I just got back from the NHSDC Spring 2022 Conference. This was my first in-person conference since the spring of 2019.

My goodness, 2019!

As I typed it, that date just kind of smacked me in the face. It’s actually been 3 years since I last physically attended a conference. It takes a bit to get back on that bike, let me tell you.

What I (re)learned:

  • Going to conferences is a skill, and I got rusty.
  • I am far more out-of-shape than I knew1.
  • I really love teaching and presenting.

Those lessons aside, it was great conference. It’s always so helpful to see the approaches other organizations and agencies are taking to end homelessness in their communities. It’s also really inspiring. The work I do, right now, can leave you feeling a bit hopeless. The data, which is where I spend much of my time, is not neccessarily good, and the growing housing crisis is only adding fuel to an already roaring inferno. Conferences like this, where people are not just talking but doing, are critical spaces of hope and learning. We see each other implementing polices, developing solutions, trying new techniques, sometimes failing, and then learning, adapting, and trying again. Those lessons help us all.

I should also acknowledge that one of the reasons this was such a good conference was the fact that it was the first in-person conference for a lot of us since the pandemic started. I know that, for me, this was the first time I was able to meet with many of the people I have seen on so many calls. That was an incredible opportunity. You could feel that energy kind of running throughout the space. It was networking with aggressive enthusiasm which was both gratifying and exhausting.

The value of those in-person connections also raised a challenge that I think needs addressing: how do we balance in-person and virtual conferences. Like remote work, I am all in on virtual conferences. They are incredibly valuable and make accessible research, knowledge, and information that is often hidden away behind expensive conference tickets, flights, and hotel stays. It’s all those things I said above, but in a much more available package. That said, getting a chance to sit down with people, face-to-face, and talk and share is useful in building connection and empathy. It doesn’t have to be often and it needs to be far more accessible, but it is a very good thing.

  1. Who knew, except maybe everybody, that being locked in a tiny apartment and barely moving would be such a problem. ↩︎