The Girl with the 100,00 HOMES Tattoo

The Girl with the 100,00 HOMES Tattoo


Wear your passion

In the summer of 2011, the 100,000 Homes Campaign – a newly formed organization, dedicated to finding permanent housing for our nation’s most vulnerable and chronically homeless people – asked its employees, “What crazy thing will you do when we reach 10,000 housing placements?”  One team member boldly responded, “I'm planning on getting a tattoo that says 100,00 - with the comma where it is here to demonstrate full faith and confidence that together WE will help 100,000 people move in off the streets for good!”  Meet Becky Kanis …

Director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, Becky is an optimistic realist, a forward thinker and an inspiration.  She is dynamic, energetic and unwilling to accept a world where homelessness persists.  Becky sees homelessness as “the intersection of bad choices on the part of individuals, poor practices on the part of people who are supposed to be helping them, and bad policies that hurt us all, not just the homeless.”  Many people, Becky explains, have paradigms placing blame on someone or something when things go wrong – such as people living on the streets.  But, everyone plays a role.  We all have the ability and the opportunity to help individuals find housing.

Five months ago, Becky and her team launched a series of Rapid Results Housing Boot Camps (“RRHBC”) across the nation to ignite performance and overcome the poor practices and bad policies that get in the way of housing chronically homeless veterans.   Working with Schaffer Consulting and its Rapid Results framework, teams composed of local community representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Public Housing Agency, and providers of funding  were guided through a process of establishing extraordinary goals and creating an actionable plan to achieve them in 100 days or less.  Goals included increasing the number of homeless veterans taken off the streets (e.g., housing 90 of the most vulnerable in 100 days), and significantly accelerating the process of housing placement (e.g., in as few as 30 days).  

As Becky led a table discussion at the RRHBC in San Diego, California, she rallied a group of community representatives to think and act differently.  She spoke energetically, using her arms to figuratively bring everyone together and push their thinking.  Driven by the belief that we can create a different world, a world where people walk by those in need and lend a hand, rather than recoil, Becky’s “100,00 HOMES” tattoo prominently appeared on her arm serving as a symbolic reminder of people’s potential and the campaign’s  progress toward a new social norm where homelessness is unacceptable.  

A Future Without Homelessness

Becky Kanis moments after getting her <i>100,00 HOMES Tattoo</i>

Since 2010, communities participating in the campaign have placed more than 20,969 homeless individuals and families into permanent housing.  Efforts such as the RRHBC have contributed to this early success.  As Tina Rosenberg of The New York Times reports, four cities participating in the RRHBC have “housed more than 100 homeless veterans in 100 days.  Others came close, and nearly all reported that they had found new ways of working that would speed things up in the future.”

Tackling the social challenge of homelessness is no easy feat.  It takes great determination, drive, and skill to break through the typical barriers that keep people on the streets.  At the crux of the campaign’s early success is each member’s passion to change the world.  Becky suspects that even when the campaign hits its ultimate target of 100,000 housed, she’ll keep her tattoo the way it is as a reminder that “our work is never done. … There are still many more opportunities to co-create a better future together.”    

We all have passion; we all care about leaving a positive imprint on the world.  Becky wears hers on her sleeve, literally and figuratively.   It is with this determination and energy toward changing the world that Becky, her team, and allies in more than 161 communities, are eliminating homelessness from our reality.  This is what leadership is all about.  It is with this kind of passion that leaders can make profound changes in our world – in a hurry. 

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Holly Newman Greenberg is a principal at Schaffer Consulting where she focuses on large-scale transformational change and performance improvement initiatives.  She holds a Masters degree in Organizational Psychology from Teachers College Columbia University.


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