pitfall 4:  The whole process is linear, A leads to B leads to C and to 

One of the things that disturbed me the most about this symposium was 
that it was clear that the expectation was that these 11 papers would 
include the material that would define the knowledge base from which the 
research agenda and services for the future in the area of homelessness 
would be constructed.  And of course, our research literature, our 
concerns, our findings, and our areas of interest were not included in 
this knowledge base.  Not just ours in the sense of CSX, but also there 
were no user voices at all represented in this.

The threat in this is pretty evident.  We are left out of the literature 
review and reporting of findings (A).  Which means that we are left out 
of the synthesis of "what works" (B).  Which means that what we have 
found to work does not get funded (C).  And there is a "D" as well, as 
the questions that we would like to see addressed in future research 
does not make it onto the table.

There is a direct relationship between our not being included in this 
kind of process and our not getting money for CSX delivered services or 
CSX directed research.

(The next part of this will deal with the content of the Symposium, in
particular the portion having to do with PACT and System's Integration)

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