Working With Giants

by Wayne Centrone
July 06, 2010

Image of Wayne Centrone

One of the best parts about working as a technical assistance provider to homeless service programs is the opportunity to travel around the country and visit programs. The depth and scope of work being done to end homelessness is truly amazing. I recently spent time with the Mental Health Association in Tulsa (MHAT) and their Tulsa Housing and Recovery Program (T-HARP), a SAMHSA-funded Services in Supportive Housing (SSH) grantee. Services in Supportive Housing (SSH) funds 57 grantees nationwide to provide intensive services to prevent or reduce chronic homelessness.

T-HARP is a Tulsa, OK-based community mental health agency that has built an amazing housing program. They have over 380 housing units in scattered sites and integrated units. They offer housing options from "Safe Haven" (Housing First) to permanent supportive housing (funded by the SSH program). All of the housing I visited was impeccable.

I was very impressed by the organization’s business plan. It allows them to purchase new housing units virtually debt-free. The "debt-free" business model means that they have the flexibility to offer clients a range of sustainable housing options to meet the needs of clients in different economic circumstances. This is a "forward thinking" approach to sustainable housing for underserved populations. In essence, the program’s leadership has taken the best of the business world and merged it with the best of the not-for-profit world. I was very impressed by the program’s leadership – a sharp group of highly dedicated people.

While in Tulsa I had the pleasure of meeting a former consumer who works with one of the mental health service agency's housing programs. Sue (not her real name) shared her challenges with me. She talked about her struggle with addictions, homelessness, and incarceration. She told me that finding the program was her "lifeline." She shared that she had an ”awakening" when she was "finally" able to get into a permanent housing environment with caring supportive services and staff to help her. She told me about the "new life" she is living through helping others make it "out of a life of homelessness."

I can't help but feel a great deal of admiration for Sue. She described many, many struggles. To me, they almost seemed like they were too great to ever overcome. Yet, in spite of the seemingly insurmountable challenges, she was able to overcome them. Sue told me that it was the program that helped her make the change. But, having met her, I know that she is the one who made the change. I am excited to know that she is now working with other people facing similar challenges in their own lives. And I know that she will be helping others to live the lives they so desperately deserve.

As a technical assistance provider, I have the opportunity to meet with programs and projects around the country. My role is to act as advisor, counsel, and support. Most of all, my job is to learn about great people who are doing great work. I get to meet people who are truly giants in ending homelessness and changing lives!

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Category: HRC Insight