Friday, May 29, 2015

It Continues to Take A Village

 By Griselda Williams, Mental Health Services Manager

I was talking to Joshua Chittum, Children’s Program Coordinator, recently about the village-like activity that we saw at Community LINC among the women residents. We discussed how refreshing it was to see the activity and how good it felt that our families were coming together and providing support to one another. Several of the women residents shared personal stories of not having family supports or social supports that they could count on. Those same women, however, were providing that support to one another in the village. I heard Tanya tell Carol that she had just bought a car and when Carol needed to go to the hospital to deliver her baby, Tanya would give her a ride. The women in the village shared stories with Carol about when they were pregnant and what their deliveries were like. They also shared empathy with Carol because her baby was a week overdue. When Samantha came to the village, she would bring coupons for the other women. The women would then discuss the use of coupons and which stores had better bargains on food items for the family. Deborah offered to have her teenage daughter babysit Marianna’s two children when Marianna shared that, with two young active children, she seldom has time to journal. Alice gave Maia some diapers when she had a low supply and would not be able to go to the store to purchase more until the end of the week. Recently, during a program group on the topic of parent-child relationships, mothers with older children were giving village support to a younger mom with young children. They shared their wisdom about bed time routines, how to manage housework and the importance of the family meal. Yesterday, during a meeting with Rita, I shared my observations about the village activity. Rita confided that before Mariah moved to permanent housing in May, she gave Rita her infant car seat. This provided great relief for Rita.  Rita will deliver her baby next month and did not have a car seat to bring her baby home from the hospital. Rita added that while she is excited to move to permanent housing with her family in July, she wished she could take the village with her. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Miracle at the 9th Hour

 By Constance Taylor, Employment Job Coach 

As an employment coach, I really try to encourage my participants to believe in themselves again. Often times, I tell them these words, “I see you in your future and you look so much better.”  What I am really trying to do is to encourage them to dream.

After spending days in a homeless shelter or in a car with no real sense of belonging or accomplishment people sometimes become lifeless and lose hope. I believe that part of my job is to not only link them with employment resources and skills, but to extend to them a ray of hope, letting them know they can make it.

Rita came in with a burst of energy and really thought that within thirty days she would be employed again. She had prequalified for a position months ago. Because of her inexperience she was moved to the bottom of the candidate list several times.

She contacted her last employer to see if she was eligible for rehire and was told that she would have to reapply.   

She applied for a position as an apartment rental consultant and they selected a different candidate.   

I met a friend who told me about a staffing company with good job opportunities. Rita interviewed and tested very well in administration skills. She secured employment as  an administrative assistant for a major company and loves her new job.   

She said she believes she actually received her employment at the 9th hour.  A few more days would have been too late on a scale of 1-10.

She really believes that it was a miracle and she and her son have moved to their new home.    

Friday, May 8, 2015

Intake Matters: Relationships

By Holly Gardner, Intake and Resident Specialist

Earlier this week, friends, families and staff gathered for a special celebration for families who have successfully completed the Community LINC program.  Our host, Second Presbyterian Church, made this evening wonderful and feelings of hope and celebration were palpable. They graciously provided dinner and housewarming gifts to all the graduates. 

3 program participants s described the ways Community LINC transformed and touched their lives, contributing to their success.  As they searched for the right words I could see how touched they were and how their sentiments were in turn touching everyone in the room - including the families who hae recently entered the program.   As our Employment Service Job Coach presented each family with a certificate of success, it was easy to recall the families’ first weeks with us, their struggles, and their growth and each family’s new connection with permanent housing - in spite of barriers, in spite of the odds.

During this same week, Community LINC program staff attended the first of several seminars on the Housing First Concept, an approach to ending homelessness that centers on providing people experiencing homelessness with housing as quickly as possible – and then providing services as needed.  What resonated the most with me is that our families have the capability of doing so much more then we know or understand.  They have the capability to change their own lives.  Our job is to build relationships, build trust and on most days this will be work enough.

As each one of our graduating families walked up to receive their embossed certificate, their smiles spoke a thousand words. Later in the week during our training I saw those smiles again in my mind.  We are only touching their lives for such a short time and what will we say to them while we are honored to be there? What will they (and we) take with them when they leave here?  Relationships.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Huddle Time

By Housing Specialist Shaunte Abernathy Cox

“I’m not going back to a shelter.  I can’t do that again.  I just can’t.”  Her tearful words pierced deep, but I sat across from her wondering how much work she was willing to put into making sure that didn't happen.  With just 24 days away from her exit date, I wondered if she could finish strong.  If she could kick into gear, hit the ground running and make up for the time she lost during the first three months.  Would her words and actions unify or would she return to a shelter?  A place she knew all too well from her childhood. 

By the time Kenzie entered the Interim Housing Program at Community LINC for homeless families, she had already experienced homelessness three times.  Her mother struggled to maintain stability and was caught up in the cycle of domestic violence.  After moving from shelter to shelter, Kenzie was ultimately placed with her grandmother because in her words, her mother “kept choosing the violent men over her kids.”  When asked what their relationship is like now, Kenzie said “I haven’t spoken to my mother since I was 17 years old.  She kept bringing those violent men around and I kept fighting them off of her.  By the time I was in high school, we butted heads a lot.  I guess I reminded her too much of herself, so we didn't get along. “Like her mother, Kenzie found herself in an abusive relationship, but she found the strength to leave and never return.  She fled and relocated to Kansas City in search of a new beginning. 

At the age of 22, Kenzie proved she was determined to win.  The fight brewing within helped her secure housing and employment within the last month of her time at Community LINC. 

I remember the look on her face as I sat with her as she signed her lease and held the key to HER apartment.  I remember how grateful she was when I, along with three other members of the program team loaded our personal cars with her belongings and trailed behind one another on move-in day. 

I watched as her two-year old son, Tre explored his new place, curiously wandering from room to room.  As we walked towards the door and wished her well, she spoke two very important words: THANK YOU. 

On the drive home, I had time to reflect.  I recalled the weeks she was missing in action, and the times she sat in front of me with little to no progress to report on her goal plan.  Although frustrated, I remained persistent.  I needed her to understand that this was not the time to get comfortable.  I needed her to understand she was in transition and Community LINC was only a stop along the way to permanent housing.   I called her each time she missed a session with me. I unraveled each story she told that didn't quite add up and didn't allow her to make constant excuses.  I understood her history, but focused on her future.  I wanted her to succeed.  I wanted her to beat the odds. 

To some, I may have been a bit too stern, but my job was to help her secure permanent housing, not to make her feel warm and cuddly, not to make her feel comfortable, not to make excuses for her actions and not to sit by and watch her leave our program homeless. 

My goal is always to work from a strengths perspective, but at the same time, to be creative in my approach.  For me, Huddles are a creative way to identify challenges and opportunities, plot a plan A, B & C and intervene before it’s too late.   

When I introduced the concept of Huddles, I didn't know if they would work, but knew I needed to try a different approach and wanted to pull together all internal supports to help our clients succeed.  To date, these one-time, hour long sessions, conducted by the Housing Specialist, Employment Specialist, Mental Health Director and Children’s Program Coordinator, along with a specific client, have proven to be successful more times than not.    In these sessions, we speak the truth and illustrate the reality of each situation.   Yes, there may be some tears shed and yes, emotions may flare. But at the end of the day, Kenzie’s Huddle did what it was designed to do and her success was the result of true TEAM effort. 

 **Community LINC provided the financial assistance for Kenzie to move into her apartment.  She was also given a voucher to help furnish her new place through a partnership with My Father’s House.