Blog by Vanessa Davidson, a Housing Navigator at Crossroads Rhode Island
"It must be challenging to find housing for homeless people"
When I share what I do for work, and what we do as an agency with others, the first and most common response is "Wow! It must be really challenging to find housing for homeless people."
Although not entirely untrue, the challenges we face are not exclusive to the demographic we serve. Current market rents, unit availability and funding play a large role in the obstacles we overcome daily.
Unfortunately, this instinctive, assumptive response emphasizes the bias that someone's state of homeless precedes the actual individual or family experiencing it.
No one is immune to this epidemic
There are evidence-based statistics showing factors that may increase the likelihood of becoming homeless. Oftentimes, these factors and circumstances are outside of the person's control.
Gender, marital status, and education level all fall within this category. Even so, we serve clients of all races, ethnicities, sexual/gender orientations and ages. The reasons people come to Crossroads range from incidental financial hardships, like a loss of a job, relocating after natural disasters, ending cycles of domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues.
One client we served came to Crossroads after a serious accident caused traumatic brain injury. Sudden and severe memory loss left her unable to work and remember when to pay bills, including rent. This educated, gainfully employed adult found their world turned entirely upside down in one instant.
Any of your relatives, friends, work peers, neighbors or other members of your community could experience homelessness at some point in their lives. No one is immune to this epidemic.
Working towards a common goal: Housing First
We use the internationally renowned Housing First model at Crossroads, which states that clients are more likely to succeed at addressing personal matters or accomplishing goals once they are housed. The only requirement one must meet to obtain services is that they need to be homeless and able to sign a lease.
This may come as a shock to some but consider the last time you relocated; at some point, without doubt, there was some level of stress involved. Now imagine moving during what could be the most vulnerable period of your life. Although there is excitement attached with the transition out of a shelter, oftentimes clients become hesitant, even fearful, after securing a place to live.
In cases involving trauma, substance abuse, and mental illness, it is especially important to remain mindful of the client's situation to ensure the smoothest adjustment to change as possible. Some clients require more intensive and ongoing assistance; however, housing stability and good tenancy skills can be achieved when everyone is working towards this common goal.
Seeing a client regain their life by utilizing our services is an indescribable feeling. I myself have suffered from mental illness and recognize without my apartment, gainful employment, and support from family, friends and colleagues, I would not have been able to focus on or afford proper selfcare and services that allow me to maintain the life I want and deserve. Creating the same opportunity for our clients by assisting them through the housing process is what the Housing First model preaches, and it works.
A common thread
The common thread between all our guests, regardless of what program they are receiving services from, is that they need housing and support. Are some of our clients hungry? Yes. Are there growing children in need of clothes? Yes. Do some people need professional attire or hygiene products for a job interview? Yes.
Aside from all of the above, first and foremost, homeless people need housing. Everything else can be addressed after this is obtained.
The collective of people working at Crossroads is comprised of amazing individuals who are committed to relentlessly helping clients improve their lives. Without the additional support from within the communities our clients integrate into, our efforts can only go so far. Education is key to maximizing housing opportunities and effectively de-stigmatizing the homeless population. It is truly an honor to serve our clients, and I am proud to be part of a network of like-minded people working towards ending homelessness.