Helping the Homeless in my Neighborhood

When I posted Welcoming the Homeless to our Neighborhoodabout 5 months ago, I truly did not expect that it would quickly become my most read blog post, and then get published in the Capital Times. For the most part, the reaction was positive, but that does not mean that all my neighbors support the creation of a comprehensive day resource center just a few blocks from where I live. A community meeting was well attended and the feelings were both strong and mixed. It was facilitated by my next door neighbor, and President of the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association, Patty Prime, and she did an excellent job of helping to keep the process civil and allowing all voices to be heard.

From the outset, it has been my view that our County desperately needs a comprehensive day resource center to serve people who are homeless and that has been the case for at least 5 years as our homeless population has increased. Of course, we also need a significant increase in affordable housing and both the City of Madison and Dane County have responsibility for housing and serving people who are homeless.

After County Executive Joe Parisi announced the offer to purchase the Messner property, both supporters and opponents saw this as a bold move. The County Board ultimately approved the purchase of the property and the purchase has been completed. A contractor has been chosen for construction and renovation of the building. However, unfortunately the County rejected the only bid that applied to operate the day resource center, which has left the project in a holding pattern.

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Having lived in Madison for over 30 years, I have watched many projects spin their wheels for years and sometimes decades. Some eventually are built. Others simply fade away. However, in this particular case, I am not willing to let inertia set in while those who are homeless spend yet another winter with inadequate shelter.

With that concern in mind, I had an opportunity to speak with County Executive Joe Parisi today to express my concern that this project must be done right and that he must exercise public leadership to see it to successful completion. Fortunately, he agreed with me. I believe that he is committed to creating a comprehensive day resource center for our homeless population that will be a model for other communities to follow and satisfy our neighborhood’s most pressing concerns for safety and neighborhood participation in planning. He also assured me that the County will not seek the conditional use permit which it needs from the City of Madison in order to operate the center, until it has an operator. The County is currently working with the City of Madison and United Way to join the County to make sure there is sufficient funding for successful operation of the center.

During our conversation, he informed me that he was going to send a memo to County Supervisors to update them about the status of the center this afternoon. His staff provided me with a copy of the memo as well as attachments which included information about successful day resource centers in Fort Worth and Indianapolis. I am pleased to see that County staff are clearly doing their research to identify models worth replicating.

County Executive Parisi’s memo concludes by making clear that,

The day resource center is just one piece of a larger, community-wide effort currently underway to end homelessness for more people and move them into safe, permanent housing.

He mentions the City of Madison’s commitment to create 250 units of permanent supportive housing for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, including 60 units which will open this spring that have intensive, on-site support on Madison’s east side and 45 more units scheduled to open on Madison’s west side in 2017.

The memo concludes with an important philosophical statement adopting,

a housing first philosophy-where no conditions need to be met in order for an individual to access housing.

I remain personally committed to working with my neighbors, my County Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner, a committed advocate for people who are homeless, and County Executive Parisi to do what I can to make my neighborhood comprehensive day resource center a model for other communities to follow with a goal to reduce and ultimately end homelessness in our community.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Sunrise Meditation: Patience, Teamwork & Shared Leadership

For many years, I have started my mornings with a half an hour of mindfulness mediation.  I started this practice as a way to combat all too frequent migraine headaches.  It quickly became apparent that daily meditation reduced both the number and intensity of my headaches, so it has become engrained into my daily routine.  Added benefits include increased patience, and an increased ability to handle stressful situations, especially when I supplement my morning mediation with regular mini-meditation stress reduction techniques throughout my day, as needed.

Last week, I had the wonderful pleasure of joining my friend, Lenny, on a sea kayak trip in the French River Provincial Park.  One of the challenges of being out of my home environment is how to keep up with my daily meditation.  Fortunately, as with my family at home, I happened to rise earlier than Lenny each morning and had the opportunity to engage in some unique mediation settings.

During the first 2 mornings of our trip, my meditation was enhanced by a beautiful sunrise. P1030631

While meditating, I was able to reflect on Lenny’s gracious comments as we started out on our trip that he was glad that I patiently waited as he methodically organized our gear for our week long trip.P1030617While in earlier years, I was not well known for my patience, meditation has helped me appreciate the beauty of my present circumstances and allowed me to stay patient while that beauty unfolds each day, especially when surrounded by the stunning nature in Northern Ontario.

Lenny has far more experience sea kayaking than I do, and he also knows the area very well, having paddled there previously.  In addition, he is an excellent navigator, enabling us to navigate the thousands of small islands and channels in the park.  I gladly ceded my typical leadership traits to become his follower as we paddled about 100 miles throughout the park.

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On the 3rd day of our trip, we ran into some challenging moments.  Despite being informed at the visitor center that there were no portages on the French River, we ran into 2 sets of rapids that our sea kayaks are not designed to handle, requiring us to completely unload our gear and carry both our gear and our kayaks across the rough terrain.  At the 2nd portage, I believed I could shorten this process & make it easier by roping my kayak (fully loaded) through the rapids.  Lenny was skeptical, but at this point my leadership skills kicked in and I was able to navigate my kayak by rope safely through the rapids, garnering me a small round of applause both from Lenny as well as some Canadian paddlers who were confronting the same rapids and portaging behind us.

By the end of that day, we reached the mouth of the French River as it enters the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron. Unfortunately, by that time the rain began to fall and the sun was going down, requiring us to find a campsite for the night.  Lenny’s navigation skills enabled us to find a good campsite, but we were still faced with the challenge of setting up camp and cooking dinner in the rain.  At this point, we turned into a highly efficient team.  Lenny quickly set up his tent, while I quickly set up a tarp to give us a dry area to cook dinner and keep our gear dry.  On 2 mornings, I meditated while standing under the tarp to keep dry.

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Towards the end of our trip, we entered the Key River, and my patience coupled with our teamwork and shared leadership enabled us to navigate the entire distance successfully even arriving at our destination at the end of the headwaters of the Key River a day early. Lenny commented a few times that he was glad that my meditation improved my patience.  P1030648

This enabled us to enjoy an incredibly beautiful day trip in Lake Superior Provincial Park.  P1030658Readers may wonder how this experience fits into the systems change theme of my blog.  Quite simply, this trip reminded me that patience, shared leadership, and teamwork, are critical to achieving any meaningful systems change.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Procrastination Nation

As our nation and the entire world breathes a collective sigh of relief that the United States will not default on its debts for the moment, one must wonder if the world’s only superpower, has earned a new moniker, Procrastination Nation. 

The dictionary definition of procrastination is:

To postpone or delay needlessly.

As James Surowiecki wrote in his article aptly entitled, Later, a few years ago in the New Yorker,

the percentage of people who admitted to difficulties with procrastination quadrupled between 1978 and 2002. In that light, it’s possible to see procrastination as the quintessential modern problem.

The question is whether our federal government should be modeling such behavior when it is so remarkably unproductive.  Indeed, Surowiecki goes on to point out that,

Each year, Americans waste hundreds of millions of dollars because they don’t file their taxes on time. The Harvard economist David Laibson has shown that American workers have forgone huge amounts of money in matching 401(k) contributions because they never got around to signing up for a retirement plan. Seventy per cent of patients suffering from glaucoma risk blindness because they don’t use their eyedrops regularly. Procrastination also inflicts major costs on businesses and governments.

Indeed, this current federal shutdown has cost the nation billions and its full cost has not been totaled yet.  As the New York Times reports,

The two-week shutdown has trimmed about 0.3 percentage point from fourth-quarter growth, or about $12 billion, the forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers, based in St. Louis, recently estimated. Standard & Poor’s is more pessimistic, estimating that the shutdown will cut about 0.6 percent off inflation-adjusted gross domestic product, equivalent to $24 billion.

It would be one thing if the current Congressional dysfunction was a one-time rare occurrence, but sadly it has become a pattern of procrastination causing long-term economic harm, in addition to loss of standing in the world.  A new report, The Cost of Crisis-Driven Fiscal Policy.  This report concludes that,

Since late 2009, fiscal policy uncertainty has…lowered GDP growth by 0.3 percentage points per year, and raised the unemployment rate in 2013 by 0.6 percentage points, equivalent to 900,000 lost jobs.

Very few good decisions are made by panic.  As a nation we can do better. We must do better unless we want the whole world to just consider us the, Procrastination Nation.  

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Rather than continue this Great Dysfunction, our nation needs:

  • Real statesmen who are genuinely want to govern for the common good, not just pressmen seeking to take temporary advantage of the next sound bite;
  • Consensus Driven Leadership instead of a divide and conquer mentality; and
  • The collective will to Get to Yes, rather than constant bickering and fighting.

It is clearly easier said than done, but voters must demand it, or our nation will continue to suffer the ignominy of being known as a second rate Procrastination Nation.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Consensus Driven Leadership

As I have previously written, our political system has devolved into a state of Great Dysfunction, such that political leaders, such as Speaker of the House John Boehner and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, seem to thrive on conflict rather than actually reaching across the aisle to resolve problems faced by the people who elected them.  At the national level, Speaker Boehner persists in allowing the House of Representatives to vote over 40 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, even though he knows that such votes have no chance of becoming law.  In Wisconsin, Governor Walker persists on arresting peaceful Solidarity Singers in the Capitol, even though he knows that they will not stop their peaceful protests no matter how many times they are arrested.

The question our nation struggles with today is whether there is any room in our political system for consensus driven leadership.  Before exploring that challenge, let’s make sure we know what consensus means.  A common misperception is that consensus requires everyone to agree.  A much better definition, which avoids the sabotage of vetoing progress by refusing consensus is Merriam-Webster’s definition:

the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned.

Using this definition would avoid the political gamesmanship of Speaker Boehner and Governor Walker that appears to be calculated for power accumulation rather than actual substantive policy leadership.

In 2004, then candidate for US Senate, Barack Obama, gave his famous speech at the Democratic National Convention, where he optimistically declared that:

The pundits…like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.

We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.

There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

Given President Obama’s difficulties in bringing Speaker Boehner’s House along for consensus policy making, the question remains: can consensus driven leadership succeed?

It is well recognized that consensus driven  decisions provide the best results for the most people.  But how can we get there when power driven naysayers are committed to destroying consensus?  Key elements to achieving consensus are:

  • Providing sufficient information to decision makers.  Consensus cannot be achieved in a knowledge vacuum;
  • Consensus cannot be achieved in an atmosphere of fear or threat;
  • Quality leadership is essential to achieving consensus;
  • Consensus requires mutually accepted accountability to implement the decisions which are made.

In Wisconsin, Governor Walker’s new book, Unintimidated, is a declaration of war on those who disagree with him, rather than an invitation to lead through consensus.  His leadership style has resulted in Wisconsin becoming one of the most politically polarized states in the nation.  The challenge for his next opponent, in 2014, is to present a viable option to become the Governor for ALL of Wisconsin.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.