As Case Managers on Solid Ground’s Homelessness Prevention team, Barb Hart and Celestine Berrysmith provide housing stabilization services funded by the City of Seattle and King County. Just last year, they received Solid Ground’s 2016 Employee Award for Integrity in recognition of their “dedication … creativity and passion for their work.” But what does case management with integrity really look like?
According to Celestine, a case manager is a “mentor who assists and supports clients to set and achieve goals. A case manager assesses and determines what level of support to lend in collaboration with the client, based upon program guidelines.”
Every week, Barb and Celestine use a targeted screening tool which has a series of questions that help identify people who are eligible for the program and most at risk of homelessness. Once households with the greatest need are identified, our Case Managers will meet with them face to face for an initial assessment. Program participants are encouraged to take advantage of monthly case management home visits until they are able to stabilize their housing. Furthermore, in order to make case management meetings as accessible as possible, Barb and Celestine usually meet participants in their communities to alleviate transportation and childcare barriers posed by office visits.
The mission of homelessness prevention case management is to ensure permanent housing stability for our participants. This stability can include making sure rent is paid on time and in full, but also encompasses many other case management interventions aimed to help maintain housing, such as employment support, budget counseling, and community resource linkage.
“I collaborate with potential clients to identify self-sufficiency and to also empower them to utilize strengths and abilities. In order to support empowerment, we try to convey that we are not giving them a handout but a hand up,” says Barb.
Both Barb and Celestine share education about budgeting on a case-by-case basis with their participants to create a budget that is tailored to each household. They explain what a budget is, why it is needed and how to use it. Celestine says that she also shares information about how to save, and how to prioritize spending. Even with strong financial skills and habits, participants still struggle because of the high cost of housing in Seattle, which poses a formidable barrier for people living on lower incomes.
“I try to tell most of the people that are on my caseload, housing looks a lot different than you might’ve known two-to-three years ago, because everybody wants a nice house, a picket fence and a yard. That’s not housing in this day and age. Housing may look like two or three families partnering together, moving into a large enough apartment to make that rent each month,” says Barb.
In addition to financial fitness, Barb and Celestine also connect participants to work-related services and mental health counseling. Participants also identify and set goals that are supported with resources provided by Barb and Celestine. Regular goal check-ins via home visit, phone or email can lend the support needed to move closer to completing goals.
When asked what the most important part of her job is, Celestine answered, “Listening to gain a complete understanding of the goals shared by each client. Giving as much support as possible during each client’s time in the program, and definitely feeling that connection where you know that has been accomplished.”
She adds that none of us can foresee a crisis, and the issues that bring participants to us may include (but are not limited to):
1) loss of employment, or a reduction in hours
2) unforeseen medical crises for self or children
3) major car repairs
4) loss of a housing voucher
Barb and Celestine are only able to spend a limited amount of time with participants, ranging from a few hours to potentially meeting once a week for up to six months (on a case-by-case basis). They make sure to build trust with participants from the beginning.
“We go about building trust by always giving each person dignity and respect, no judgment, a generous spirit, and a listening ear,” says Celestine.
Unfortunately, the Homelessness Prevention team cannot accept everyone who needs help. Sometimes the assessment determines that someone is not eligible for the program. In that case, Barb and Celestine do their best to connect people to other resources and provide helpful suggestions. Celestine also coordinates Soft Skills Workshops that focus on skill-building topics, such as: how to interview with a panel/including how to incorporate transferrable skills; how to post online employment applications; conflict resolution skills for employment; and identifying a suitable career path. More Soft Skills Workshops will be offered later in 2017 – stay tuned to our Events webpage for details.
While what Barb and Celestine do every day is no easy feat, they do it with incredible heart and dedication. Their case management has helped many individuals and families maintain stable housing and avert homelessness.
Celestine describes it as a labor of love: “It feeds my soul, so I love this work. I love the job and people understand that, and it helps.”