by Shalissa Coutoulakis
As the Family Diversion and Intake Assessment Specialist here at Crossroads Rhode Island, I witness families experiencing homelessness from the moment they walk through our doors.
|Staff members Shalissa Coutoulakis, Jennifer Watkins, and Saribel Cruz pose in their jerseys from a past fundraising event.
The entire process hinges on the interactions that families have with our staff, the services we are able to provide for them, and our ability to help them develop the tools they need to help themselves in the long run.
It is impossible to predict which families may or may not experience homelessness. I give families information and connect them with resources that may stop their need for entrance into a family shelter, providing them with hope that there are ways to avoid homelessness.
However, homelessness is not always avoidable.
Entering a homeless shelter for the first time can be scary, especially for children. This is why it is so important for me to explain to families what to expect when they enter shelter. Having already built rapport with me, I accompany the families to shelter to show them around and respond to any questions or concerns they may have. We meet their case manager and other shelter staff together, so they feel safe and supported even once I leave.
What a family needs most, especially for their children, is the feeling of being supported and not alone - and we provide that. In shelter, we also teach skills like financial literacy and how to successfully find employment to prevent them from becoming homeless again in the future.
It is inspiring when a family accomplishes things even while in shelter, such as obtaining a job or graduating from one of Crossroads’ Education and Employment programs. It gives other families the hope they may need to understand that being in shelter is only a stepping stone towards a more positive life.
For many families, parents feel as if they have failed their children by coming to shelter – my job is to reassure them that it is not the case and although unavoidable at the moment, they can and will overcome this… It is possible!
The most sentimental experience that I have recently had at Crossroads involves a single mom of four who had no other option but to enter into shelter. I completed her entire intake and throughout her transition in shelter, she was hesitant that this was the right step for her family.
For her, having something to call her own felt completely out of reach. Well, I was there the moment she found out that she was going sign her very first lease – this heart melting moment of seeing how much families can accomplish with our support… it is one I will never forget.
At Crossroads, we give this opportunity to many families and individuals. We are giving our clients tools to not only obtain housing, but maintain their housing in the long run.
To witness clients enter through our front doors, make it through a perceived impossible situation and then enter into their own apartment with the proper tools needed to sustain it – it’s amazing. It is such an unforgettable feeling to see how much our clients are able to overcome with the supports we provide them from intake, through the shelter, and even while they are in housing.
Recently, Crossroads announced that we have seen 23% more families so far in 2016 than in 2015, and that just emphasizes the need for our services and programs even more.
We have room for 35 families in total between our Warwick and Providence Family Shelters. After merging with the Women’s Center of RI earlier this month, now called the Domestic Violence Program of Crossroads Rhode Island, we now safely support and assist in housing survivors of domestic violence as well.
Anything we accomplish as an agency would not be possible without the positive experiences we form for our clients; individuals and families alike.
Thank you to all staff involved (directly and indirectly) in the process of diverting individuals and families from shelter, working with them when they need shelter or other services, and for assisting them even once they’ve obtained housing. Most importantly, thank you to all of our clients who have put their trust in us while we work together in guiding them toward their goals.
The services that Crossroads Rhode Island provides in its entirety do not go unrecognized. However, it is essential that what happens ‘behind the scenes’ does not go unnoticed – the level of our positive client and staff interactions throughout the entire experience of any individuals’ or families’ homelessness are a major factor that has truly helped us in supporting so many clients in need.