AmeriCorps Voices for Homelessness

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

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.

Giving Back to My Community

My name is Paulena Khorn and I am an AmeriCorps Member through Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness. I serve at Good Samaritan Ministries in Holland, MI as the Housing Search and Information Specialist. At Good Samaritan Ministries, we work with individuals and families in the Ottawa County area who are experiencing housing crisis situations; we help direct our clients to resources and programs that will best assist them for long term sustainability in permanent housing.

As a member of the housing department, I manage the Housing Choice Voucher waitlist; this is a subsidy waitlist that allows approved voucher holders to pay only 30% of their income towards rent. In order to qualify for a housing voucher, clients must meet the definition of homelessness – clients must either live in a shelter or in a place not meant for human habitation. I work directly with clients living in homeless shelters, outside in their tents, in their vehicles or with clients in search of affordable housing. The Housing Choice Voucher program is a great resource for our department because it allows us to help individuals in our community get back on their feet after experiencing a traumatic event, such as becoming homeless, or assisting clients through the challenges and struggles of living with a low income.

Throughout my college experience I was blessed with the amazing opportunity to travel around the United States and across the world to learn about the injustices faced by marginalized and oppressed groups. I have lived in Holland, MI my entire life, but before my first year as a Hope undergrad I never imagined that people faced homelessness within my own community. As soon as I learned that people in Holland faced the same issues as people in Nashville, Denver, and Cape Town, I decided I wanted to support and assist people living in my community who needed a helping hand. Being at Good Samaritan Ministries was really tough and challenging at first because of the heaviness that comes with hearing all the different stories from people who are homeless and from learning about the challenges of living with a low income.

During my first three months at Good Samaritan Ministries, I have learned to tear down the stereotypes I held about people living through homelessness. I now know people living through homeless are not lazy, and they are not homeless because of their personal choices; they are loving people who hope for and work towards a better future. I now strongly believe everyone deserves a home – no one deserves to live on the streets – and that everyone should be given the opportunity to take a step towards a successful life.

I want to help individuals reach their goals by helping them find sustainable housing. I hope my experience as an AmeriCorps member leads me to a career in the nonprofit field. I love learning more about how to work and maneuver the different systems and resources that are made to help end poverty in our country. I want to continue to be a voice to the voiceless and I hope I am able to help their voices be heard. We all deserve to be treated with respect; no one should be discriminated against simply for being different. I am excited to use this experience to help make this world a better place. I want to fight for everyone’s right to live a life full of love, peace, and equality.

Homelessness isn’t Someone, it’s Something

My name is Talor Musil and I am serving my AmeriCorps year with Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness AmeriCorps Program. I am an Outreach Specialist in Grand Rapids at The Salvation Army’s Housing Assessment Program. My days vary in kind, some outdoors with folks experiencing homelessness and others in an office coordinating efforts to ready clients for housing. Some of my responsibilities include starting housing assessments with those staying outside or in emergency shelters, linking clients to benefits like food assistance, and coordinating housing referrals with other agencies.

Before AmeriCorps, I graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work, experience in housing advocacy, and interest in community organizing. This year is an opportunity to sharpen my social work skills and build a better understanding of the voices that need to be included in larger community decisions related to housing.

AmeriCorps members significantly contribute to The Salvation Army’s Housing Assessment Program and the Grand Rapids area at large. I help our community respond with urgency and persistence to our housing crisis. HAP does every intake for those experiencing homelessness in Kent County, meaning our half a dozen staff are serving thousands of clients a year. I am able to dedicate my time and energy to those clients who would benefit from additional support. I form creative methods of contact with hard to reach clients, and establish rapport with those hesitant about services.

Since starting my service year in October 2016, one important thing I have learned is that the face of homelessness is anyone. Even though I approach the same hidden encampments week after week, I never shake outreach’s invasiveness.  We are showing up – often unexpectedly – to folks’ places of refuge, their homes. Clients respond to us in ways that are remarkable (and completely unnecessary). They act kindly despite our unannounced company, answer patiently despite our lists of intimate questions, and even at times offer us hospitality. These vulnerable, human moments allow people to be seen outside of the single story of homelessness. Homelessness isn’t someone, it’s something.

The Reward of Service

My name is Antonio Williams and this is my second time serving with Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness AmeriCorps Program. My host site is Community and Home Supports (CHS) in Detroit.

I first served back in 2014 and I was asked to serve again at my last host site and even offered a job. I was a little burnt out from serving and going to school full time, so I decided to take a break. Serving was very draining my first time. I had a hard time listening to the stories I heard from the homelessness population I was serving in Oakland County. I was in school full-time for social work and I was really debating on whether I should go into another field, because this line of service is emotional draining and very hard. However, this year I experienced some hardships myself and luckily I had friends and family that were able to help to me. It was humbling to have experienced some of things the clients I helped have experienced themselves. It made me appreciate serving in AmeriCorps a lot more. I realized that the homeless population that I was choosing to serve didn’t always have the help of friends and family to get them through some of their circumstances.

Now, I am serving my second in Detroit, where I was born and raised, and where I currently live. It feels so good to give back. I have currently assisted in serving over 40 people since the 2 and half months I have been at my host site. One of the clients at CHS said to me after I helped her secure money for 3 months of transportation (to get around the city for appointments in the winter) that I was a blessing and that she is so thankful for working with me. To hear her say that, to see how hard she is struggling as a young, homeless, single mother, and to know I could be of any kind of help to her was rewarding. No amount of money a job can offer can amount to that feeling of helping someone and have them appreciate you for it. It’s an intrinsic reward and little does she know she helped me realize why I wanted to be a social worker. I am enjoying my service year.

A Friend in Need Is a Friend Indeed

My name is Lauren and this is my first time serving as an AmeriCorps member. My host site is Midland Area Homes Housing Resource Center in Midland, Michigan. I moved to Midland in August of 2007, going into my freshman year of high school. I was angry. I was scared. And despite moving here with my mom, dad, and little brother, I felt alone.

At the time, moving to Michigan from my hometown state of Washington was traumatic. I was new to a town I knew nothing about and had no idea where to begin when it came to building and maintain and new normal lifestyle for myself. Fast forward nine years later and after lots of tears, and lots of support, I have come to call Midland home.

At Midland Area Homes we work with low income individuals and families in need of assistance to maintain and improve housing conditions for safe and independent living. These individuals may be homeless, in the process of being evicted, or struggling to make ends meet. I work specifically with the Home to Stay program that Midland Area Homes offers.

Through this program I meet with clients who are not yet technically homeless, but in the process or at high risk of being so. These individuals are typically behind on rent and struggling to be successful tenants. I meet with the clients on a weekly basis by either them coming to my office or me going to their house, for a minimum of six weeks. During our meeting time we identify and break down the obstacles and issues that are keeping them from being successfully housed.

Often times when I meet with a new client, I can’t help but sense that they are feeling the same way that I felt August of nine years ago. They are angry. They are scared. And more often than not, they feel alone. I think it is safe to say that everyone has a great fear for uncertainty.

With these people, the obstacles that they are facing fill them with uncertainty of how they are going to keep themselves, and their families, housed and safe. Whether it be employment issues, landlord issues, mental health issues, or whatever, there is something getting in the way of them feeling safe and secure in their current housing situation. I am there to be the friend and guidance they need to reverse those feeling and correct potentially disruptive and destructive behaviors.

It is so rewarding to work with clients who come to our agency feeling angry, scared, and alone, and see progress towards them being able to successfully, and confidently maintain and improve their housing situation. Although in the grand scheme of things my clients struggle is much more imminent and real than what I experienced, through Midland Area Homes and my service as an AmeriCorps member I am able to be the support to them that I received during my time of struggle.

AmeriCorps: Going above and beyond service

I am David Bell and I am proud to serve with AmeriCorps through the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. My host site is the Neighborhood Service Organization Tuimaini Center in the heart of Downtown Detroit.

My position is classified as an Outreach Specialist, but of course, outreach is just one component of my service. With the guidance of the great staff here, I assist homeless clients with a variety of services. I assist with the intake process at the center by distributing personal property bins to consumers.

Initially when I first started this task, I thought it was just busy work. As time went on, I fully understood why it is important to have a bin. Most people who are homeless are literally carrying their lives in a bag. I found a small thing such as a place to secure their property is very important to them and was appreciated.

I also help pass out food and clothing. We sometimes take for granted that we have these items but to someone who is dealing with a bout of homelessness, eating and having clean and proper attire for the weather is paramount. Coats are given in the winter. Shirts and shorts are given in the warm weather months for consumers here.

Furthermore, I assist consumers with an array of resources. I help clients by internet or phone calls to get them on the path of being housed. Whether it’s making calls to get vital records, assisting employment searches with consumers through the web, or even helping clients with a food stamp application.

Assistance is given daily. I honestly feel this is the most challenging site anyone can be at. Being in this location, it’s always something to do. There’s always someone that needs assistance. So I assist. I sometimes find myself going above and beyond my service description, but at the end of the day I feel fulfilled and appreciated. If I could do more, I would.

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