Taking a Different PATH

by Amy SooHoo
December 05, 2012

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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.

Interested in being a HRC Guest Blogger? E-mail us at generalinquiry@center4si.com.

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Category: HRC Insight

An iPhone App for Locating Shelters

by Kaela Gray
January 19, 2011

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Recently, Trilogy Integrated Resources, LLC introduced an app for the Apple iPhone designed to locate the nearest shelter.

The Network of Care Shelter Finder app was released this fall and is designed to use the GPS capabilities of the iPhone to identify the shelters nearest to a user’s current location. The new app is built to search the Network of Care’s listings of over 3,000 shelters. Network of Care is largest network of community-based Web sites for service members, veterans and their families.

You can search for a shelter by services provided, including traditional shelters, transitional housing programs, permanent affordable housing, and drug/alcohol rehab facilities. There is also the option to narrow search results by age and family categories, making the app more useful.

I think the app is an interesting new development for direct service providers for two reasons. First, it offers an outreach worker an interactive and portable tool to take along on outreach. While iPhones are expensive, wireless devices are increasingly recognized as important tools for outreach. In the 2005 article Taking it to the Streets: Recording Medical Outreach Data on Personal Digital Assistants, Health Care for the Homeless in Houston studied how this type of technology could help improve care on medical care outreach. Their findings suggest that using personal digital assistants (PDAs) can help clinicians to focus on building relationships instead of re-creating documentation during patient encounters. Now, if an outreach worker needs to know which nearby shelter provides a certain service, or is working in an unfamiliar neighborhood, there is an app that can help.

The app could also help save time in training new workers. In a field where burnout and turnover are high, an up-to-date portable electronic listing of local resources could, at least potentially, reduce the time it takes to train new outreach workers.

The Network of Care Shelter Finder iPhone app is one step toward realizing the potential of mobile technology for making life a little bit easier for direct service workers. Of course, it assumes that workers have access to iPhones, which may be a stretch for most agencies. However, there is tremendous potential for interactive mobile technologies to help workers better serve people. A future app could be one that offers up-to-the-moment information about each shelter, with updates on beds available. For now, whether you think the app is helpful or not, one thing is for sure, it is a step in an interesting new direction.

Interested in being a HRC Guest Blogger? Email us at generalinquiry@center4si.com

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Category: HRC Insight | HRC Insight

Being Present with Compassion: Jessica Lusk on Outreach

by Jessica Lusk
November 08, 2010

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As told to HRC’s Wendy Grace Evans

I am a community mental health nurse and PATH provider. I’m new to the field of homeless services on the Project Outreach Team with Community Support and Treatment Services of Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Before this job, I worked for three years with people who had suffered Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).

I try to build relationships with people who are experiencing homelessness, substance use disorders, and mental illness on collaborative teams. I usually go on outreach with another nurse, or a social worker. Ann Arbor is a small college town. We meet people where they are, which may be under one of four bridges, by the river, in the woods, by the railroad tracks and at our clinic and local centers that provide food. I offer human contact, genuine interest in listening to people, medical assessments, clothing, food, medications, and referrals to the medical clinic. It is amazing to me that I am paid to provide essential community services.

Recently I worked on an outreach team to see Joe who lives under a bridge. I had talked to him several times before. He has had a history of not accessing services for mental health and medical care. On the day we arrived, I observed that he was comfortable enough with me to not hide his alcohol or drug use. I had never gone on an outreach and seen Joe drinking and using. But this day, he was comfortable enough with me to set up his next appointment at the clinic while drinking a fifth of vodka and smoking a joint.

He was sitting under the bridge with some of his friends. I’d never considered that as a nurse I would sit under a bridge, and connect with another person. It is really amazing that this kind of work actually exists. We have met and talked numerous times. Joe is very approachable and easy to talk to. He loves to chat and shoot the breeze. He’s an intellectual and I think that he likes that I listen to and recognize his ideas. I think he likes that I know him by name and care about him getting medications that help treat his diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He’s been into the clinic recently to talk about getting Medicaid. I have called his prescriptions into the clinic and I’ll deliver his medications to this bridge location, his home. I am sure he’s had his share of people letting him down in the past, but he knows I’ll be back.

Joe is a die-hard camper. He has a tent and a sleeping bag, radio, cigarettes, alcohol, and food all next to the railroad tracks. Our city has a lot of different food programs, more than most, so I often see Joe at the churches that serve meals. In about a month, I will be taking Joe to the hospital for a surgery to repair facial damage from a childhood trauma. He will be in the hospital for a while and I will be there to help him through that process.

Are you interested in sharing your voice on “Voices from the Field”? Email us at generalinquiry@center4si.com.

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Category: Guest Entry | Guest Entry