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Reflecting on One Year as President...
By Karen Santilli / June 13, 2016

After spending my first full year as President of Crossroads Rhode Island, I want to share some personal reflections.

I come from a fundraising and marketing communications background, so the housing system was relatively new for me.  I began by embarking on a listening tour. I wanted to hear firsthand from others who have worked with and for Crossroads, as well as those who participated in our programs and services. I wanted to meet them and learn more. 

I met with a front line staff member who talked about sleeping on our conference room couch during the snowstorm instead of going home. I talked with friends and foes in the housing and homeless service world in Rhode Island about how we could work together to better serve those who need it most in our community

I met a young couple living under a bridge and saw how our outreach worker engaged them in conversation and convinced them to come to Crossroads for housing. I spent time walking the streets and alleyways of Providence to find a woman we knew was sick and sleeping outdoors. I visited men and women who recently moved into apartments and finally had their own beds. I attended graduations of our students who displayed their certificates as proudly as any graduate would.  

It was an eye-opening experience. I realized that there were very strong feelings about Crossroads – some positive, some negative, some we deserved, and some we didn’t. I saw the challenges that our clients and staff face every day working in the difficult world of human social services – and carry on despite those challenges.   

And, I realized something else – something I believe is more important:

I learned that it’s not necessarily about Crossroads. Nor is it about any other particular organization. It is about the people we serve - the people who are experiencing homelessness. It is about providing the programs and services they need to move out of homelessness and into housing that is stable and permanent.  

They have the right to their own apartment with their own bedroom – with more than one shelf or drawer to keep all of their belongings. They shouldn’t have to decide which organization is the right or best one to help get housing. There should be “no wrong door” to enter the homeless system in Rhode Island…and the exit out of the system should be quick and effective.   

For me, where it is completely about Crossroads is in maintaining the effectiveness of our programs and services. It is our responsibility to our donors and clients to offer the highest quality services and fidelity to practice as we work to move people out of homelessness. 

We need to maintain a focus and prioritization especially on those who have the highest level of needs.  And we need to work in partnership with other community organizations to ensure system-wide coordination so our clients don’t have to navigate a complex disorganized system of services. 

I also experienced a confirmation of our core values:  safety, respect, and effectiveness. I saw them in action throughout our organization on a daily basis. 

I look forward to continuing this listening and learning tour beyond my first year. I give my word and commitment that we will follow our values as we work to end homelessness for the individuals and families experiencing it in Rhode Island. They deserve nothing less.

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