Part of “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” each year includes: attended National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference in DC
It is a key part of summer for me for more than a decade. I can actually track milestones in my career against the backdrop of the Alliance conference. Here are the major reasons I keep going:
You may call this networking. I call this the reunion of the merry misfits…the ones that work day in and day out to make a difference…the ones that embrace the complexity and hard work that goes into tackling social change. This conference is one of the few places I feel I fit in.
Learn to Hug
I generally do not like to be touched. Then there is the Alliance conference. This has been the place where, over the years, I have come to realize people hug you without even asking. I would say there are more hugs at an Alliance conference than there is in a trip to Hawaii – and that is saying something.
Put My Finger on the Pulse
There are many things that are critical to understanding where we are collectively at in ending homelessness that can only come about from being at the Alliance conference. There is Nan’s plenary address, which feels like a bit of a State of the Union (with the same cheesy intro from Steve indicating it is one of the highlights of his job). There are quality keynotes. They pull together an amazing roster of talented speakers. Mostly, though, from the vibe in sessions you can start to put your finger on the pulse of how people feel in their work ending homelessness, as well as where the thought leaders are headed next in their innovations. For example, if you had attended Alliance conferences for years you could have sensed things like coordinated entry before it was even called coordinated entry; could have felt the importance of tools like the SPDAT before they actually took off across the country.
Catch Up on Communities
There is a big part of our work that is parachuting into a city or county for a few days, putting our fingerprints on some change initiatives or training, and then leaving. Because so many of these same communities will be at the Alliance conference (and where I met a number of them in the first place) I can get the scoop on where things are at now. It is like chewing the fat with a long, lost friend. It is a special connection. I love it.
Feel the Love
Truth is, I get more love from the National Alliance to End Homelessness than I do the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. That always stings a bit given I am Canadian.
I find it kind of funny that people want to take a selfie with me or have me autograph their SPDAT, but that is going to happen this week. I know it. I accept that it means something to others. Plus, this year we are giving out some hats. Who doesn’t want an OrgCode Trucker Cap?
Pay it Forward
Speakers at the Alliance conference are not given a dime. The conference fee is waived. Otherwise, people get themselves to DC, pay for their own accommodation, etc. These few days each year feel like my chance to give back for everything communities and the Alliance has done to make my career so personally rewarding. I suck at saying thanks in the right way to the right people. This feels like my way of saying thanks.
There is nothing like the Alliance conference to make me feel ready and raring to go to keep on keeping on. It is rewarding and enriching. It is stimulating and inspiring. It is affirming and friendly. I will keep going to Alliance conferences and speaking for as long as they will have me, because nothing makes me feel quite as good as I do when in DC for a few days each summer.