Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Our mission: End homelessness, impact poverty and remove barriers to self-sufficiency for the families we serve.

It’s really cold here this morning. The temperature is still in the teens.
 
During another cold snap the week before Christmas, we took in a family of six on an emergency basis. The father told a co-worker at his new job that his family had no place to stay. Because of the frigid temperatures, the emergency shelters were full.
 
The co-worker took him home to stay at his house, but the family didn’t want to impose when they saw how many people were already living there.
 
Instead they asked to sleep in his car overnight - turning it on and off to stay warm.
 
The next day the co-worker took the family to two different emergency shelters, but they weren’t allowed to stay because the parents weren’t married.
 
The co-worker knew our Housing Coordinator Tammy Mayhue, so he called to ask us for help.
 
Tammy and our Children’s Program Director Ryan Blake stayed late to help the family settle into one of our Immediate Housing apartments. The next morning, our Intake Specialist Holly Gardner interviewed them and admitted them to our Interim Housing Program.
 
When we asked if anyone could help the family out at this late date, one of our board members, Dr. Raymond Cattaneo, reached out to others and made sure this family of strangers had a Christmas.
We are truly blessed by all of the board members, staff, volunteers and donors who have taken this mission into your hearts.
 
Happy New Year.
 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Aftercare Matters: Surviving to thriving

By: CTI Case Manager Sara Barrett
 
This Christmas is bringing a whole new kind of gift to a Community LINC family. Jodi came to Community LINC to gain independence from a cycle of domestic violence that was dangerous to her and her children.
 
Jodi was housed in a  rental home within thirty days of her entry to Community LINC's campus. She held on to her job in Customer Service and managed to keep her three children in school. However, working off of one income was a new challenge for Jodi.
 
Upon moving into her rental home, Jodi agreed to participate in Aftercare Services, including weekly case management. During that time, Jodi was able to develop new spending habits and secure a manageable budget for her family. This opened up an opportunity for her to continue her finance and business education and grow her very small business she ran out of her home. In addition, Jodi was able to purchase a new vehicle to improve her transportation and allow her children to be in extra-curricular activities to promote their social well-being.
 
Because of her drive and her responsibility in using the resources offered to her, Jodi was referred to a program in the community which could provide her with the opportunity for no-interest home ownership.  Jodi's story captivated community leaders, and this Christmas, to her surprise she will receive ownership of a new home in her name.
 
Jodi is proof of a motto Aftercare Clients often repeat throughout their time in services; "I don't have to just survive, I can thrive." Community LINC not only gives families a boost in finding and acquiring housing, but opens doors to financial stability, community resources and ownership.
 
In one year, Jodi changed her situation from homeless to homeowner, car owner and small business owner...she is a picture of thriving, not just surviving.
 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Intake Matters: One family at a time

By Intake & Resident Specialist Holly Gardner
 
I’m sure there are many factors, both conscious and subjective, that play into screening a family into our program. Everyone who enters the program is literally homeless, has a dependent child, and has barriers that make it difficult to get housing.  Beyond that, the differences can be vast. Educational levels vary, work experience and aptitude and, most importantly to me, attitude.
 
Ms. D and her children were referred to us from one of the area shelters.  She could only be housed there for 30 days so they referred the family to us.
 
Just prior to entering a shelter, she had been living with her mother who had lost her job and was evicted.  This left Ms. D without shelter or support. She found herself having to be more resourceful in finding help for her family.
 
Maybe because she is about the same age my oldest daughter would be and thinking on that - how hard it must be to not only be homeless but have your support system as you know it completely break down - but her story touched me. This is a multigenerational family crisis and this young woman has maintained a positive attitude in spite of her circumstances.
 
She was composed, well-spoken, and always saying ..."I need to do the next best thing I can for my kids."  She took responsibility for her current situation and did not seem to place blame or dwell on the past. It was always ... "I need to do the next best thing I can for my kids."
 
Ms. D  moved in and was working in the job lab the very next day.  Clearly, she was on a mission.
 
During her group orientation, she shared her experience at Community LINC thus far. She is in love! She explained that she can finally lay her babies down at night and rest fully.  She feels like she has a safe place to rejuvenate and it makes her feel excited for her future.
 
Yes, attitude makes such a difference, and yes, intake matters.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Therapy Matters: Hope springs eternal

By Director of Mental Wellness Gail Byers
 
Community LINC provides counseling for adults and children. 
 
A major challenge is addressing the stigma of mental health being synonymous with being perceived as ‘being crazy.’  So you can only imagine the response of parents when they are told their child will be receiving counseling services.
 
As a result, we also focus on developing relationships with parents via parenting classes and access to the respective child therapists for guidance as well as crisis intervention.  This has been instrumental as a catalyst of change of the perception, the value and acceptance of mental health.  It is about laying seeds, seeds that educate, increase understanding and promote overall well-being. 
 
The fact is that in this current society our children are not always ‘seen’…we don’t take into consideration that whatever lifestyle we as parents are leading, negative or positive, is the exact same lifestyle our children are exposed to.  We often focus on developing coping and social skills for adults, not acknowledging that our children need the same skill sets.
 
Our children are sometimes not seen until they ‘act out’ which is how children communicate when they do not have the tools to express themselves appropriately. 
 
Community LINC recognized and addressed the mental health needs of the children served. 
 
So far, the children have welcomed the experience of being in counseling.  It is certainly a win-win situation.  The child has someone who has their undivided attention and listens to them.  Listening is an expression of love.
 
This is a tremendous support to the parent, the parent who is in the process of establishing or re-establishing his/her stability. 
 
When the children come into counseling the therapist always talks to them about confidentiality. 
One parent reported that she asked her son what he and his therapist talked about and his response was “that’s between me and my therapist.”  Out of the mouths of babes. 
 
These positive experiences will encourage families to seek mental health services beyond Community LINC.
 
Why, because the myth has been dispelled.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Program Matters: Reflections

By Senior Director of Programs & Operations, Jeannine Short
 
With the end of the year approaching, I’ve stolen moments of time to reflect on my personal experiences, challenges, accomplishments, and perhaps missed opportunities; and have asked myself “did the year really count?”
 
As I expand these reflections to the work that we do as an agency, I have to wonder if we have really made a difference in the lives of the families we serve. Were we at times so enmeshed in our day-to-day functions that we missed the small opportunities? Did we become so overwhelmed by the challenges of a new program model that our efforts seemed and felt futile? Did the year really count?
 
Perhaps the answer to both questions is yes, but when I remember the stories…. The family of six that we moved into a unit within an hour of hearing that they had slept in a car the night before; the single dad who became obviously overwhelmed when it “hit” him that he could finally provide a stable environment for his two girls; and the mother who, after paying off her debts and moving to permanent housing, exclaimed that she had never ever felt so free and relieved.
 
When I reflect on these and similar stories,  I think I can say that it’s been a good year, and yes, it did count!
 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Jobs Matter: Preparing for maximum return

By Employment Specialist Constance Taylor
 
Because the barriers are enormous due to poor choices made once upon a time, T decided one of the ways to increase his employability was to make himself a more attractive candidate. 
 
Although, he has altered his past approach to life, he also decided to improve his probability in the selection process by sharpening his skills and knowledge.  In the past few months, he has become certified to drive a forklift and is currently attending G.E.D. classes. 
 
He not only wants to prove his worthiness by working every day at a minimum wage job, but the object is to demonstrate that he is dependable, reliable and trustworthy. 
 
He has a broad future ahead of him, a wife and a child to care for.  His goal is to strive to become trained and educated until he maximizes his potential and creates the living wage he desires.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Programs Matter: Because money matters

By Housing Coordinator Tammy Mayhue
 
Residents who have jobs and income begin working with a volunteer budgeter and establishing savings as soon as possible after they come into the program.  The vision is to teach residents with income how to save and maximize their money by keeping all receipts from pay period to pay period and learning to budget spending. 


A while ago, Dave, one of the budgeters, asked “What happens to participants who are not assigned budgeters due to little or no income?  How are they being helped with money management?”  These were very good questions because in life skills we teach our families that it does not matter how much money you earn, but how you spend the money you earn. 
 
Dave suggested a workshop for families who fall into the group of little or no income so that they begin to learn, even if there isn’t much for them to apply it to. Teams of two budgeters teach about money management, savings and budgeting.  Participants are in a small group setting which makes it possible for families to share, if they like, and ask questions. 
 
The budget workshop has received some excellent feedback from the participants.  Community LINC is grateful to Dave and the team of budgeters for their commitment to the families they serve.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Aftercare Matters: Thankful

By Aftercare CTI Case Manager Sara Barrett
 
Thanksgiving takes on new meaning for those families who have graduated from Community LINC’s Interim Housing program and moved into in-home Aftercare Services.
 
“Thanksgiving doesn’t require a turkey or a huge gathering. Don’t get me wrong, I like all of that stuff. But Thanksgiving is a heart issue. Look at all I have, Sara,” said a current Aftercare client.
Sitting at her dining table, we surveyed the rooms around us and made note of how the once bare apartment now looked like a home.
 
We took time to talk about the successes achieved since leaving Community LINC’s onsite program.
“I have so much to be thankful for every day. We will celebrate the holiday with a special meaning this year, in our home, but we carry thanksgiving in our hearts every day for what Community LINC has done for us.”
 
Once again, I am humbled and challenged by the words of the clients we serve every day.  I often forget the humanness behind the work we do, and how, really, we could not do it without them.
 
Thanksgiving takes on new meaning this year for me, as the Aftercare worker, also. I am thankful for the honor of walking with them on a piece of their journey of rebuilding their lives and thankful for the humble insight they offer to the real meaning behind days like Thanksgiving, a treasure often forgotten during the busyness of the holiday.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Families Matter: A new role for some fathers

By Family Coach Frenchie Pulluaim
 
One of the fastest growing homeless family types is that of fathers raising children.  Due to chronic drug issues, domestic abuse and mental wellness, fathers are finding themselves as the sole caretaker and provider for their children. 
 
Mr. F. G. is one of those fathers. 
 
We always think of women when we hear about abusive relationships, but we are finding abuse to be an equal opportunity issue.  Mr. F. G. found himself to be a victim and was injured by someone connected to his estranged wife.  Although he suffered life altering injuries and scars, he was left to support and care for his two daughters.  His injuries caused him to lose his employment and his home.  But, he continued to have faith because of his love for his daughters.  He immediately began to work on his comeback, struggling to make ends meet until he applied and entered the City Union Mission homeless shelter. 
 
He received a referral to Community LINC for rapid re-housing back in October.  He quickly began to job search and apply for positions.  He was hired in November, and he immediately started applying for childcare and other services that would assist him until he made his first pay check. 
 
He found it virtually impossible to get through the process of applying for childcare, but he stuck with it, his family filling in where they could, etc.  He still has not gotten state paid child care, although he is eligible.
 
Mr. F. G. is learning the pitfalls of having to depend on programs and agencies. The process sometimes seem never ending, and you are at the mercy of the social worker following through for the services you are applying for.  Mistakes often happen, but sadly it is the person who is in crisis and in desperate need for services who pays the price for the mistakes.
 
Mr. F. G. is saving and working hard to pay fines and tickets that are keeping him from getting his driver’s license. His next step will be to purchase a car as soon as possible.  A car will make it much easier to get his girls to daycare and assist to work each day.
 
He has won several gift cards at work for quality control, (Panera Gift card, and Applebee’s Gift card). 
 
Mr. F. G. is a hard worker and is focused on getting permanent housing for him and his daughters.  I appreciate the opportunity to work with him and his family.
 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Children Matter: College should be an option

By Children’s Program Director Ryan Blake
Recently I sat in on one of our teen classes while they were discussing where they saw themselves in 5 years.
One of our young men said with a very sad tone that he was going to have to join the military. I met with him the next day to discuss his answer. He explained to me that his mother had a rule that once he and his brothers graduate high school they had to either go to college, join the military, or move out and work full time.
I asked why he had already picked the military. He said college was “out of picture” for him because of his grades and how much it costs. He continued by explaining that he wouldn’t be able to afford the things he wanted in life with a job that only required a high school degree. He continued by saying that he didn’t really want to join the military but he thought that was his only realistic option.
 The next day I met with him to discuss admissions standards to local colleges and scheduled a tour of UMKC. After the tour I asked him if he thought college was a realistic option for him and he told me that if he tried harder in school he might have a shot at getting into a college.
I have been amazed at how many of our students don’t know anything about college or believe that they have the ability to go to college. The fact is many of our students know more adults who have been incarcerated than have graduated from college.
One of the goals we have for our teens is that education after high school is an option for them. For this reason we are now making it possible for each of our teens to visit universities while they live at Community LINC.
For the young man who was planning on joining the military, seeing UMKC made the idea of college more real for him. He also was able to make the connection between working hard in school now and reaching his goals in the future!   

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Volunteers Matter: Behind the Scenes

By Volunteer Coordinator Kate Nevins
 
At Community LINC, we are very grateful for our regular program volunteers, who help us deliver services to families. These volunteers help with budgeting, healthy lifestyles, in the Employment Lab and in the Children’s Program. We couldn’t achieve our mission without them, and they deserve all the recognition and appreciation we can show.
 
However, there is another group of volunteers who serve Community LINC less visibly to clients, visitors and fans of Community LINC, although they are just as essential to our efficacy. The board of directors and professional committee members are constantly working “behind the scenes” to help us improve operations and ensure that we are growing in the right directions.
 
In addition to our board of directors, we have committees for marketing, finance, public policy, buildings and sites and human resources. The people who serve on the board and in these committees share generously their skills and their time, and the end result is that they help hold us accountable to our mission.
 
In the season of gratitude, I would like to thank all of our “behind the scenes” volunteers helping us impact poverty and end homelessness.
 

Monday, December 2, 2013

A hand up for the parents for the sake of the kids

By CEO/Executive Director Laura Gray
 
Because we are celebrating our 25th year, I did some research to see what prompted the community to form Community LINC back in the middle of 1988.
 
Would it surprise you to know that the term homeless first began being used in the 80’s? Before that, terms like hobos and bums were used. That tells you that most of the homeless before the 80’s were thought to be single men.
 
The 80’s marked an increase in visibility for the homeless. Instead of being concentrated in certain areas of a city, people saw homeless people sleeping in parks, on the street, etc.
 
Community LINC was started because some concerned people became aware that there were homeless families, as well.
 
Even in the 80’s though, homeless families weren’t highly visible. They stayed with family or friends, or lived out of their cars, rather than sleeping on a grate or a park bench.
 
It was more likely that the congregations and the homes association were approached for assistance and that lead them to create a program to end homelessness for families.
 
What struck me is that the values of the organization have been so consistent over all these years. The belief in “a hand up, not a hand out” has been a guiding principle from the beginning. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Intake Matters: For his kids' sake

By Intake & Resident Specialist Holly Gardner
 
Mr. G and his two baby daughters were referred to us from City Union Mission 10/2/13. After going through the screening process, I assisted his move in to Community LINC on 10/10/13.
 
As all families do, Mr. G shared his story and the unique and personal experiences that led him to our door.  The most impactful was surviving a violent crime and healing from a recent gunshot wound. This is a long process and along the way he has lost some support from family and friends who didn’t have the resources and or time it took to be “family” for him and his two beautiful girls.
 
When he walked in the door, he sat down in my office and strongly advocated for his children.  He is seeking employment and has current job prospects.  He wants to build a new and more stable life and find extended family for his little girls. This communication came through very strongly and I have no doubt that Mr. G is on the right path.
 
Although he is just entering our program, I chose to highlight him and his daughters…the success is this very moment in time, not so much what is to be, but the gift of what he now has. This is what I saw in his eyes as I handed him his key.
 
I feel so privileged to be a small part of this organization and look forward to his journey as we continue to coach and wrap our arms around his family.
 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Program Matters: How Far Do We Go?

By Senior Director of Programs and Operations Jeannine Short
 
In response to the Federal 10-year plan to end homelessness, Community LINC has realigned its programs and service delivery model with the objective of serving more homeless families.  To this end, we have adopted the rapid rehousing and housing-first models and their consequent paradigms…. Well, at least to some degree.
 
In general, these paradigms purport that: 1) homeless persons are more receptive to services provided in their own environment, 2) homeless persons need not be made “housing-ready”, 3) issues, such as substance abuse and mental illness, should not be barriers to housing, and 4) embraces a “harm reduction” methodology which challenges the rigidity of long-standing rules and regulations. While these models are gaining wide acceptance throughout the social service industry at large, the approaches are still relatively new and the long-term impact currently unknown. 
 
As a learning organization, Community LINC has done well to understand and even implement some of these new service delivery approaches. However, we have to ask ourselves the hard question of just how far we should go.  Do we incorporate the whole of these emerging paradigms because it appears that such will become future best practice? By doing so, would we on an agency level actually be embracing the “one-size-fits-all” ideology that the paradigms are designed to mitigate? If we exercise latitude in deciding what works best for our agency, will our services and methods be deemed antiquated and eventually become obsolete?
 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Therapy Matters: Establishing trust

By Director of Mental Wellness Gail Byers
 
Establishing trust in a therapeutic relationship can be challenging, particularly in the population we serve.  Gaining trust meets some of the components of Maslow’s  Hierarchy, i.e. safety needs which involve, security of body, resources, employment, family, health, and property.  Other components include esteem which is involves respect of others and respect by others.
 
The point is that when certain criteria is fulfilled, as indicated in Maslow’s hierarchies, trust is subsequently established. 
 
This continues to be proved true.
 
In a recent session a young woman revealed that she was raped as a child and never told anyone until now. She is 34 years old. 
 
Keep in mind that we had three previous sessions.  While it was a tremendous relief, as indicated by her countenance, the significance of her feeling safe enough to reveal the victimization was tantamount.  Imagine internalizing this trauma and the subsequent implications….shame/guilt, low self-worth, a skewed understanding of love, etc. These are all emotions that negatively impact lifelong decisions. 
 
However, the positive in this encounter is the significance of trauma informed care.  With this knowledge, comes clarity, resulting in more focused and intentional therapy. 
 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Jobs Matter: And she's well on her way to being self-sufficient again

By Employment Services Jobs Coach Constance Taylor
 
K’s family is well on their way to becoming self-sufficient again.
Hard work, determination, and the right attitude drove K to rise above the odds. She has overcome some huge barriers - multiple warrants and utility bills totaling more than $1000.
At first, concentrating long enough to complete a good solid application was a major accomplishment. She presented herself as an undesirable candidate to most employers because of a weak work history and very little experience. 
But, as each barrier was eliminated, she began to appear more relieved and started to paint a picture of her employability and experience more effectively.
She put in tons of applications and began to attend job fairs all over the city. She went to several interviews, but didn’t get a positive response. We finally decided that a better strategy may be to apply in person and present herself to as many employers as possible.
She attended a job fair at hotel opening in the area and ended up being hired on the spot as a housekeeper. At almost the same time, her application for permanent housing was approved.
Before the end of December 2013 she will be in her new home with gainful employment. What a huge success for someone who had a hard time seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. 
 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Volunteers Matter: A Happy Halloween at Community LINC

By Volunteer Coordinator Kate Nevins
 
This year for Halloween, Church of the Resurrection Downtown brought a “trunk or treat” to Community LINC’s families.  

 
Members of the church dressed up in costume, decorated their cars and came to Community LINC to pass candy out of their trunks.
 
Our kids had so much fun!
 
It’s not always easy for the families we serve to celebrate and enjoy the holidays as they are transitioning out of homelessness and poverty. That is why we need volunteers to help us. Together, we can foster an environment where children are able to play like other children and families can pause and enjoy time with their families, which is what the holidays are all about.
 
Thanks to Church of the Resurrection for making Halloween such a success!
 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Myths about homelessness

The shutdown ended and sequestration remains in effect. Because public policy is shaped by perceptions of homelessness and the homeless, it seems important to dispel some of the myths that have been around for years now.
 
Perception #1: Let’s start with the impression that homeless people are all drug addicts, winos, mentally ill or criminals.
 
Reality: In 2012, families comprised 46% of Kansas City homeless. In our experience, 2/3 of the family is children. Families have been the fastest growing segment of the homeless population for the last several years.
 
Perception #2: Homeless people don’t want to work.
 
Reality: Every adult who comes to Community LINC looks for a job. About 1/3 of our homeless families were employed when they came into our program. Unfortunately, they earned less than the federal poverty level.  In 2012, 75% of those able to exit for their own home exceeded the federal poverty level.
 
Perception #3: Anyone who works can get housing.
 
Reality: In 2012 the median monthly housing cost for a renter in Kansas City was $764. The median wage for a fast food worker was $8.69 per hour or $1,506 per month IF they are full time. At 50% of monthly income, they will be considered severely housing cost burdened. Without benefits, if anything goes wrong, a fast food worker remains at risk of homelessness. The average wage for our families upon exit in 2012 was $10.10 and $8.98 this year to date.
 
Perception #3: Homelessness is a lifestyle choice.
 
Reality: We haven’t encountered any homeless families that chose to be homeless. We’ve encountered people who were unemployed, or in low wage jobs, escaping domestic violence, etc. who just couldn’t find housing they could afford.
 
Perception #4: Services are just a handout.
 
Reality: We believe in a hand up, not a hand out. Our partnership with the families we serve includes the expectation that they are moving toward self-sufficiency. We provide job search support, mental health counseling, and life skills like budgeting and savings. In other words, we provide the tools clients need for self-sufficiency.
 
Perception #5: It’s an insurmountable problem.
 
Reality: There are programs that work. This year, about 96% of exiting our families are no longer among the homeless and about 75% left for permanent homes of their own. Nationally, the focus on housing first and then services has reduced the number of chronically homeless individuals by a third.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Children Matter: A New Card to Play

By Children’s Program Director Ryan Blake
 
The first couple times I met with Marcus, I could see in his eyes that he was angry. Our conversations usually consisted of how he was arguing with his family, upset about where he lived, mad at other kids, or frustrated at school. Whatever the situation was that day, he was unequipped to control his emotions. Sometimes he would get so upset that he was unable to verbalize how he felt or what went wrong. Marcus started the 4th grade this year and has already been suspended 3 times for anger related incidents.
 
We began working one-on-one with Marcus on program nights. We focused his lessons on anger management, regulation of emotions, and controlling impulses. Marcus has been incredibly receptive to our classes. He relates the material to situations in his life and reflects on how his decisions affect those around him. He has never missed a class.
 
Last night I spoke with Marcus after class. He told me he read a book called When Sophie Gets Angry..Really, Really Angry (by Molly Bang). He described the story to me and explained that Sophie went outside and looked at the water to calm down. I asked what he does to calm down. He told me he sits on the front porch and watches cars when he gets really worked up. I asked him what if he couldn’t go outside because he was in the middle of a math lesson at school. He told me “your answer is to get a drink of water, take deep breaths, or tell the teacher what is going on. My answer is usually to yell at whoever is bothering me or make them stop.” I asked him what one will keep you in school. He pointed to me and said “I know, I will try.”
 
I know that Marcus will probably continue to have anger problems at school. But I think we both feel better knowing that he doesn’t have to yell or push someone. He now has another card to play.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Aftercare Matters: Putting it all together

By Aftercare Critical Time Intervention Case Manager Sara Barrett
 
Our first eight families to work through the Aftercare Program will be graduating this month.
 
All of the families are employed, and three have increased their income or been promoted in their current jobs. Over the last nine months they have saved over $5000 and paid off over $4000 in debt, including credit cards, outstanding warrants and tickets, property tax arrearages and payday loans.   Two families have purchased vehicles and insurance.
 
Three families have accessed higher education or trade school to increase their education and knowledge base. One family has accessed Small Business Education through a partnering agency and has begun the blueprints for her already growing small business, as well as a savings account to prepare for expansion of her business.
 
Two families have enrolled in substance abuse support to deal with previous or current addictions. Four families have accessed mental health and emotional wellness services to improve the relationships within their family setting.
 
The beauty of Aftercare is seeing clients move beyond a “program mentality” and moving into their own dreams, believing they can move forward after the trauma of experiencing homelessness. Life does not stop at a roof over their heads, that is just the beginning; the first page to a new story. As the aftercare worker, I have learned to see beyond the walls of program requirements and my idea of what looks possible for a family. I am moved by the honor of walking with these families for the last nine months, and forever inspired to push beyond the difficult circumstances life can bring to something greater.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Therapy Matters: Childhood abuse is a trauma for life

By Director of Mental Wellness, Gail Byers
 
Typically during sessions the client is asked to tell about their childhood experiences, like who raised them, any significant experiences (loss of parents) etc. 
 
This particular client had participated in a group the evening before on child sexual abuse.  In discussing her childhood experiences she stated “I started prostituting when I was nine years old.  Old Mr. Jones would pay me all the time to sit on his lap.  I would take the money and buy candy and stuff.” 
 
As a therapist I often am the recipient of statements that are meant to shock.  However, such statements are really asking for clarification and/or validation. 
 
We reviewed the subject content of the previous group and the client literally had an ‘ah-hah’ moment.  She asked, “then I was not a prostitute?’ 
 
I responded, “no, you were a child, you were victimized.”  Her whole countenance changed with a sense of relief. 
 
This client, a 45 year old woman, believed this notion of being a prostitute, beginning at age nine, for thirty six years.  You can only imagine the impact that this belief has had on her self-worth and the decisions she has made in her life thus far.
 
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”
 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Families Matter: A permanent home

By Family Coach Frenchie Pulluaim
 
Today, Marlon Wells and his family completed the program here at Community LINC.  This family was referred to us by the City Union Mission Shelter, they had been sleeping here and there before going into the shelter.  Due to the break- up of Mr. Wells and his wife and the loss of employment this family was on a downward free fall.  The family had no income and was tired of struggling from one closed door to another.

The stress of not being able to provide for his family was wearing Mr. Wells down, and causing issues for his school age children.  Since moving into the Community LINC transitional housing, Mr. Wells has gained employment, his oldest daughter has returned to school and is looking forward to graduation, and best of all they are moving into their own permanent home, a townhouse.  Moving into their own home is bigger than Christmas for this family, it has been a long time since they have had their own home. 
 
Although Mr. Wells and his family are thankful to Community LINC , Community LINC is  honored and pleased to see families turn their lives around and reach their goals. 
 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Jobs Matter: Hard work, determination, and faith equals immediate turnaround

By Employment Services Job Coach Constance Taylor
 
Hard work, determination, and faith have paid off for Katrina, one of our newest residents. 
 
It has been less than a month since Katrina moved to our community with her thirteen year old daughter.  She didn’t have a job or a place to live, but she was determined to put her life back together again. 
 
She applied for a position with an area hospital but didn’t believe that she would even get an interview.  So she came faithfully to the employment lab to apply for other jobs.
 
The call that we were waiting for finally came and she had her first interview.  I remember asking her several practice interview questions, but she froze up in fear and couldn’t respond to any of the questions.
 
I suggested that she write down her answers and we would try again the next day.  She left that day discouraged about her inability to respond. 
 
She went back to her apartment and began to focus on the positive outcomes if she got the job.  Her motivation came from seeing that she would have a place of her own to care for her daughter and a second chance to redeem success in life. This job was a chance of a lifetime and she knew she could not allow this opportunity to pass her by.
 
She came back the next morning with a positive attitude and a burst of energy.  I knew she was a perfect candidate for the position because she had  both the skills necessary and the past experience.  After a second interview she was offered the position. She begins her new job next week and her income with benefits is a living wage.  
 
She believes perseverance, the relief she felt in finding interim housing at Community LINC, along with the encouragement that she received from our support staff have been the biggest influence to her success.   
 
Congratulations to Katrina for a job well done!
 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Program Matters: So What Is Self-Sufficiency?

By Senior Director of Programs and Operations Jeannine Short
 
Many organizations serving disenfranchised populations tout as some part of their mission the goal of helping families achieve self-sufficiency.  Concordantly, such organizations have done well to implement programs and service delivery models, along with outcomes measurement processes, toward this end. 
 
Self-sufficiency, according to Webster, is 1) the ability to supply one’s own needs without external assistance; and 2) having extreme confidence in one’s own resources, powers, etc.
 
From this perspective, it stands to reason that government would invest dollars in large-scale workforce development programs and prescribe sanctions for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients who choose not to engage in workforce activities; also, that local-level agencies would invest dollars in job skills and job readiness programs. 
 
What does not stand to reason, however, is that while there seems to be vested interest in providing opportunities aimed at creating or increasing income, HUD’s outcomes measurement of the percentage of families exiting programs with increased income seems to fly in the face of self-sufficiency.  How? Because the measurement includes not only earned income, but also “income” received through TANF.
 
So what, then, is self-sufficiency? Is it the ability to supply one’s own needs, or is it the ability to meet those needs through mainstream resource systems?  If the latter, would “inter-sufficiency” be a more appropriate term?
 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Volunteers Matter: Rent Party Volunteers

By Volunteer Coordinator Kate Nevins
 
Board member Brad Korris & wife Missy Bruhn at check in.
On Saturday, September 28th, after months of preparation, it was finally the night of Community LINC’s annual fundraiser - the Rent Party.
 
Equally excited and exhausted from all the work it had taken to get there, the planning committee watched as the first guests arrived. I was overwhelmed by how much support we had received.
 
The auction committee had worked tirelessly to secure more auction items than ever before, and the night-of volunteers were there to add structure for the evening, from check-in and check-out to raffle ticket sales.
 
It was an exciting night for everyone - attendees, volunteers and staff. And, Community LINC raised a record $635,000!
 
This would not be possible without the support of our volunteers.  From everyone at Community LINC, THANK YOU for donating your time and talent.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Aftercare Matters: Growth Happens in Small Successes

By Aftercare Critical Time Intervention Case Manager, Sara Barrett
 
As the first group of Aftercare families comes to a place of completing services, we are taking time to look back with each family and note the successes had since moving from interim housing to permanent housing.
 
Each family, at the beginning of services completes a Needs Assessment to rate their strengths and needs in the following categories: Basic Needs of housing, food, furniture, finances, clothing and transportation, Parent and Child needs of Education, Employment, Mental Health, Physical Health, Substance Abuse and Legal Concerns, and Family Relationships including adult to adult, parent to child, sibling and parent relationships. Child Safety Risk and Domestic Violence are also assessed.
 
Clients work with the Aftercare Worker to determine where they see their own family. Needs Assessments are completed consistently throughout the program to determine success, change and show areas of needed growth. Aftercare services are then tailored to meet the needs expressed on the Assessment.
 
Self-Assessment and reflection, I have seen, is sometimes a scary and difficult part of Aftercare for our clients. Many of them fear looking back through the time and are resistant at first to discuss the history of our service time together. They automatically assume failure for themselves.
 
As we sit and look at each of the small categories of need, making up the whole picture of their hard work in Aftercare, I slowly see them relax and a smile build across their faces.
 
100% of all of the families actively participating in Aftercare have seen improvements in all categories of assessed need during their time in the program. This is great news.
 
More importantly however, families are learning to recognize their own successes to be proud of and understand that growth does not just stop at obtaining a roof to live under; but it is a continual process.
 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Is this any way to treat the economy?

I was going to write about what is sometimes referred to as “the poverty trap”, but today is the last day of the government’s fiscal year. As of right now, we expect the government to shut down tomorrow because there is no continuing resolution, much less a federal budget to authorize government spending.
 
USA Today’s story “66 questions and answers about the government shutdown” ended with the following points about what it means in the long run:
 
“64. How much money would a shutdown save taxpayers? Most likely, it wouldn't. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says shutdowns cost money in terms of contingency planning, lost user fees and back pay. A government estimate after the shutdown in 1995-96 estimated its cost at $1.4 billion.
 
65. What effect would a shutdown have on the economy? Economists say even a short shutdown — of three or four days — would begin to shave decimal points off economic growth. A sustained shutdown of three or four weeks "would do significant economic damage," economist Mark Zandi told USA TODAY.
 
66. What about the stock market? The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 3.7% during the 1995-96 government shutdown, according to S&P Capital IQ. Stocks quickly rebounded after the government got back to work, rising 10.5% the month after the shutdown ended.”
 
The economic recovery hadn’t really trickled down to very low income people like the homeless families we serve, so we’re fervently hoping a fragile economy isn’t dealt another setback.
 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Children Matter: Invest in the parents to help the child

By Ryan Blake, Children’s Program Director

Single parent families with young children are among the fastest growing among the homeless populations in the United States. This statistic is consistent with the makeup of many of the families we serve at Community LINC.

The infants and toddlers from these families are at an extreme risk for developmental delay or deviations.  Nationally, an alarming 75 percent of homeless children under the age of 5 have a major developmental delay.  Over half of homeless preschool children score below the first percentile in receptive verbal functioning.  Of these children, 38 percent exhibit emotional and behavioral problems. Chances are these children will continue to struggle throughout their academic career.

Why do these young children struggle so much?

The circumstances homeless families go through challenges healthy infant development and relationships. Parents dealing with domestic violence, mental disorders, substance abuse, and housing insecurity are often unable to recognize and respond to the needs of their young child. Also, young parents experiencing trauma often lack the necessary parenting skills and support they need to form a secure attachments with their child.

The stressful experiences associated with homelessness are toxic to young children as well.  According to the ACE study (Adverse Childhood Experiences); the amount of stress early in a child’s life is a reliable predictor of health and behavior problems later in their adolescent and adult life. These problems include suicide attempts, adolescent pregnancy, heart disease, alcoholism, and violence with their partners. But there is hope.  

A secure attachment with an adult caregiver can act as a buffer from environmental stress and the negative outcomes and the child. A consistent, nurturing relationship serves as a shield from these events which allow children to develop normally. 
One of the key parenting skills that homeless parents often lack is simply how to talk with their child. 

The research  conducted by Betty Hart and Todd Risley of University of Kansas found some shocking differences in the way parents communicate with young children. Their research showed that parents of children in poverty say about 616 words per hour. Children of a working class family experience 1251 words per hour, and lastly, a child from a more affluent professional family hear 2153 words per hour with a much more extensive vocabulary. 

By age 4 the average child in poverty might have 13 million fewer words of cumulative experience than the average child in a working-class family. The differences in the amount of speech and vocabulary attainment affect their brain development. This is the one of the reasons why I see many children who are 4 and 5 years old who can’t speak or have severe speech delays. These children are essentially starting school way behind their peers.

Furthermore, to ensure young children experiencing homelessness are receiving the services they need, it is essential for them to be enrolled with a high-quality early childhood education. The problem is, it’s tremendously expensive.  

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the annual average cost for an infant in center-based child care is fourteen hundred dollars more than the average annual in-state tuition at a 4-year university. 

But what about free head start programs for low-income families? For the entire state of Missouri there are only 2,242 funded slots for Early Head Start and only 15,638 funded slots for Head Start Preschool. This means that only 2 percent of eligible infants and toddlers are able to secure spots at Early Head Start Programs. 

Providing these children with high-quality early childhood interventions are vital for them to succeed later in education. Without them, these at-risk children are 25 % more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent, 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education, 60 percent more likely to never attend college, and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

For young children who are homeless the problems are many. The good news is there is hope. 

Providing their parents with the skills they need to interact, respond, and to read with their young children supports a healthy attachment that will shield the negative environmental stresses. Also, providing early childhood interventions and referrals helps to ensure that children will start school with the developmental skills they need to be successful. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Program Matters: Whose Values Should Prevail?

By Senior Director of Programs and Operations, Jeannine Short
 
A primary tenet of social work case management practice is cultural competence—the ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds.  The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) expands this principle to include the elements of self-identification and self-awareness;  and suggest that such is fundamental to recognizing and addressing how one’s own cultural values, beliefs, biases, experiences, and practices affect interactions with clients. They state “the social worker who practices such self-assessment can then recognize how cultural identity, in its multifaceted expressions, is central to the resilience of the individuals, families, and communities with whom [they] interact” (NASW, 2013, p. 29). What this implies is that where personal values conflict with those of the client, the propensity for ineffective (if not harmful) relationships is intensified.
 
To exemplify this point, Community LINC has seen a significant increase in the number of two-parent families entering the program. Of note, however, is that in many of these family systems, the “wife” has historically assumed primary financial responsibility. Consequently, it is she who demonstrates the fortitude and tenacity in utilizing the employment services component of our program to secure employment.  While this may be consistent with the values of these families, it may prove troublesome for the social work case manager whose personal values hold that such responsibility should be shared at the very least.  What results then is the question of whether or not failure on the “husbands” part to seek employment should affect the family’s successful completion of the program, or should acknowledgment of the family’s value system determine such? Perhaps NASW (2013) provides the answer:
 
The social work case manager needs to appreciate and affirm client’s cultural values, beliefs, and practices, especially the ways in which culture influences perceptions and practices related to… definitions of family, family communication patterns… and decision-making related to education, employment, financial or legal matters, health care, and housing. (p. 29)
 
Reference: National Association of Social Workers (2013): NASW Standards for Social Work Case Management

Monday, September 16, 2013

Therapy Matters: Fathers matter

By a Children's Mental Wellness Therapist


Some of the children in our program show increases in anxiety when they are learning to transition into the program and to be surrounded by other youth! 

In working with an only child showing that anxiety, one of our therapists gave the child a task to write a letter to someone who he cares about. The young man immediately chose to write a letter to his absentee father.  It took a while, but on the fourth session, the young man wrote a letter to his father describing his pain and the experience of living his life without him.  

The child was the given the opportunity his letter with the therapist, if he chose. It was a chance to express himself with a non-threatening person in a safe environment.  As a result, the young man reported feeling better, relieved and less stressed.  

Our young man is also working with therapist on learning the art of forgiveness and moving forward.  He admits that the challenge to write to his father was difficult but feels happy that he was able to release his emotions through writing and no longer feels angry or sad.

Jobs Matter: Overcoming Homelessness Employment Barriers

By Employment Services Jobs Coach, Constance Taylor

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the national unemployment rate for August 2013 was 7.3%. The survey showed that the US unemployment rate fell 0.1 percentage points in August to 7.3%. The unemployment rate peaked in October 2009 at 10.0% and is now 2.7 percentage points lower. 

In July 2013 the National unemployment rate was 7.4%. Missouri was at 7.1% with the number of persons unemployed in Kansas City at 69,607. This number increased from 68,797 unemployed in June. While the national level decreased the number of unemployed in Kansa City increased.

Many homeless individuals are part of the population of the unemployed. Their barriers to employment are extreme, with homelessness being at the top of the list.  The barriers are sometimes due to trauma (often experienced when they became homeless), lack of education, computer knowledge, job experience and other skills.  Subpopulations of the homeless also have barriers from incarceration, extended hospitalization, mental illness, and alcohol and/or drug abuse.

Research shows that people who are homeless do want to work. “Researchers with the Department of Labor seven-year Job Training for the Homeless Demonstration Program reported that with the correct blend of assessment, case management, employment, training, housing and support services, a substantial portion of homeless individuals can secure and retain jobs that will contribute to housing stability.”

Through studies, the Chronic Homelessness Employment Technical Assistance Center found that staff members are challenged while working with employers who also often share stereotypes that a homeless person with multiple barriers are not good candidates for employment. Employers sometimes automatically assume that they will have a poor appearance, will not have good hygiene and will not fit in the workplace because of stigma that comes with having no permanent housing.

To help individuals overcome and be successful, our Employment Program strives to develop individual employment plans based on each person’s short term, intermediate and long term goals. Our approach is to assist each person to develop a plan that will provide positive long term benefits that will prevent any more instances of homelessness.

It's even harder to search for a job without childcare.
We believe that if the person owns the steps required to get different results, with support from our staff and services, they will have long lasting success with security in employment and housing. 

We are striving to develop partnerships with other agencies like Connections to Success, Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission Second-Chance Program for ex-offenders, and will make referrals to other agencies and organizations in the community that will assist meeting the needs of those experiencing addictions and mental illness at the discretion of our Mental Health Director. Our aftercare program provides us the ability to follow a participant up to 9 months of recovery. 

In conclusion, in the book written by Liane Phillips and Echo Montgomery Garrett, “Why Don’t They Just Get a Job”, you witness the compassion of two community leaders who believe that there is hope even for those expelled by society.  We share the opinion of the authors that we must be the ones that help answer that question and believe that even the chronically homeless population can achieve stable employment with decent wages and health benefits, when they take the necessary steps to break the chains of poverty.  

Friday, September 13, 2013

Families Matter: Rapidly re-housing homeless families

By Housing Coordinator, Tammy Mayhue
 
Community LINC’s Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) equips the families we serve to regain their self-sufficiency and their own housing. We establish the amount and types of assistance they need to rapidly obtain housing and supplement it with the services that will give them the skills and resources to keep their homes. RRH assistance is only available for families who are literally homeless - meaning they have nowhere else to go. They may be living in a homeless shelter, a motel, a car, or another place unsuitable for human habitation.
 
The Rapid Re-Housing Program is an excellent opportunity for families who lack means and support systems to move from an emergency shelter or a transitional living environment into a house or apartment they can afford with their present income.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Volunteers Matter: Giving Back with your Significant Other

Gerald and wife Stephanie volunteer together. 
By Volunteer Coordinator, Kate Nevins

Volunteering is not usually thought of as an activity for couples.

Dinner and a movie? Yes, that’s a date. 

Visiting the Nelson Atkins Art Museum and walking around on the Plaza? Yes, that’s a date. 

Going to help out in the Children’s Program at Community LINC on a Thursday night? This would not even occur to most couples as a way for them to spend time together, but Community LINC is fortunate to have several couples who volunteer their time together on a regular basis. Community LINC would like to thank Michael and Melissa Ashcraft, Katie and Ben Hollon, Stephanie and Gerald Ostapko, and Tina and Keith McHudson for their work in the Children’s Program. 

We certainly rely on people like them, and we have a feeling that they get something more out of being here than they would at home in front of the t.v.!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Does poverty discriminate or do we?

Fifty years ago this week Dr. Martin Luther King gave his most famous speech - the “I have a dream” speech. Most people remember it for the stirring vision of freedom and equality for every American.

Wynton Marsalis points out, “How many of us today know that it was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom? I sure didn't. And it is now clear that poor and working class citizens need to be an integral part of our economic system. This necessity transcends race. Race is a matter of physiology; discrimination is a matter of culture, and culture shapes public perception, which influences political action.”

When I read the comments on the Fox News website about the 50th anniversary of the speech, the first several I saw were about how many blacks are criminals or on welfare. To at least some of the public, crime, poverty and race all blur together.

Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, noted at a 2010 Congressional briefing, that views of the cultural roots of poverty “play important roles in shaping how lawmakers choose to address poverty issues.”

There is no question that poverty still disproportionately impacts non-whites in America. In 2010, 27% of blacks and Hispanics were below the poverty level versus 9% of whites and 12% of Asians.

As long as lawmakers share the perception by some of the public that poverty shows a character flaw, political action won’t be of much use in the fight to end poverty.

We’ll just have to keep trying to change those perceptions and striving to live up to Dr. King’s vision of freedom and equality. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Children Matter: Longing to be like everybody else

By Ryan Blake, Children’s Program Director

I think there is a direct correlation between poverty, homelessness and self-esteem. Many children are embarrassed to appear poor. That's why you'll see children receiving free school lunches with a nice outfit, expensive shoes, and a new cell phone. They want to look like the  middle class students.

Another example of students being embarrassed by their family’s financial situation is an unwillingness to be associated with Community LINC.

We have a Community LINC Teen Facebook page where teens can keep in touch with us. None of the teens have wanted to join the page, because they don’t want their friends to know they lived here.

I also noticed that sometimes the school bus lets out our children around the corner from our building. When I asked why they get dropped off over there, the kids told me they don’t want people to know where they live.

Self-esteem is a major topic that we talk about with our students. I want them to see a connection with making the right choices and feeling good about themselves.

A month ago I was teaching a class of 5th grade boys about self-esteem. When I asked the class if where you live affects your self-esteem, 10 year Jamal silenced the class with his answer.

Jamal said, "I think it’s harder for people who live in the hood to have high self-esteem”. He explained that “there are people doing drugs, hookers, and killing people, and tons of crime in the hood, it’s harder to be happy with so many negative things happening every day.” 
I asked them if it was true for the neighborhood where Community LINC is, and everyone agreed that this neighborhood isn’t that bad.  I questioned them about it, and they gave me an example of a pair of shoes a student was wearing. “See Robert’s Nikes… he can walk down the street with them on and not worry, if it was a bad neighborhood Robert could get beaten up for his shoes.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Aftercare Matters: Stuff

By: Sara Barrett, Aftercare Case Manager
 
Three weeks in to Aftercare, I was excited to get to a particular home visit with a Community LINC client. She had received furniture to fill her home, due to a referral made to a partnering agency to fill this need. Feeling great about the fact that she had all of the material things that seemed necessary to make a home a home, and excited to celebrate this with her, I was greeted by a home in disarray and an upset, overwhelmed young mom.
 
Furniture was all over the living room and the kitchen was stacked to the top cabinets with cooking necessities. My client burst into tears and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to do this in my own place.”
 
When I asked her what she meant, she went on to explain, this was her first experience living in her own home and owning all the furniture and materials one might put in a home.
 
She had spent the week trying to get the home ready for my arrival of our hour long home visit, hoping I would be impressed that she had put a whole home together, but grew stressed and overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for so much. She said, “Is this what it’s like to be not homeless? Why do people think all this stuff is what creates happiness? Why did I think that?”
 
My heart sank, and I sat down on the couch, which was halfway in the dining room and halfway in the kitchen. My client sat next to me and we made plan to get the home in order.
 
As we worked to put things in their “proper place” my mind swirled. What is my job here? What is happiness? What is success in this program? I had this idea of what it looked like to move from homelessness to self-sufficiency; what I as a “social worker” would call success, what a put-together home might look like; but I’m not here to make my ideas my client’s ideas. I was humbled by the power I have as a worker-that someone would spend a week in distress to impress me with the condition of her home. 
 
My client eventually settled in to the responsibility of caring for and seeing the benefit of having the material things she has in her home - a table to eat family dinners around, a couch to plop on with her kids and watch a movie or paint nails, and a full kitchen to prepare healthy meals for her family.
 
We laugh now when we talk about that day, but our conversation on this topic always ends with the idea that all the material things we have are just stuff.
 
Self-sufficiency is about more than the roof over our heads or the things we have in our home, it starts with the belief in one’s self that he or she can become self-sufficient; that one does have the ability to maintain a home and that this ability is valuable.
 
My job as the aftercare worker is to see the strengths in the clients I serve that can be cultivated into life skills, help the client see those for him or herself, and partner with them to develop those into what self-sufficiency looks like to them. If we can do that, all the other “stuff” will fall into place.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Program Matters: Are We Helping or Harming?

By Jeannine Short, Senior Director of Programs and Operations
 
As the face of homelessness continues to evolve from disheveled men sitting on street corners to entire families sleeping in cars; also evolving are the ways in which homeless services programs and systems are realigning delivery models aimed at housing the homeless more quickly, efficiently and effectively. 
 
Included in this realignment is the emerging “harm reduction” philosophy which focuses on the need for housing, rather than the reasons for homelessness (i.e. substance abuse, mental illness, etc.).  Too, it emphasizes the concept of screening homeless persons into programs, rather than screening them out.
 
While it is a reasonable assumption that social service practitioners would readily espouse these “housing first” philosophies, the challenge is shifting traditional mindsets which perpetuate the assumption that all homeless families and individuals must be made “housing ready” by “successful” participation in a myriad of interim supportive services.
 
While it is true that some would indeed benefit from such services, is it fair or even ethical to assume that one-size-fits-all?