Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What is hope?

When I started working at CityWalk, I was still sad over losing our education program at Roseland. Working with kids providing me such hope. I loved seeing the gears turn in little brains and I loved watching lightbulbs go on when they figured out something new. As they grew up and went through high school and then college, they couldn't always identify why they did what they did but I know that some of the now young adults who are majoring in political science or communication once went through our summer program where they were introduced to politicians and exposed to civil rights. I know that the young adults who went on to become educators were once teachers in our summer and after-school programs. I could see the connections and knew what we did was impacting lives.

That reality has been much harder for me to see at CityWalk. All I could see were the adults who didn't have jobs or who struggled because they didn't have the education and skills needed as a child...things that we were providing in our after-school and summer programs. All I could see were mental health, substance abuse, and the inability to interact with people appropriately...and all I knew was that I didn't have the knowledge or resources to help them. Don't get me wrong, I knew and have always known that the majority of people are great people who are struggling. I just had a hard time seeing that we, the Community Life team, were any more than a group that provided activities to make the residents of CityWalk more comfortable and make life more enjoyable in spite of their circumstances.

Over the last couple of months, my mindset has shifted. I took a trip to Common Ground in New York to see their permanent supportive housing, the original pattern for CityWalk. I met with Roseanne Haggerty, the founder, and received some tips. I learned that case management, despite my past 16 years of trying to deny my social work background, was crucial to helping people improve their life. I came back and began working toward implementing the new ideas.

We put into place a system that uses the Self-Sufficiency Calculator to assess income and expenses and helps us identify other resources that might be available to people--like SNAP (food stamps), TANF, child health insurance, free phone, and other resources. We use this as a tool to help people shift their resources and begin to become more self-reliant. For example, if someone is paying $43 for a Metro PCS phone, they can apply for the free phone. They have to limit their talking to 250 minutes/month and no text messages, but they free up $43, which can now be used toward bus passes to help them look for a job or get to work. If they apply for and receive food stamps, they can purchase healthier food for their children that then allows their child's brain to develop better and allows them to focus more in school. We help them shift their resources and problem solve how to best capitalize on and utilize those resources.

The second thing we do with each resident/neighbor is the Outcomes Star. This is a tool that allows us to start the conversation with people about where they are on motivation and taking responsibility, self-care and living skills, managing money, social networks and relationships, drug and alcohol misues, physical health, emotional and mental health, meaningful use of time, managing tenancy, and offending. This is an opportunity to ask people, "Where do you think you are on this?" and starts a conversation that allows them to tell us without us making any judgment calls or assumptions. Once a person starts talking, we are able to think about resources, programs, and events that they may be able to access.

Enter: Hope.

After meeting with around 30 CityWalk neighbors over the past few months, I am beginning to see how hope can take over. Yesterday we met with one of our neighbors who had missed two of our appointments previously. Admittedly, I was frustrated with his lack of follow through. We had a cancellation, though, so we worked him in. I could sense his resistance when we first sat down...as has also happened with a few other people. (no one wants to be "case managed") As we started the conversation, he insisted that he was at a "10" on each item we discussed...yet, he had no job, no income, and was struggling to stay in school because he had no bus pass to get there. The more we talked and gently redirected him to examine the "3" or "4" rating based on different conversations we'd had with him, he began to agree...until he, at one point frustratedly explained, "I'm stuck! Yeah, I'm just stuck!" It was at that point, I felt like, we were able to help him connect to the resources we had to offer.

Sometimes those meetings frustrate me, too. I don't have any jobs to give. I can't fix a childhood of inadequate education. I don't have money to pay rent or a childcare center that offers free daycare. But what's happening is once people tell us more about themselves, we are able to connect them with some resources that are at the root of their problems. For some who don't have access to health care, that has been the free medical resources available in the building through a doctor who comes once a week. For others, it's the Metrocare mental health services that can also be accessed within the building (instead of having to figure out transportation across town) to help with the depression that has set in. We are able to connect people to our bible studies, game days, and community meetings and, thus, connect them to each other. We are able to converse about adult literacy issues and how we can help them walk through that process. We are able to advocate with and for them on issues that have gotten so overwhelming and frustrating that they have nearly thrown up their hands and quit trying.

A person may originally agree to meet with us thinking that if they do they will get their rent paid. However, after sitting with us for a while, they walk out without any money in hand, but with a hope that they now might have medical care, friends, productive ways to spend their time, and the connections needed to help them move forward and at least get them started.

What is hope? Dictionary.com defines is as, "the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best."

Hope is a start. Hope is the ability to look toward something. Hope is looking at my checklist in life and beginning to work through the small things in order to prepare me for the big things. Hope is knowing I'm not a lost cause.

Hope is CityWalk.
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