Amy SooHoo recently began working with SAMHSA’s Homeless and Housing Resource Network (HHRN), coming to this position after two years of providing outreach services in Boston, Massachusetts with the Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) program. Here, she reflects on how her past experiences in outreach influence her work today.
What gives a day meaning? This can vary from person to person, day to day, and year to year. For me, I find meaning in simple moments—in the time I share with friends and family, reading a good book, and going for an evening run. But most importantly, I find meaning in my work.
In my prior position as a Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) outreach worker, I didn’t have to look far for meaning in my day—the direct service aspect of that position ensured it. My days were spent in conversation with those experiencing homelessness. I worked to plant seeds of hope and change, wanting others to believe that their future could be different. At the end of the day, I could reflect on what had meaning for me that day, how the tiny part of the world with which I had interacted was different because of my actions. I could reflect on taking a young woman to apply for food stamps, and how she’d now be able to buy food because of that. I could think of visiting a client at his new apartment, the smile on his face, and the long road leading to that moment. I could recall a counseling session in which a woman shared a piece of her struggle and painful past, allowing me to bear witness to her story, and think of the ways that her story had changed me.
I’ve recently done a bit of a 180-degree turn. I left my position as a PATH outreach worker and began a new position working primarily with the PATH program at the national level with SAMHSA’s Homeless and Housing Resource Network (HHRN). It’s an entirely new perspective on the PATH program, and my time spent as an outreach worker informs my work in important ways. HHRN works to provide support and training and technical assistance to SAMHSA’s homeless program grantees, and accomplishes this by offering various resources, trainings, webinars, and consultations.
As a PATH outreach worker, I didn’t give much thought to the work that went into the PATH program—I was simply grateful that my position existed, and that I had the tools and resources I needed to do my job. I entered data about my clients, but didn’t really consider what that meant or how it would be used. I went to trainings and read articles, but didn’t think about the work involved with planning an effective training, or in writing an informative and relevant article.
In my new position, I witness the incredible amount of work that goes into ensuring that the PATH program provides effective services. I am grateful to have opportunities to apply what I learned as an outreach worker to the work that occurs on the national level. I find that I am constantly coming back to my time as an outreach worker, trying to determine how a potential change or new policy might affect the services being offered on the ground. I think about what was most challenging to me when I was working in the field, and if there’s anything that can be done to address these challenges.
At the end of the day, the meaning of my work has not changed. I still strive to improve the lives of those experiencing homelessness, and I know that while my current work does not generally have a direct effect on this population, it indirectly affects these individuals in powerful ways. This is what matters most to me, and what gives my days meaning.
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