At the heart of all of the work that Wellspring does are relationships. Nowhere is that more apparent than in our Housing Services. Staff work directly with families in crisis, who are currently experiencing homelessness or have faced homelessness in the recent past.
The goal of each relationship is to work together, to get a family into stable housing, and end the cycle of homelessness they may find themselves in.
In this blog, we’re going to share the challenges our housing team faces in building relationships with their clients. To do that we sat down with two of our housing staff, Billy, a Housing Locator and Housing Stability Specialist and Kristina, a Senior Housing Stability Specialist.
Starting the relationship
Each family that comes to Wellspring for support, brings along with them their history. Some families have fallen on hard times, an event in their recent past having led to their losing their home. Maybe it was a property fire, or a medical emergency they couldn’t afford to pay. The death of a spouse, or breakdown of a relationship. Often it’s the loss of a job.
For other families, homelessness has become a cycle they’ve fallen into. A series of peaks and troughs, where each positive step forward seems to be swiftly followed by a negative step backwards.
Trauma is something that links every family we meet. Few can go through losing their home without it having an effect on them. But added on to that are the traumatic events that brought about that homelessness to begin with.
All of this history influences our families when they step through our doors.
For the housing team, their first priority is to find out that history and what specific needs their clients have. That way they can decide how best to help. But getting somebody to open up about themselves can be a challenge. Many have lost trust in social services or other people after negative experiences in the past or they are living their lives in a constant state of crisis.
Our Housing Stability Specialist, Billy finds that simply being there for his clients helps, “People get overwhelmed, a lot of people get paralyzed. They’ve got so many things going on they can’t think. They can’t even think, ‘What should I do?’ But if they get an avenue where they can work through it. If you can be there for them. If you can be present. That works very well. That’s what people appreciate, that I’m present for them.”
Billy lives by a motto which is posted on the wall beside his desk, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Support in a crisis
Once a relationship has been built, our housing staff can more effectively help its clients. But there are still challenges ahead in terms of managing the expectations of clients, helping them to find housing that meets their needs, and working around their current situation and barriers.
Staff often want to help more than they can with limited resources, and families can get frustrated that their needs aren’t being met quickly enough.
Kristina spoke about how weathering these moments of frustration with her clients can often make her relationship with them stronger,
“Day to day if you’re just there for someone. If you just consistently show you’re there, even if they ranted and yelled the last time you were on the phone with them, my philosophy personally is that never happened, but I will remember the point the person was trying to get across. If people know that you’re reliable in that way, and that they’re allowed to do that and that you’re not taking it personally, then it’s really much appreciated.”
“It takes us to do this”
Meeting with clients daily and hearing about their traumas is hard work. To keep themselves going through these frustrations, our housing team focus on the end result. The positive moments where they get to help families into housing, or other small successes along the way.
They’ve also built a supportive work environment. They show each other personal appreciation for the work they’re doing and keep track of their successes to share. They talk to each other about the issues they may be facing, and always find somebody else that knows exactly how they’re feeling.
For Billy, meditation helps him to clear his head each day and loving the work he does helps too. The successes he sees outweigh everything else, “I jump out of bed to come and do this because I love people and it’s very rewarding when it works. You know when you get people housing, there’s little kids that have been sleeping in a car, or outside under trees, then all of a sudden they get housed. I get to see people walk into their house and go ‘Oh my god! My own place!’ It’s so rewarding to see the look on their faces. And these are people that have been sleeping, living outdoors, you know with their kids…Some people are too proud to ask for help and I say to them, ‘If you need help this is the place where you can get help.’ We won’t look down on you, I won’t personally look down on you because of the fact you are homeless. Because I know that I might be homeless tomorrow. Because it can be that quick. It can happen that fast.”
When I asked Kristina what motivates her to do such challenging work, she first spoke about the successes she sees. How they make everything worthwhile. But she also spoke about the resiliency of her clients and how it inspires her, “It’s really fascinating how resilient some of our clients are and how gracefully they handle these situations and you get to be there and witness that there are people like that.”
That resiliency is something that our Housing staff share with their clients. They are able to do the tough work of building relationships with families in crisis.
Those relationships are key, which is something Billy underlines, “I don’t have all the answers. Even though my card says Housing Stability Specialist my mother taught me never to be a know-it-all unless I’m 50 miles from her house at all times. I’m not a specialist, I’m not an expert. But I am a person that will stand with you. Together we can be experts. But me by myself and you by yourself? It takes us to do this! I think people appreciate that.”
Photo by andrew and hobbes, published under a CC license.