The Mad Housers

Big Change

Another email recently sent out on the list:

We have a problem. For the past several years, our organization has built around 18 shelters a year - and that's where we've topped out. Basically, we have too few volunteers doing too much work. In response, we've decided to try something new.

What separates the Mad Housers from traditional sheltering organizations isn't the construction, but the outreach - we find our clients and help them where they are, as they are. This outreach is critical to our mission, and the most difficult part of what we do. However, we don't spend the bulk of our efforts on outreach, but instead on construction. True, the construction takes time and effort, but it's a well-known process that's been refined, tested, and documented extensively. It's the easy part.

So, starting in 2010, we're going to focus on the hard part and work with others to provide the easy part. For years, we've had outside groups - Scout troops, churches, service organizations, grade school and college classrooms, and the like - offer to build structures. Generally, we've fit them in when we could as a sideline to our main operations. Now we hope to make working with these groups a central part of our operations.

Hopefully, this will have several positive effects. First, it gives us more time to work on the outreach side of the equation - finding new clients, supporting existing clients, and getting services to our clients to help them leave the huts. Second, this also expands the educational and advocacy aspects of our mission, as groups of new people are exposed to our ideas and methods. Third, these outside groups can themselves be a source of referrals for clients, volunteers, and donors.

What's the downside? Well, if you're a casual Mad Houser volunteer, there will be fewer volunteer-only builds to attend. Don't worry - there will never be a time where we don't build! But from the Mad Housers point of view, building by itself is not enough. Our job is not to build, it's to help. A building without people is just a shell.

This is not a decision made casually, and it will not be implemented abruptly. Over the next few years, we plan to gradually expand the total number of shelters built, and increase the percentage of those shelters built by outside groups. Our first few joint efforts are bound to be a little chaotic. But there's a time to stop planning and simply go forwards and learn along the way - and as anyone who's attend a build knows, we're not afraid of making mistakes! We'll learn, and improve, and in a few years we'll be helping more people in a better fashion.

The Board started discussing this idea back in May, went over it - along with several other notions - over the course of several meetings spanning several months. We voted it in right before Thanksgiving. It's a pretty radical change for us, since we've always have been focused on making the huts, but we realized that it's more important that huts are made than we make the huts. If this works the way we hope it does, it'll be well worth the change.

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