Building Relationships Among Beets

by Jolie Olivetti
August 01, 2012

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Jolie Olivetti is Farm Manager of ReVision Urban Farm, an innovative community located near Boston, MA. It is dedicated to opening doors to recovery and hope for individuals and families facing homelessness and living with addiction and other chronic illnesses. Since HRC last spoke with them, their farmland has doubled in size. They have a new greenhouse, a new terrace, and a new farm stand on Blue Hill Avenue, an impoverished area of Boston. The organization provides not only recovery services and shelter, but also the opportunity for people to rediscover healthy ways of eating food, growing vegetables, and rebuilding confidence. Jolie reflects on her role and shares insights about vegetables to the meaning of her work.

My favorite vegetable? Well, I usually say that I love beets. They are easy to plant. They are grown directly seeded and are fun to grow, fun to harvest, and fun to eat. You pull them right out of the ground. It’s a longer crop. It takes 50 to 55 days to grow, and the growing season runs from April to October. They are versatile. You can eat them raw or cooked, and I think they are delicious.

Part of the beauty of farming is being able to show people where food comes from. Many of the individuals and families who come to our farm have long histories of gardening, while others are gardening for the first time. This is a community of revision, so we share cuisines from all over the world. The work of our shelter is to develop meaningful relationships with individuals and families. At the farm, we are just as much a part of that goal. Working side-by-side while farming is a great conversation starter.

My background is in environmental education and, through working here, my views on homelessness have really changed. All I knew before came from the media, my observations, and volunteering. I have learned that homelessness is not a permanent condition, but rather, that people experience homelessness. It is about stable and safe housing, and it is about poverty. Most people who experience homelessness are not in that situation because of just one thing, and it is not the first thing you should know about someone. It is not an identity.

The young people I work with in the garden have had a significant impact on me. Many of the children between ages 5 and 11 take a real shine to the farm. It is like a dream for them—an exciting place, especially if they like to get dirty. They have so many questions about what we are doing. When a young person calls out to us and shouts out, “What are you doing?”, I may feel I don’t have time to answer because my task list is so long. But I have realized that the most important thing I can do is to make time to answer, because the most important thing that I am doing is supporting and interacting with the young people who are with us.

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

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Helping Clients Develop Health Literacy

by Claire Berman
June 26, 2012

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Claire Berman, M.S., is a Health Communication Specialist and part of SAMHSA’s Homeless and Housing Resource Network team. She specializes in issues of health literacy, behavior change communication, narrative approaches, and cultural competency. She shares her reflections on the connection between health literacy and homelessness and lessons learned from the Institute for Healthcare Advancement’s Health Literacy Conference of May 2012.

I like to think of health literacy in this way:

Imagine sitting in an advanced calculus class (and for the purposes of this blog, imagine that the last time you studied math was over ten years ago). The professor is saying words and describing concepts you’ve never heard of before—integral, optimize, derivative, function, and infinite series. You are a smart person, but you can’t follow any of it. Before you leave, the professor turns to you and asks, “Do you have any questions?”

You are so lost in the discussion that you don’t even know where to begin. It feels too late to start asking questions now, and you’re afraid you’ll look stupid if you do—so you say no and quietly leave the room.

Now imagine that instead of a calculus class, it’s a doctor’s appointment, and you are a person experiencing homelessness. The last time you saw a doctor was ten years ago. You’ve never had much education around health, and the health issues you struggle with are fairly complex. Your level of health literacy is probably fairly low, which means that you are less likely to understand what your doctor tells you and less likely to ask questions. As a result, your health is likely to suffer.

This May, I attended the Institute for Healthcare Advancement’s Health Literacy Conference in Irvine, CA. The conference explored operational solutions to low health literacy, and it came as no surprise to me that much of the work being done in health literacy intersects strongly with the work being done in homelessness services.

The vast majority of us in the U.S. (nearly 90 percent) have “less than proficient” health literacy skills. We also know that people with certain experiences are especially likely to have low health literacy. Less education, less access to mainstream services, and higher levels of poverty often lead to the lowest health literacy.

People experiencing homelessness often have all of these risk factors, with enormous costs to their personal health and to our health care system.

The thing about health literacy that makes it so hard to “fix” is that it goes far beyond one single skill. Instead, it is a complex process that relies on reading, writing, verbal, and numeracy skills, among others. It’s about how we are able to find and understand health information, and what we are able to do with that information once we have it.

Can we understand the language? Do we have the basic math skills to understand and follow instructions on medication? Do we have the ability to formulate questions for our doctors, and the confidence to ask them? Do we have people we trust to help us when we don’t have these skills?

What I heard at the conference was a commitment from the health literacy field to find new and innovative ways to reach our society’s most vulnerable populations with appropriate health information. Homelessness service providers work hard to cultivate relationships with marginalized individuals—people who may not have any connections to health care at all.

Providers have the chance to be an important part of the solution. As a starting point, I’d recommend some great resources and methods for addressing low health literacy among clients, such as:

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

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Category: Guest Entry | HRC Insight

Shifting the Paradigm by Judge Paul Herbert

by Wendy Grace Evans
May 24, 2012

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Judge Paul Herbert of Columbus, Ohio leads the Changing Actions to Change Habits (CATCH) program, which is a two-year program for women who have been involved in sex work or human trafficking. Instead of sending them to prison, the program allows the women to spend two years on probation and to enter an intensive rehabilitation program for substance use and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Judge Herbert shares some reflections on the CATCH program.

The Changing Actions to Change Habits (CATCH) program is two years in length, and while many women do not make it the whole way through, I can track them through the criminal databases. Data shows that of the 80 women who have been accepted into the program, 78 percent have not committed a new crime. The remaining 22 percent are women who relapsed and have committed crimes and are back in the system.

The other venture we are pursuing is an attempt to differentiate between prostitution and human trafficking. The more I see women come through my courtroom, the more I am convinced that many are human trafficking victims.

I have spoken to different people in search of a human trafficking assessment tool. I found one in Washington, D.C. with the Polaris Project, which is the leading national human trafficking research organization. It defines human trafficking as follows: whether by force, fraud, or coercion, a person submits to a commercial sex act if they are over the age of 18. If they are under the age of 18, the selling party must have sold them for sex in order for sex to fall under the guidelines of human trafficking.

Based on this definition, we assessed 20 women who are currently in the program, and 93 percent fell within the guidelines of being human trafficking victims.

This tool helps enormously because it gives me hard data, which can help me shift the culture and mindset of how people in Ohio and the country view prostitution. In Columbus alone, 1,500 women a year are arrested for prostitution. Based on the results of the initial Polaris assessment, this would mean that approximately 1,396 are actually trafficking cases. I cannot sit back and watch this happen. The recovery centers are full, and women are now waiting in jail cells.

I also had another epiphany, which is a belief that Ohio State University should become the first university to open a center on human trafficking. The center would provide research, education, publishing, treatment, and outreach. Some of the most prominent issues that these women face include Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from trauma, Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), substance use, mental illness, homelessness, and physical health problems (including vision and dental problems).

I am looking for an approach that keeps the women at the center of our attention as a community so they can heal, and so society understands they have been sold into this lifestyle of degradation—and it should be said that it is hardly a lifestyle. It is more of a death sentence.

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

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The Phoenix Rising: Describing Women’s Stories of Long-Term Recovery

by Gretchen Hammond
April 27, 2012

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I could have explored many topic areas for my dissertation on women and recovery, but I knew there was a distinct need for more on how women talked about their own lives. In my own career as a provider at Amethyst Inc., I worked with women in treatment at the beginning stages of sobriety. This is the start of the big change when many women wonder, “Am I always going to be this uncomfortable?” It made me want to give both women and providers a roadmap for recovery.

Initially, many women I interviewed thought they had to have it all together in the first 90 days of being sober. But when they talked about the “beginning” of recovery, I was surprised to learn that they were discussing the first five years, which are surprisingly difficult. Women talked about new feelings that emerged, emotions that had been previously buried. They were peeling back new layers of understanding about who they had been and who they were becoming, which can be both frightening and rewarding. They were making life decisions about careers, getting married, and how to live life sober.

When I talked to women about years 10 through 12, they realized—perhaps for the first time—that they were no longer questioning who they were, and that they were comfortable in their own skin. Every woman I spoke with had experienced some type of major loss around that period of time—something tragic. All of the women shared, almost in unison and from different parts of the country, “I just walked through my recovery.”

One of my favorite interviews was with a woman who had a long career working in the church and then became, as I put it, a “rip-roaring alcoholic.” She married and then entered into recovery. After her husband died, she reached towards her faith, which had always been present. Like many people who enter sobriety and have been through addiction, this woman understood that she—like anyone who is in recovery—is always just one drink away from losing her sobriety. There are no guarantees.

Women told me about the importance of support from other women and of spiritual exploration without being told what to believe. All of the women insisted on sharing with me how they became addicted to alcohol or other substances. They needed to make sense of their trajectories. It was often challenging for women to recall periods of time that followed the first five years. Years can blend into each other.

I believe it is critical to give women time to exhale. One of the most important things for service providers to do is teach women to not be so hard on themselves. Self-discovery is an evolving process for women in recovery, and allowing them to foster this is crucial. Some of this has to happen through private sharing. It is also important to remove time limitations. Light bulbs turn on at intervals, and moments of realization happen at different times for different women.

When I asked women how they knew that they were in long-term recovery, they explained the presence of a feeling, a knowledge that an internal change had transpired. As one woman said, “I walk differently, I move differently—and I know my life is different.”

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

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Self-Care: “I Have to Start Somewhere”

by David Sisneros
April 03, 2012

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David Sisneros is the Program Director at the Metropolitan Homelessness Project men’s shelter, The Albuquerque Opportunity Center (AOC). He also fills several other roles at the organization. David describes his realization that he needs to take better care of himself and his journey towards self-care in a conversation with Wendy Grace Evans after her visit to the shelter.

There can be a fine line between serving others and taking care of myself. I provide all personnel supervision, job coaching, and on-site training at AOC. I directly manage all of our residents in the veterans program, and I am responsible for ensuring the safety of all residents. For us, this typically totals 75 men per night.

I focus my time on getting to know both staff and veterans. Getting to know people on an emotional level, especially people who are struggling, and who come and go, is not an easy task.

I value working diligently with the men in our program. Sometimes, they are victims of circumstance. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they have a mental health or substance use relapse. I have been in this field for a long time, and it is difficult to feel these tragedies. I can’t let them rest heavy in my heart.

I have also seen my own family struggle with both mental illness and substance use, and I have seen how we have overcome them. I have always known that I wanted to serve, and I gain a great deal from serving others.

Six months ago, I realized that this was all too much. It was clear that I was overwhelmed and was working myself to death. Working 50-hour weeks at 110 percent just to get the basics done is unhealthy.

When I first started working those hours, I felt proud that I could do that much, and do it well. But people started asking me, ‘How do you take time for yourself?’

That is when I realized that I wasn’t taking time for myself.

Initially, my wife was supportive of my pace, but then I started hearing, ‘We want to see more of you.’ We started bickering more about when I would be home. I felt resentful that she was putting pressure on me when I was out doing something for the community.

But then I remembered—she is my wife. She is my family, and she and my daughter deserve more attention.

Since realizing my need for self-care, I have started making some changes. I go hiking and camping with my family. And while I don’t yet feel I am in a place where I can take an hour for myself to go running, I am finding joy in being present at home with my wife and daughter.

I have also been a musician for a long time, and it was hurting my heart that I didn’t have time to play music anymore. So I joined the West Side Drum Circle, and now I play with some guys and bang the heck out of African drums.

I would love to take yoga. Physical exercise is a part of my life that is out of balance. When I think about self-care, I think of people spending time by themselves and taking care of themselves. I guess I am doing that now, and that’s a start. I have to start somewhere.

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My Reflections: 10 Years of Working to End Elder Homelessness

by Kathy MacDonald
March 07, 2012

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Kathy MacDonald, LICSW, is a Clinical Social Worker for Hearth in Boston, Massachusetts. Hearth’s model of service-enriched supportive housing provides elders experiencing homelessness not only with a place to live, but the services and supports to keep them housed. In this blog post, Kathy shares her reflections upon approaching 10 years of service at Hearth, considering what is at the core of the organization’s work in ending elder homelessness.

In just a few weeks, I will celebrate 10 years of working at Hearth. This has made me think a lot about the work that we do, why we do it the way that we do, and what keeps me here. Although homeless services organizations around the country serve elderly people, Hearth is the only one with a sole focus on and comprehensive approach to ending elder homelessness.

Our clients are not always easy to help. We often house people who no one else wants to house. Sometimes our clients make me laugh, and sometimes they tell me stories about their lives that break my heart. Many struggle with mental illness, intellectual disabilities, medical issues, substance abuse, or all of the above. Because of all of this, some have what one might call “behavior management issues.”

But I am constantly impressed by their strength and resilience.

At Hearth, we believe that it is not enough just to find a place for an elder experiencing homelessness to live. Many elders need additional supports in order to stay housed and to thrive. This is why our model is one of service-enriched supportive housing. Each of our six residential programs has a site director, a licensed social worker, and a registered nurse, as well as personal care homemakers and numerous paraprofessional staff.

There are so many elders we have helped over the years.

Bill* was 70 years old when he came to Hearth after living 25 years under the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge with untreated Schizophrenia. He lived there year round because he did not feel safe in the shelters. To say that it’s cold under a bridge in Boston in the winter is an understatement. At Hearth, we gave him housing and helped him turn his “junk food junkie” diet into a healthier one. We also gave him a new community of peers and friends (with whom he could often be found joking in the lobby). We made him feel safe.

Another elder, John*, struggled for years with substance abuse and mental health issues, then had several small strokes. He was often victimized on the street and suffered from terrible anxiety as a result. But the structure Hearth’s program and staff gave him has helped him to recover, and to feel secure. He now goes to Adult Day Health twice a week, and - not one to sit around in his room all day - participates in every activity we offer, including Bingo, Art Therapy, and Wii Bowling.

In April, Hearth will open a seventh site that will house 59 elders experiencing homelessness. It will expand our capacity by 40 percent and offer the same service-enriched housing environment as our other sites.

And as both Hearth and I turn a new corner, I think about what has kept me here. It’s knowing that the work my colleagues and I do every day matters. It’s knowing that from the Board of Directors down, people here truly care about the elders, and we care about each other, too. And it’s knowing that our programs translate into fewer elderly folks who are cold, hungry, alone, without the care they need, or sleeping under bridges every night.

*Not their real names. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

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Addressing Youth Homelessness in the Suburbs

by Jenny Lock
February 07, 2012

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Jenny Lock, Program Manager for the Suburban Host Home Program of Avenues for Homeless Youth in Minnesota, shares her reflections on this a new program serving youth experiencing homelessness in the suburbs. The program is modeled after the GLBT Host Home Program. In her own words, Jenny shares her experiences serving youth experiencing homelessness.

I spent the last three years doing direct service work at a drop-in center for youth experiencing homelessness in downtown Minneapolis. I had the opportunity to learn the administrative side of the work. This combination prepared me for my current work.

The Suburban Host Home Action Council is a group comprised of people who work at three agencies serving youth: Teens Alone; Points Northwest; and Oasis for Youth. They joined together with concerned community members to address a problem that was not visible to many: youth experiencing homelessness in the suburbs. It had an organic beginning. People talked about their concerns. There were plans to build a shelter in Hennepin County, but they realized it was not feasible. Then they came to us to talk about the Host Home model.

The focus for the Suburban Host Home Program, is youth experiencing homelessness between the ages of 16 and 21. The program is small and targets youth experiencing homelessness with a specific geographical area where services are limited, and awareness has been non-existent: the suburbs.

Youth homelessness in Minnesota is increasing everywhere and has increased dramatically in the last three years. In addition, there are very limited services in suburban areas, so the idea is to have the services exist within the Suburban Host Home Program.

Currently, we have four host homes that have completed extensive interviews and trainings. We have one youth matched in a host home, another ready to match soon, and a third youth ready to match early in 2012.

Many of the youth who are finding their way to the Suburban Host Home Program return to their families. We see chaos and families that cannot provide care for the young people who end living on the streets as a consequence. We work closely with case managers who work with the youth. The case managers understand deeply what the youth have been through.

All our host home families have clear and realistic expectations around bringing a young person in need into their homes. They know it is not always going to be smooth sailing. I do one to two check-in calls per month to see how things are going. Once a month I do home visits.

Typically, the length of stay is 6 to 18 months. Most are seniors in high school. Another really interesting thing that has happened is that we have been able to educate people about the existence of youth homelessness in the suburban areas. Often people in the suburbs don’t think of youth poverty as their problem. My personal hope is that many of our youth who have hopes for education past high school can be partners and we can support their aspirations.

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

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“We Are All In This Together”: Highlights from the HRC Regional Training in Los Angeles

by Wendy Grace Evans
August 30, 2011

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Continuing the cross country training tour, SAMHSA’s Homelessness Resource Center training team just returned from a well-attended Regional Training in Los Angeles, California. This year’s regional training series will conclude with the last training in Roanoke, West Virginia, on August 23-24, 2011.

The training was held at The Center for Healthy Living, a beautiful architecturally green space, with both indoor and outdoor space, and rock and water gardens, all funded by The California Endowment. Over 200 participants came from as far away as Alaska and as close as LA’s Skid Row.

I was able to catch up with Rene Buchanan, a Volunteer Coordinator from OPCC’s Daybreak, who shared her reflections on presenting as part of the HRC workshop, “Moving Forward Together: People in Recovery as Colleagues.” Rene shares:

I was incredibly honored when SAMHSA’s HRC made me an integral part of the training. The full presentation was empowering for me. My experience working with the HRC training team has shown me that they are such an amazing group of people and so special to interact with.

I have often shared my story to benefit the agency where I work and where I had received services, but to share my story in a training capacity, where I am teaching, was something else for me. It was validating. My inclusion was a moment of validation. I walked away feeling more conviction for what I truly believe in.

I can continue to do these kinds of trainings. People seem to understand consumer integration in theory, but in practice, people have concerns and doubts. People have to see it happen and how people who come in for services can really help others. Those preconceived notions of who consumers really are creates a power differential that is hard to overcome. It will take a dramatically different way of thinking.

For instance, meeting musician Nathaniel Ayers and seeing the relationship between him and Steve Lopez, author of The Soloist, is part of this dramatically different thinking. When Nathaniel started playing the cello and he started to speak about Mr. Lopez, it made me cry. They are proof positive of one person helping another for fun and for free. I know it started as an article, but it became so much more than that, and today they have something that is based on mutual respect and admiration.

It is always a highlight for me to meet other people from other parts of the US who are doing the same things as I do at the agency where I work. The only way that we are going to make a dent in this problem is if we realize that we are all in this together. We need to share the things that do work and come together as a team. I am leaving this training with a fire beneath me and I feel that I have more conviction around the things I believe in. The people at the training themselves inspired me. I was fortunate to be in a room of such amazing strength and wonderful energy.

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Category: HRC Insight

“The Kids Are Listening:” LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care

by Zachary Kohn
August 22, 2011

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“Homosexuality is a bigger threat to this country than terrorism.” This is the attention grabbing and heartbreaking first line to The Kids Are Listening video campaign. It is exactly this type of alarmist and discriminatory rhetoric that the campaign is attempting to counter. Launched in April by the American Bar Association on Children and the Law, the campaign is attempting to raise awareness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in America’s foster system.

The focus of the campaign is to ensure that LGBTQ youth in the foster care system receive equal protection and rights as youth who identify as straight. This can be achieved by training social services providers to defend LGBTQ youth and be sensitive to the messages youth hear everyday. It is important to protect these children, and The Kids are Listening campaign is stepping up to help.

LGBTQ youth in America face entrenched discrimination, and those who are in foster care encounter even greater obstacles. One in ten youth in the foster care system identify as LGBTQ, and close to 78 percent of these youth experience harassment and abuse in their placement home (1) (2). LGBT youth are also are more likely than their heterosexual peers to run away from foster care (3). The Kids are Listening campaign is attempting to raise awareness about the victimization these young people face every day.

The video introducing the campaign shows four different young people wearing headphones as anti-gay audio clips are played over music. As the music builds and the clips begin to pile on top of each other, adults approach these youth and pull the headphones out. At this point, the video explains, “Our kids are listening. It’s up to us to make sure they hear the right message.” It is a powerful video that asks adults to step up and let the youth of our nation know that there is nothing wrong or immoral about identifying as LGBTQ.

The Kids are Listening Task Force has already written a Bill of Rights for LGBTQ youth living in group homes and several other resource guides for professionals working with foster children. They work to spread their message that everyone deserves respect, regardless of sexual preference.

To join The Kids are Listening task force or to see the video, visit the website or check them out on Twitter and Facebook.

SAMHSA’s Homelessness Resource Center (HRC) is committed to improving the lives of all people experiencing homeless, including youth who identify as LGBT. As a result, the HRC conducted an Expert Panel and Listening Tour of model programs serving LGBT youth. From these activities, key findings on implementing best practices for serving LGBT youth who are homeless were distilled.

In August 2011, SAMHSA’s HRC, in partnership with the Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center and others, will be disseminating these best practices and strategies at four targeting trainings, in New York, NY, Chicago, IL, Santa Fe, NM, and Miami, FL.

To access more resources, visit Serving LGBTQI2-S Youth on the HRC website, or email Laura Winn.

References

(1) Freundlich, M. & Avery, R.J. (2004). Gay and lesbian youth in foster care: Meeting their placement and service needs. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 17(4), 39-57.

(2) Feinstein, R., Greenblatt, A., Hass, L., Kohn, S., & Rana, J. (2001). Justice for All? A Report on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Youth in the New York Juvenile Justice System. New York, New York: Urban Justice System.

(3) Sullivan, C., Sommer, S., & Moff, J. (2001). Youth in the Margins: A Report on the Unmet Needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Adolescents in Foster Care. New York, New York: Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund.

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Category: HRC Insight

Father Paul Schroeder: What Do You Do Well?

by Wendy Grace Evans
August 09, 2011

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Father Paul Schroeder of The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church is the Founder of The New City Initiative in Portland, a project of JOIN. Father Paul asks congregations this question. What do you do well? The query stands at the core of an initiative that pairs formerly homeless individuals with the faith community. In a conversation with HRC writer Wendy Grace Evans, Paul talks about this new venture into reciprocity, friendship and housing retention. In 2009, the HRC featured an article about another one of Father Paul’s project’s, The Third Place.

Currently New City Initiative is linked with JOIN, our umbrella organization. JOIN exists to support the efforts of homeless individuals and families to transition out of homelessness into permanent housing. It has been a key to our success. JOIN houses 500 people a year. We find the essential component to retention is engaging people in the community, getting them out and getting them engaged in the arts and music. People from JOIN who are engaged in these activities have an 85 percent housing retention rate. We are also expanding to other non-profit partners who don’t have as robust a retention model.

The Collins Foundation has recently awarded the New City Initiative a three-year grant to help support what appears to be our next step. Our next step is to move forward as our own non-profit with a mission to engage faith communities in ending homelessness.

There are probably five thousand people who sleep outside every night in Portland, Oregon. The count is three thousand, but we all know the real number is higher. There are over five hundred congregations. We are asking congregations to develop a relationship and make friends with ten people who are already engaged in the process of moving towards stability.

The congregations can make a big difference. It’s a lot to ask, ‘can you house ten people?’ But people say, “sure we can make friends with ten people.” It becomes transformative for everyone. In the course of this we have discovered congregations are good at many things.

We have developed a curriculum to help congregations identify their own skills and gifts. It is a six-week study group. Fifteen have gone through it, and most have gone on in their own ways to make friends with people who have been formerly homeless.

Currently we have engaged with thirty-four congregations. Twelve have developed community-building projects, one of which is knitting with formerly homeless women. One has a yoga program for people who are formerly homeless, and there is another that is doing glass artwork with people. There are such a variety of ways to welcome people who have experienced homelessness and to help people be socially connected in meaningful ways.

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