Ed Blackburn: What Gives Me Hope

by Wendy Grace Evans
May 16, 2011

Image of Wendy Grace Evans

Ed Blackburn is the Executive Director of Central City Concern in Portland, Oregon, a SAMHSA grantee that provides pathways to self-sufficiency through active intervention in poverty and homelessness. In a conversation with HRC Writer, Wendy Grace Evans, Ed talks about what inspires hope in his daily work.

What gives me hope is when I see a family that has been reunited. This is a very practical kind of hope. The children are happy because they are with their parents who have overcome substance use and trauma. To see that kind of happiness certainly motivates me.

I am also amazed to see a person who has experienced homelessness for a long time move into housing and find a sustainable job, or to see a person who has been disabled come back to health. I have the opportunity to see the communities that people build together as active citizens, attending city meetings, and that is my constant source of hope. Hope is a powerful response, and the experience of transformation is a powerful antidote to some of the political negativity that can surround the struggle to get funding support for safety net services and housing, as the news isn’t always good on that front.

When you can continue to see hope in humans, it helps to sustain our work. Angela is a single mother who had been living on the streets for years. She lost her baby to foster care, but once she was able to get into Central City Concern’s Hooper Detox Center, she was able to be reunited with her child. She joined our program for families in recovery, is now working, and has gone back to school. I had the privilege of hearing her story and meeting her. I will never forget her story. It was inspiring and a clear reminder of why we are doing what we are doing.

There was also a young man I knew who was heavily involved in street drug dealing. He had been in and out of the criminal justice system. After a couple of times, he entered into our Recovery Mentor Program. Three mentors run the program and mentor others. He has done very well and is now involved in our community volunteer corps to help people who are recovering from substance use. We have teams in the community working on projects for eighty dollars a month for a few hours a week to improve senior centers, parks, recycling centers, and to work with Habitat for Humanity and other small non-profits. Eighty-two percent of participants complete the program. They also work with Supported Employment and serve as inspiring examples to others.

The endless creativity that people have to solve serious problems, to heal people in the community, and to lead the way towards successful solutions demonstrates a limitless spirit. It is great to be a part of something so all encompassing. At Central City Concern we have approximately 650 employees. Fifty percent of our employees are in recovery from substance use and homelessness. I have the gift of participating in an organization that has the highest sense of commitment to its mission.

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

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: HRC Insight

Every Good Story Has a Hero

by Wayne Centrone
April 25, 2011

Image of Wayne Centrone

Every good story needs a hero. I met some real life heroes this week.

Recently, I traveled to two very different programs. In Alaska, the Cook Inlet Tribal Council is collaborating with a community based housing organization, Cook Inlet Housing Authority to develop model housing programs for people with complex medical, mental health and social needs. In essence, they are helping to shape a “safety net” movement in the city of Anchorage. Their work with Alaskan Native populations involves a strong grounding in cultural competency and respect for indigenous beliefs.

The other program I had the privilege of visiting was the Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT), in Los Angeles. Smack dab in the middle of one of the most sophisticated cities in the world, SRHT works in a 15-block area of extreme poverty and social isolation. The Skid Row community needs little in the way of introduction. Homeless and social service providers have been wrestling with how to provide the most effective means of delivering resources to the “Row” for years. SRHT, a community based housing developer, is working with cutting edge housing and supportive services to reach the most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness in Skid Row.

One afternoon in Anchorage, staff from the Cook Inlet Housing Authority and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council took our team to the city’s Project Homeless Connect event. Events like this take place in a number of cities across the country. They almost always involve an army of volunteers, a large conference facility venue, and a mountain of donated items.

What made this event different for me was the strong sense of community that I witnessed. Community was expressed in the way the volunteers interacted with the clients. Community was in the gentle smiles that abounded. Community was in the encouraging words heard over and over again. I asked one of the providers at the event why everyone seemed so happy. He said, “We are all in this together. We, clients, providers, clinicians, consumers, are all one big team.”

Walking around the streets of Los Angeles can be intimidating. Walking around the streets of the “Row” can be frightening. One afternoon, the Director of the SRHT Services in Supportive Housing program walked me around Skid Row to visit housing units available to clients enrolled in their housing first program. What struck me most in our brief walk was the seeming enormity of the problems and issues in the Row. I wondered to myself how people prevent being overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness. I asked a staff person working in one of the SRHT facilities if she ever felt like there was just too much to do. Her response inspired me. She said, “The most important thing for me in my work was learning that I can’t fix anyone. In fact, it’s not my job to fix people. What is my job - is to walk alongside them in this journey.”

The heroes of this story are the inspiring staff and service providers of both organizations, and the work they are doing everyday to serve the underserved and end homelessness.

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

Tags: , , ,

Category: HRC Insight

My Perspective: Sister Mary Scullion of Project H.O.M.E.

by Wendy Grace Evans
March 21, 2011

Image of Wendy Grace Evans

Sister Mary Scullion has been a tireless advocate for men, women and children experiencing homelessness since 1975. She was honored by Time magazine as one of the World’s Most Influential People in 2009 for her work with Project H.O.M.E in Philadelphia. In 2009, HRC profiled her work in “Upholding Human Dignity.” Now, two years later, HRC catches up with Sister Mary to hear about her recent work.

As told to HRC’s Wendy Grace Evans

One thing for sure is that the external environment is shifting quickly. I see this at the local, state, and national levels. This presents both challenges and opportunities. I am most excited about homelessness prevention and how we can work together to accomplish this. Initiatives like Rapid Re-Housing and Housing First, and increased permanent supportive housing, as well as other homelessness prevention strategies, have really sparked interest. I think there is a strong sense of hope that we can end homelessness.

Project H.O.M.E. has established an alumni association. It has been such a positive development in so many ways. Many people come back and our current residents see how former residents have reunited with families, are living with their kids, are working, and are engaged in life.

Just last night I met an alumna whose kids go to the after-care program. Her kids are on the honor roll and she was so happy and proud to have had the stability of Project H.O.M.E and to have transitioned to the stability of her own home. It is gratifying to see that the future can be different than the past.

When some of our alumni are struggling, they have a place to come back to here, rather than returning to homelessness. This is another homelessness prevention strategy that promotes social connectedness. Another exciting development has been the establishment of best practices. SAMHSA has been a strong reference point that has allowed us to deepen our knowledge of Evidence Based Practices and best practices in order to change and empower ourselves and our community to grow and achieve our potential.

We are participating in trainings on Critical Time Intervention (CTI), and the WRAP model. These have been important opportunities. We have also been more conscious of how we approach the hiring process. We are so grateful to be part of a community that is growing. While the number of people who are becoming homeless is unfortunately growing, more people are working to end the problem. We are all on a journey home. If we always do what we have always done, we are always going to get what we’ve always gotten. So we do things differently to make a change. . We have to redouble our advocacy efforts to ensure just and equitable public policies.

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

Tags: ,

Category: HRC Insight

Promoting a Healthy Work Environment: Twelve Questions

by Justine Hanson
March 07, 2011

Image of Justine Hanson

“People join organizations and leave supervisors.”

This was one of the key messages of a recent HRC webcast, “Promoting a Healthy Work Environment in Homeless Services: What Works.” Presenters Ken Kraybill, B.J. Iacino, Ayala Livny, and Tye Deines discussed strategies to help homeless service agencies promote healthy work environments.

Ayala and Tye’s section of the presentation focused on the importance of supervision. They shared research by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, published in First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, based on 25 years of research and interviews with over 1 million employees, managers, supervisors and executives.

Buckingham and Coffman learned that the front-line manager is the most important factor for attracting and retaining talented employees. They found that a person will stay with a great manager in a mediocre company, but will leave a mediocre manager in a great company. Even more surprisingly, they learned that pay and benefits are less important than the quality of a manager.

How can a homeless service agency move toward fostering, promoting, and providing quality supervision? Buckingham and Coffman suggest starting with 12 Questions. In a healthy work environment, all employees would answer affirmatively to these questions:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

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

Tags: , , ,

Category: HRC Insight

Self Care Tips

by Kaela Gray
February 15, 2011

Image of Kaela Gray

Feeling stressed? One of the most valuable things you can do is to practice a little self-care, every day. Here are some self-care tips to help you remember to breathe.



  1. Take one thing at a time.
  2. Avoid over-scheduling.
  3. Treat your body well.
    • Eat healthy food.
    • Exercise.
    • Get enough sleep as often as you can.
    • Take time off when you are sick.
  4. Remember to ask for help.
  5. Cook and enjoy a meal with a friend or loved one.
  6. If you have only 5 minutes, you could:
    • Chat with a co-worker
    • Step outside for fresh air
    • Enjoy a snack or make a cup of coffee or tea
  7. If you have only 10 minutes, you could:
    • Write in a journal
    • Call a friend
    • Meditate
    • Tidy your work area
    • Assess your self care routine
    • Draw a picture

Most importantly, whether you use some of these tips or create a few of your own, remember that sometimes in only takes a little bit of time to nourish your mind and body – and the benefits can go a long way.

Check out What About You? A Workbook for Those Who Work with Others for more self care tips.

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: HRC Insight

Stress and Burnout: A Hidden Occupational Hazard

by Kristen Paquette
January 31, 2011

Image of Kristen Paquette

We all throw around terms like “stress” and “burnout” as though they should be regular parts of everyday life. We might say, “Oh man, am I stressed out!” Or, “Did you see Tom during today’s staff meeting? He totally snapped! He is really burnt out.”

Sure, we all have stress at work. In fact, some stress is healthy for us. But we need to be careful not to ignore the dangers of stress and burnout. Recently, I had the opportunity to research these issues. What I found honestly surprised me.

Chronic stress and burnout can lead to devastating health and mental health conditions. These can include heart disease, musculoskeletal disorders, depression, anxiety, and emotional exhaustion.

In the homelessness field, service providers face a unique risk factor for burnout known as vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue. This occurs as a result of regular exposure to clients who are dealing with trauma. Among people who are homeless, their life stories often consist of violence, loss, despair, and family separations. As the caregivers, providers absorb these trauma stories. As a result, providers may begin to exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Or they may feel powerless, angry, and have a sense that their expectations for helping others have gone away. Vicarious trauma is a serious concern that can impact how providers view themselves, others, and the world around them. It can also severely impact providers’ quality of life.

What is most striking about this information is that issues such as burnout and vicarious trauma are preventable. With proper training and supports, individuals can minimize the dangers associated with these occupational hazards.

One way to do this is to adopt self-care practices. Both individuals and organizations play a role in self-care. In fact, it is essential that self-care is supported by both the individual and the organization.

Individuals can create self-care plans to help create a healthy work-life balance. Activities might include deep breathing or meditation, exercise, proper nutrition, spiritual activities, social activities, or even just making the time to take a lunch break. Organizations can create healthier cultures by talking about the importance of self-care, allowing time for staff to take breaks and seek out peer support, encouraging staff to take vacation time, and providing physical and mental health benefits.

For some HRC community members, this is not news. Perhaps for anyone who works, the dangers of job stress and burnout are not news. However, what may be news to you is just how dangerous stress and burnout can be when left unaddressed. For homeless service providers, the challenges are even greater as we walk alongside people who are struggling with trauma.

Even if you start small, start today. Strike up a conversation about self-care in your office. Take a walk at lunchtime. Breathe.

Please don’t forget to take care of yourself as you take care of others. Visit the HRC’s Self Care Topic Page to learn more about how to practice individual and organizational self care.

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

Tags: , , ,

Category: HRC Insight

An iPhone App for Locating Shelters

by Kaela Gray
January 19, 2011

Image of Kaela Gray

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

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: HRC Insight | HRC Insight

Taking Motivational Interviewing Agency-Wide

by Justine Hanson
January 03, 2011

Image of Justine Hanson

What would happen if you trained the entire staff of your agency in Motivational Interviewing (MI) skills? What if everyone, from case managers to finance staff, knew how to practice MI?

It will transform how your agency serves people, say Buddy Garfinkle and Nancy Schneeloch of Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The two recently hosted a HRC/PATH webcast on “Motivational Interviewing in Action: Integrating MI Across Your Agency.”

“I believe that MI is the basic core competency for any evidence-based practice,” says Buddy.

Bridgeway’s leadership realized that staff was becoming demoralized and burnt out, often because they were trying to help people change before they were ready for change. Bridgeway began conversations about how MI training might help. MI is a directive, collaborative, person-centered counseling style that aims to help people explore and resolve their ambivalence about behavior change.

Because MI targets ambivalence, it gives staff members the confidence and skills to work collaboratively with a person who is ambivalent about change. MI says that ambivalence is a normal part of human life. Before, staff often would be frustrated and uncomfortable, not knowing what approach to take with a person who was ambivalent.

Bridgeway created a MI Steering Committee to spearhead the initiative. The senior leadership decided to train all staff simultaneously, with a two-day training by an expert trainer. After being trained, staff met every two weeks to review and practice skills, which included role-play in group supervision sessions.

Buddy and Nancy emphasized that all staff, no matter what level of education and experience, have the capacity to learn and use MI. MI has given Bridgeway’s staff a common language. MI is even built into the agency’s progress note templates, which evaluate where a person is in the Stages of Change. All interventions are designed to match the person’s Stage of Change.

Bridgeway says the benefits of agency-wide MI training have had positive impacts across the board. Staff experience report experiencing lower rates of burnout and frustration. In their work with clients, they have more realistic expectations and take time to recognize small successes. People served by Bridgeway report being more actively engaged in their own care, increased hope, and have improved retention rates.

You can view the slides and listen to Buddy and Nancy’s presentation on the HRC website.

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

Tags: , , ,

Category: HRC Insight

HRC Trainers on the Road: Report from Omaha, Nebraska

by Wayne Centrone
October 25, 2010

Image of Wayne Centrone

Recently, the HRC was invited to travel to Omaha, Nebraska, to present a series of workshops on evidence-based practices. EBPs are interventions that have been shown to be most effective to helping people recover from substance use, mental health problems, and homelessness. My HRC colleague and I were asked to provide training on how EBPs can be best integrated into the day-to-day service delivery of such providers.

We offered presentations on Motivational Interviewing, Trauma Informed Care, Intensive Case Management and Cultural Competency. The goal for each session was to present practical, real world tools that providers and clinicians could immediately incorporate into their service delivery.

Our workshops were part of the 2nd Annual "Surviving in Today's Economy" Conference, organized by Family Housing Advisory Services, Inc. Family Housing Advisory Services, or FHAS for ease of writing purposes, is a non-profit corporation dedicated to helping "improve opportunities for low-income families to purchase homes in Omaha." FHAS has been working to develop a comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of low-income people before they become homeless.

The conference was a mix of business sector companies and homelessness and housing services providers, and sessions were available to meet the training needs of each group. The unique nature of the audience, a mix of counselors, front line staff, administrators and clinical providers, kept us on our toes.

One participant commented that she was really struggling with how to best work with one of her clients. She said that the material she learned in the HRC training helped to provide some clarity on how to work with her client. She told us that she felt "empowered" with the new knowledge she gained at the conference.

Working as a trainer and technical assistance expert for the HRC has provided me an opportunity to really learn from the amazing providers who work hard every day to deliver care in our communities. At the HRC, we are privileged to assist service providers in gaining the new skills and knowledge that will enable them to better serve their clients.

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

Tags: ,

Category: HRC Insight

Three Strikes by Wendy Grace Evans and Steven Samra

by Wendy Grace Evans
October 12, 2010

Image of Wendy Grace Evans

What has been a defining moment in your career in homeless services?

I recently posed this question to my colleague Steven Samra. He’s worked in street outreach with veterans in Nashville, Tennessee, and brings his own personal journey through addiction and homelessness to this work.

For three months, Steven had been spending time getting to know people at Library Park in Nashville. Over the years, the park has become decidedly unfriendly towards people experiencing homelessness. But several years ago it was perhaps the most popular spot in the downtown area for those experiencing homelessness to congregate due to its proximity to shelter and restroom access at the nearby library.

During this time, Steven met David (not his real name). As a result of gross obesity, diabetes, and additional chronic health problems, David was essentially anchored to a bench within the park. Over the period of several months, Steve slowly engaged David in conversation. Initially, they spoke just a few words, or shared the three minutes of time it takes to smoke a cigarette. As time passed, conversations grew longer and became more intimate, as Steven listened to David share his story. It was also at this point that David shared his real name with Steven, who had known him only by his street name, “Bones.”

One day, David approached Steven and said, “I have been watching you for three months. I definitely need to get some housing, but I am going to tell you that you have three strikes to find me housing. If you can’t get it together by then, you can ‘kick rocks’ because I’m tired of flash in the pan, pie in the sky promises by people who say they can help me.”

In one sentence, David shifted Steven’s concept of outreach by one hundred and eighty degrees. “He needed the help, yet he was setting the conditions,” says Steven. I smiled, knowing what Steven would tell me next. Steven saw this as a challenge. He recognized the beauty of what he understood was an empowering place for a man who had lost so much over the course of his life.

At that moment, the two men began to work together.

The next weekend, Steven and David had an appointment with an affordable housing program for 11 am. Steven picked David up in his car at 10:50 and when they arrived just two minutes after 11, they were told they missed the appointment and would have to return to fill out the application. “I was so mad I could barely contain my anger. I knew the person we were supposed to be seeing that day wasn’t there. I began to think how frustrating and demeaning it would be for David, or anyone seeking a home, to face such an unwelcoming bureaucracy on his own.”

“In that moment, I understood why remaining on the park bench would be an option. I understood why the people we encounter on the street are often hopeless, disillusioned, despondent, and cynical,” says Steven. This incident provided insight into the difficulties of facing a system that exerts control over people in dire need of care. And it fueled Steven’s determination to find housing for David as quickly as he could.

“I became an absolute champion for housing, and for the people who are seeking it. That was the defining moment. Even when I was a child, moving from school to school as my parents tried to remain employed, I have always stood up for the underdogs, for people who, for whatever reason, weren’t in a position to defend themselves. When this happened to David, “that was it, the gloves were off, and it was on,” says Steven.

Eleven months later David had housing, a social security income, had entered into recovery, and received medical care. Today, David has reconciled relationships with his son and grandson, has been clean, sober, and housed for two years. His health has improved considerably and he remains relatively stable. David now speaks to others about his experiences. The two men remain in touch.

“David is a wonderful guy. He’s as hard core blunt and honest a man as you will ever meet, but he was willing to stand up for himself and say ‘I’m tired of people telling me how I am going to do things.’” Steven says the lessons he learned with David still help shape his approach to the work. He warns others not to grab the tiger by the tail. “You can push a person just so far before they begin to push back. If we’re making demands on people experiencing homelessness, we ought to make certain we’re able to fulfill their requests when they meet our demands.

What about you – what has been a defining moment in your career in homeless services?

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

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: HRC Insight | HRC Insight