AmeriCorps Voices for Homelessness

An inside look at the life of a Michigan's Campaign to End Homelessness AmeriCorps member

Service at SOS

My name is Brianna Agnello and I am proudly serving as a Housing Search and Information Specialist AmeriCorps member with South Oakland Shelter in Lathrup Village, MI. Before coming on as AmeriCorps member, I interned with South Oakland Shelter (SOS) and fell in love with the concept of the agency and I wanted to continue my work within the community. I chose to serve to better my community and gain experience working in a social services agency while doing direct service.

As a housing specialist, I work daily helping individuals obtain and sustain housing while using federally funded grants that are applied for through the county. This includes re-housing families, providing security deposit/move-in cost, eviction prevention, and also referrals to places that provide furniture so the client can live comfortably in their new home. I also help individuals and families apply for several different services, the main one being Section 8 housing. Working with landlords and seeking out available resources to better help my clients and their housing situation is also a daily task. Recently, with the hard work and dedication of the team at SOS, every shelter client (28 households) was pulled for a Section 8 voucher. This was a major accomplishment and the first time this has ever happened in SOS history. I felt an extreme amount of happiness for my clients as well as being a part of something truly amazing.

Discovering Goals Together

My name is Matthew McCormick and I am proudly serving as an AmeriCorps member in Lathrup Village as an Income Generation and Management specialist. My host site, South Oakland Shelter (SOS), has been serving Oakland County for over 30 years, partnering with local churches, synagogues, and mosques in order to operate a rotating emergency shelter program. While in the program, clients will work with SOS’s case management team to find affordable housing as well as being connected to employment, medical, and other resources helping to reach the goal of ending or preventing a homeless situation. SOS has served over 12,000 homeless children and adults since its founding and is served itself by 8000 volunteers who commit approximately 42,000 hours of in-kind support to provide over 34,000 meals and 11,000 nights of shelter annually.

I feel lucky that each day that I serve is as varied as each person I meet at my host site. The days I enjoy most consist of meeting with clients who, like anyone, are in one of thousands of different places in their employment, career, and income journeys. One client may be interested in creating their first resume. One person may be interested in budgeting for a new car. One person may be interested in taking their first step into a career that better suits their interests or natural talents. I feel very fortunate to be able to be a part of this journey, serving community members in a number of ways including working together to discover employment and career goals, figuring out different ways to present previous experiences in order to be more employable in a particular industry, or finding tuition assistance to attend career training classes.

My service term has also been dotted with a number of projects including facilitating an 8 week employment program, serving as a member of our employment task force that includes SOS board members and other employment professionals in Oakland county, and also setting up/facilitating the first ever hiring fair hosted by SOS.

I feel very grateful to be in a position to learn so many useful skills, have so many enlightening conversations, and to be a part of so many diverse experiences. I appreciate being able to use my previous experience to serve the community around me in a way that would not be possible without AmeriCorps and my host site.

Giving Hopeful Guidance to Steps to Greatness

My name is Jameel McGee and I am the Housing Search and Information Specialist AmeriCorps member for Emergency Shelter Services, Inc. in Benton
Harbor, Michigan. I serve because I want to see a healthy community and stable families.
My service here with AmeriCorps is to provide resources to assist our clients with necessary services to keep them from continuing a homeless state or avoiding it all together. As an AmeriCorps member, I also challenge our clients to better themselves being that I also went through some of the same situations that they’re going through. My service is not just a resource of help but a positive recharge station of giving back hope, one family at a time. For my host site and community, my position is important because I have a relationship with my community and my co-workers. This gives the advantage of connecting the two to better serve our clients.

Going the Extra Mile

My name is Lauryn and I am an AmeriCorps member serving at Community Housing Network through Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness AmeriCorps Program. After studying International Development at Michigan State University, I was eager to gain any experience working in the nonprofit field. Sometimes not knowing exactly what field you want to go into makes decisions a lot easier, as you’re willing to take any experience as it comes.

After volunteering at a crisis hotline for two years, answering calls and speaking to people going through depression, suicidal thoughts, grief and sexual assault I knew I wanted to explore the human services field. The crisis hotline left me wanting more. It was disheartening to me that anonymous calls were placed and regardless of how well you felt a call went, after it was over you would never hear from the person or know how they progressed. AmeriCorps had caught my attention and as I scoured through the portal of service positions when I found Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness, I knew I had found the right position. Upon reading the description, it had everything that was absent in my experience at the crisis hotline. I would be able to connect outreach and housing, connecting people to various resources and then see how they thrived given this care and attention over a period of time.

While the focus is obviously on helping people get off the streets and into a place of their own, I try to make my service encompass so much more than just housing. There are so many factors that play into housing and the barriers people face while homeless or housed. At CHN we focus on affordability as most programs can only offer short-term rental assistance and it’s critical that people don’t immediately end up in the same situation after the program ends. This can be a difficult conversation to have, but it also allows you to work with the person to connect them with other resources specific to their needs. A lot of times people don’t realize how many resources are available to them, whether it be food banks or free diapers or mental health services. All these puzzle pieces fit together to assist in keeping someone housed and off the streets.

While the past few months have had many highlights, there have also been many low moments within the service. It can be difficult to watch someone resist the resources you’re providing them and fall back into old habits. This is what inspires me to serve. The staff at Community Housing Network are so busy with all their caseloads, it’s all too easy to not give someone the extra attention they might need. This is where CHN’s AmeriCorps members come in. We are able to be there to give that extra bit of attentiveness for those who may need it and that can make all the difference in someone’s life. With this mindset, I take each day at a time and help each person that I can to the best of my ability, which to me is what it means to be an AmeriCorps member.

I plan on using my AmeriCorps experience to start my nonprofit career. This experience has already taught me so much about connecting and working with other community and government resources, specializing care for each individual and how to work efficiently when there simply aren’t enough hours in a day. These are skills that will be useful to me wherever I go next within the nonprofit field and that I will continue to use and hone during my last few months of service.

Finding My Footing

My name is Siara Underwood and I am proudly serving as an AmeriCorps member in St. Johns as a Housing Search and Information Specialist. My host site is located in Clinton County and is the newest branch of Housing Services Mid Michigan (HSMM), which assists individuals and families going through a housing crisis in connecting with other resources and strategies that enable them to build toward a safer, more stable future.

Through my role in the housing department I am able to start forging relationships between the HSMM agency and local landlords. Many landlords unfortunately still hold a stigma against the type of person they associate with a housing crisis and that can often get in the way from someone passing a rental application. By establishing these relationships early on, I and other HSMM staff are better able to advocate on the behalf of our clients. Ultimately, the goal is to have as many rental properties and landlords willing to cooperatively work with us so that our Housing Guide stays up to date and full of options.

Clinton County is a very rural, agriculture town which is why consolidating our agency within the local DHHS building has been so helpful for the accessibility of services to our clients. There are numerous resources of every type available to those in need. Another aspect of my position with HSMM and AmeriCorps has been to find any additional resources that would help our clients with meeting their basic needs such as cheap/free internet programs, information sheets on Double Up Food Bucks on fresh, local produce with their EBT cards, or some locally available employment options. My role, and this agency, is primarily focused on housing services but as human service workers it is important to recognize that person-centered care is best provided from an all-inclusive point of view.

My AmeriCorps membership has definitely been a learning experience during the first half of my service year as I find my footing for feeling confident in my role. Helping others who are going through a difficult situation is my personal mission and why I’ve chosen to pursue a social work degree at Michigan State University. It is easy to want to have a positive impact on the world but often difficult to get started. This year of service has allowed me to challenge myself in new ways and initiate my own events to help care for the people I serve such as through a community dinner where supplied a free, warm dinner at a resource fair. This is the type of project I’ve always wanted to accomplish but didn’t have the platform to do so until serving with AmeriCorps and now I just want to do another event and then another and so on.

One Day at a Time

My name is Roberta Jones and I am honored to serve as an AmeriCorps member through Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness Program. I serve at Community Housing Network in Troy, MI.

I go to different shelters, and I meet my Program Participants, to do intakes so they can become housed. I also provide resources to them for housing information or for their own personal needs. When I first started serving at Community Housing Network, I thought I was going to save the world. The more I did intakes, the more I saw it was going to be more difficult than what I thought. There are a lot of barriers that the homeless have to go through to be housed, for example: transportation, income, credit, the list can go on and on.

But when I housed my first Program Participant, what a joyful feeling. I was so excited and motivated to continue my journey as a proud AmeriCorps member, not letting anything get in my way to help my Program Participants become housed. I have learned a lot since serving through AmeriCorps. I have learned you can’t go to your host site expecting to build a mountain out of pebble. Be patient, understand your program participant, have empathy, and take one day at a time. After serving though AmeriCorps I decided to continue in education in Social Work. When working with my program participants, I felt the need to help individuals that are in need.

My AmeriCorps Why & What

My name is Maysen Bratbo and I am currently serving with Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness AmeriCorps Program. I am serving Detroit’s homeless population at the Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO) Tumaini Center as an Income Generation and Management Specialist.

I didn’t know anything about social work and knew next to nothing about homelessness before starting my AmeriCorps service. My background is in biology and genetics and before coming into this service year I was working in a physiology research lab at a university in Detroit. But I wasn’t happy there. I wanted to try doing something different for a while, so when this opportunity came up, I went for it. After living in Detroit for a year, it was plain to me that homelessness was an issue, but I had no idea of what was being done to help, what help was really needed, or of what I could do to help. What I did know was that I hated seeing people begging in the rain, in below-freezing temperatures, or in the blistering heat on the corners around my block. I didn’t like seeing the same man sleeping on a concrete bench outside of the university when I got off work. I didn’t like the feeling of doing nothing when I also felt that I should be doing something to help. Through my AmeriCorps service I’m learning a lot about the infrastructure of homelessness services and about what programs are in place to get people the support they need. Now when I see people around the city, I feel better knowing that there are resources for them, and for this year I am one of those resources.

When someone is referred to me, I first do what I’ve been calling an “initial employment services interview” to gather information about their work history, references, job and shift preferences, educational background, licenses and certificates, and any potential drug or felony barriers. If they already have a resume, I edit and update it. If they don’t already have a resume, then I write one for them based on the information they gave me during our interview. When possible I also make them a references sheet and a personalized cover letter template. From there we start finding open positions and applying. If someone has trouble using computers then I assist them with their online applications. Some people have the means of going out and applying to places in person as well. When needed, I provide transportation to interviews, drug test centers, fingerprinting centers, and to the police station to get a copy of police clearance. I have also transported someone to get interview clothes from a church career closet and to their new job’s orientation because it was out of range of the buses.

So far, nine people I’ve assisted have either gotten a job or gotten a different job from what they were doing originally. The staff at the NSO Tumaini Center have made their appreciation of what I do for their clients clear from the beginning and the clients themselves are thankful for the help and have been fun to work with. Of course not every client follows through on going to interviews or appointments, but for the most part people have really made the effort to help me help them. And for that, I am grateful.

My AmeriCorps Year

My name is Diane Russick-Rodriguez and I am serving my AmeriCorps year with Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness AmeriCorps Program. I am an Income Generation and Management Specialist for Community enCompass in Muskegon.

My typical day starts with opening the computer lab. We open our doors to provide access to the homeless and others for vocational training. Some of my responsibilities include training folks on the computers with the very basics, or how to create an email using a username and password for the very first time. I spend much of my time helping individuals writing cover letters, resumes, and reference pages to assist in their quest to find employment. I will begin teaching how to use search engines, and job sites, then find out that they have not used more than two fingers to type their names. The unemployed may be college educated or be a veteran of the U.S. military or a veteran of survival of the streets. Many of our neighbors, as our Executive Director states, have barriers to work caused by neglect, abuse, or mental illness. There is a variety of levels of education, some with higher education to adults with barely a fifth-grade education and very few skills.

Sometimes, my days are filled with creating partnerships with area agencies for presentations to teach life classes in our little agency. Some of our presenters are Fifth Third Bank, Social Security, and Stewards in Action, who will present the topics like America Saves, Slashing Your Debt, Protecting Your Identity, Boosting Your Credit Score, and Why the Poor Pay More. We currently have classes scheduled once a week through May. All of our “Self Sufficiency Planners” are gearing their life classes to household earnings of $1,000 or less.

I have also scheduled monthly job fairs with Staffing Inc., where we supply a place and the help to the individuals applying for various jobs online. The applicant gets help even if they have very few computer skills, then we invite them to continue their job search, housing search, and further help developing their computer skills during open lab hours.

I am happy to dedicate my time and energy to the neighbors of Community enCompass who have benefited from my education and the opportunity I have had to help someone learn how to write a cover letter, or write a resume that enables them to become employed.

One such person is a young volunteer from MI Works. She has now become a success story. In January, learning how to write a business letter started a new journey. She excelled in her dedication and commitment to her work. The agency was quite impressed with her newfound self-esteem. I continued to work with her and we spent weeks going over office procedures, language usage, proper resume and cover letters, and creating her reference page. Then we worked together with diction, more word usage, office and interview attire, and practice.

A few weeks ago she left Community enCompass and was hired for direct resident care (while she earns her CNA certificate) and was also hired part time at a hospital.  You see, she now has an opportunity to get her CNA certificate from her employer as she works. She will also be able to continue to get her education in nursing through a local program.  Her goals have changed from getting a good factory job to becoming a registered nurse someday. Now that she has the vehicle to get her education through her work, the sky is her limit – or maybe it is the emergency surgery room.

A Report from Outreach at SOS

My name is Jason Pierce, and I am serving this year at South Oakland Shelter, under AMichigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness AmeriCorps Program. My title is an Outreach Specialist, on the shelter team of SOS. This position has many different opportunities to assist those less fortunate, which include taking in new clients, going to different activities involving the homeless, and assisting case management for clients who are already in the shelter.

Recently, I attained my Bachelor’s Degree in Behavioral Science from Rochester College, and did my capstone internship at South Oakland Shelter. During the 2016 summer field practicum, I met many individuals who work out of the kindness of their hearts to assist in helping to end homelessness. It was at this organization I met an individual who was with AmeriCorps, and I learned about the chance to further extend my education through offering myself to service.

In only a few short months, I have seen a great many things occur. I have witnessed clients come into SOS and do 180 degrees toward the betterment of their future, and some who are needing just a step up to utilize said step offered at the shelter to take off toward their respective goals. It is remarkable to see how much the human spirit can overcome adversity through diligence and perseverance.

I would like to say this service is completely rewarding, but there are unfortunate drawbacks to what we do at South Oakland Shelter. A main example of a drawback is that some clients do not make a successful transition to permanent housing while with this organization. Some fall through the cracks due to lack of resources, while others appear to not be ready for help.

Help is always available through South Oakland Shelter, and AmeriCorps. One thing I have learned is to not take things personal, but make personal the things you can do to help others. I can only speak from my experience, but seeing a client’s smile offers the greatest reward one can ask for regarding the service with AmeriCorps. I hope all the members who serve with AmeriCorps have the same feeling I do helping others to end the plight that is homelessness.

Service Year 2 is in Full Motion

My name is Ana and I am serving at Family Promise of Grand Rapids with Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness AmeriCorps Program.

This year, I am serving a second year at my host site. During this second year, I am really hoping to go deeper in my role as a housing specialist and to become even more creative in this role. I have goals that I want to reach and know that I will be able to serve my host site to the best of my ability with becoming more creative in my role as an individual. As a Housing Specialist, I serve alongside families one-on-one hoping to connect them with an affordable landlord connection. I take families to view housing, coach them on how to speak with landlords, and encourage them to follow up with these landlords in our community. I am hoping to bring change to the workplace and build the gap between case workers and landlords through these landlord connections. I am hoping to bring more of a creative aspect to our community.

Being a part of a small non-profit organization is such an amazing experience. I am serving alongside a small group of staff here at Family Promise. However, whoever comes this way, whether you are an intern, AmeriCorps member, volunteer, or just coming by to get a tour, you will most definitely be treated as one of their own. Not only do I want to grow in getting to know my resources better and furthering my position description, but I also want to grow in getting to know and understand the homeless population. I want to grow in a more personable interaction with my clients, and gain a better understanding of the crisis and traumatic situations that people are faced with daily.

I now have another year to grow in all of the situations that come my way. I have been blessed to have been given the opportunity to serve my host site for another year. I was not expecting to do AmeriCorps for two full years, but I had felt the position was literally put in my face for a reason. I know there is still so much more to grow in and so much more to learn in this area. I am excited to see what this second year brings, and even more excited for all the growth AmeriCorps has given me through this experience.

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