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S2: Here listening to working the show about what people do all day. I’m your host. Jordan Weisman and this is going to be the second episode in our series about people who work with the homeless or the housing insecure. All the folks who devote their professional careers to working with society’s neediest and most vulnerable. Last week we met Mark who was a tenants rights lawyer essentially working with people who faced potential eviction. Those are people who are not homeless. There are people who are trying to stay in their homes today in this episode we’re actually going into the world of homelessness services in New York City. There is a really interesting program. And as far as I know there aren’t really. A lot like it in the country. I can’t talk with this week’s guest about that a little bit but it’s it’s pretty unique and essentially city contracts with nonprofits to send out teams social workers and professionals to go out. And. Do outreach and find people who are homeless on the streets. And tell them about these services the city might offer them whether that’s helping them get into a shelter or what’s called a safe haven.
S3: She’ll come to learn more about this upset or eventually get them into permanent housing. And the way they can help them do that financially. These outreach workers are really the the people on the frontlines.
S4: Of dealing with homelessness in New York. So. Who are we talking to today. Where are you gonna meet. I sat down with Stephanie Sylmar. She is a clinical supervisor at the Center for Urban Community Services. And essentially she helped lead a team that canvasses all of upper Manhattan.
S5: From the top Central Park all the way to the very end of the island looking for the homeless and trying to make contact and trying to eventually then get them into housing. And there are gonna be points during this episode where things get a tiny bit technical and I hope you stay with it and I hope you pay attention because what I kind of gleaned from the discussion with Stephanie is just how complicated the system is and how badly people probably need help to navigate it to find their way to housing by the end of our chat. I just found the idea of being a person in really deep need. Being homeless and not having.
S3: Someone to kind of hold your hand through the bureaucracy and find your way to a permanent situation I just found that unimaginable like how you would navigate this was just beyond pay.
S4: I found the conversation really illuminating in that respect to that kind of learning about all the details of it and what you need to do in order to get off the street and really do valuable service that people accept the offer.
S5: What’s your name and what do you do.
S6: Hi I’m Stephanie so my I am the clinical supervisor for the C UCSF Center for Urban Community Services Homeless Outreach Team street outreach team.
S7: You’re the clinical supervisor for the street outreach team act at the Center for communities or urban community services. Yes center for urban community services. Okay let’s eliminate. But let’s take that one piece at a time right. First off what is the center for urban community services.
S6: We are basically an organization that has many programs many supportive housing sites transitional facilities the Homeless Outreach Team and many other programs. Basically our job is to. Our goal is to eradicate homelessness and hopefully get everyone inside get everyone connected to services.
S7: Okay so and you are a clinical supervisor on the outreach team.
S6: So what is the outreach to so the Homeless Outreach Team. Our role is to canvass or drive out in cars in the Upper Manhattan area basically outreaching homeless individuals offering services whether that means housing services or just like providing them with referrals to drop in centers shelters food pantries soup kitchens. In a nutshell our job is to just offer services to street homeless individuals.
S7: Okay I see you’re going out there you’re finding people and you’re saying we can get help you get housing pretty much. And that’s exactly what we say. And to be clear your nonprofit you guys are you working sort of independently are you working for the city how’s that relationship.
S6: So we do have a contract with the Department of Homeless Services back in 2014 the mayor decided to further fund to provide additional funding to the homeless outreach teams so that we are out there 24/7 offering clients the ability to either go inside into safe havens or shelters. Our team has grown significantly since 2014. Were you there in 2014. I actually started in 2014. Okay so the mayor I started at the start of the contract when the mayor decided to expand the homeless outreach services.
S7: So this is interesting to me so New York has contracts nonprofits like yours right where they essentially pay you guys to go out and reach out to the homeless. Correct. Offer them services. Right. And I just try to help them get on their feet. And this has been something that I guess they’ve been pumping more money into for the last half decade. Yes. Is this unique to New York or do other cities do something similar.
S6: I understand that the state of California has a homeless outreach issue crisis going on and they are trying to implement some strategies that we have been implementing here in New York City. So they’re trying to borrow from you. Absolutely. Borrow some ideas and tips and tricks to see how they can engage with homeless individuals but it seems like so California’s trying to but it’s it’s somewhat unique.
S7: Yeah. CONAN Yeah. So so we’ve got your organization down. We now know kind of what homeless outreaches and clinical supervisor. What does that mean.
S6: So my team has a program director an assistant program director and two clinical supervisors. So each clinical supervisor has a team of like three or four case managers. So our job is basically to help our team manage their case loads okay. We do have client case loads and our clients what we do is help place them into housing or place them into shelter. So I helped my team manage that and also helped the team with managing what sites to canvass in the Upper Manhattan area to ensure that we are canvassing our catchment area all of their base all of upper Manhattan. Yeah. What’s Upper Manhattan. So for us it’s a 110 street all the way up to inward all the way up to Yep OK.
S7: So that’s the entire argument and that’s like for people who who don’t know New York geography is like kind of the top of Central Park on the map. You at the tip of the island and you’re helping oversee the team of people who who make contact and kind of help find the homeless in that entire area. Yes. And how many people are on your team that you’re missing.
S6: My team has I oversee about three case managers.
S7: I do have cases as well. Do you have individuals that you work you like.
S8: I don’t have a caseload but my caseload is essentially my case managers caseload. So each case manager has about 25 ish clients.
S7: So yeah like 75 clients at a given time that you’re trying to kind of make contact with the right help.
S6: And that’s just for my team. In total we have about 10 case managers in total.
S7: You guys probably of what 250 clients you’d put it something like 200 right 200 250. We’re still adding these are the homeless folks in upper Manhattan. You guys are going to make contact with every day or how’s that.
S8: It depends on the client. Some clients. We do try to see every day. Yeah and other clients we do try to see maybe several times a week maybe once a month. We do try to see them more than once a month to be very honest with you. But just there are some kinds that are pretty difficult to locate. So yeah I know a lot of mountains to work for them.
S7: So are you a social worker or are you.
S8: I am a social worker.
S7: I’m a licensed clinical social worker and how long have you been a social worker for.
S6: I have been a social worker since 2014 so that’s when you join us. I actually sorry I actually started this in 2016. I also started with the outreach in 2016 okay but started with the agency back in 2014 that I worked in supportive housing working at the homeless.
S7: But you’ve kind of done your whole career pretty much for my whole social work career. Yeah. What made there people that were currently homeless or formerly homeless. How did you decide to start working with the homeless. What made you go into that one.
S6: I actually started at CS Yes as an intern. When I went to social work school I was asked to do an internship with the Center for Urban Community Services. I was placed in the housing program and I loved working with clients there working with them in order to help them achieve their goals and I just sort of I just stuck with it I love the agency I love the culture of the agency I love the clients there. And I’m still there. I enjoy working there.
S7: It seems like you were saying that there kind of two parts to your role character guys are all there is actually making contact with people. Yes finding them and then helping them into housing. Yes. So let’s start with part 1 Okay. Which is fine I think people are. Are you out there doing rounds how does this work.
S6: So our team has an early morning team. Their shift is 530 to 130 from about five thirty or so up until 8:00 ish. Their role is to go out and canvass they go out in vehicles we have about four case managers to case managers per car. We have two cars driving around Upper Manhattan locating street homeless clients and offering services.
S7: You’re just driving around. Just drive around. You’re on the beat right. When you started off at. Yes. Were you one of the I guess the beat cops.
S6: That’s one of the beat social workers when I started with outreach I was actually. My job was responding to a lot of 3 1 1 calls community calls 0 interest is. So what that is is any community member can call 3 1 1 or they can do it through the 3 1 1 app and they can report a homeless person. So once the Homeless Outreach Team gets that notification from 3 1 1 saying that there’s a homeless individual on one hundred twenty fifth Street and 12th that for instance our job is to go out there within the hour engage with that individual and offer them services ways.
S7: Why are people usually reporting a homeless person in New York. What leads to those calls.
S6: Well sometimes what leads to those calls is that we actually had a lot of community members that actually do want those individuals to be inside in housing and are helping us to connect with those individuals so we certainly appreciate that.
S7: It sounds like sometimes it’s just like an angry neighbor. Sometimes it’s just it’s a complaint. So when someone calls you 1 1 you guys end up online and they send a social worker.
S6: They said it could be any team member of any team member can go out and just engage with the individual and offer service interest.
S7: So that was what you were doing initially. Yeah. Did you ever get do like the morning rounds or is that.
S8: I’ve done I’ve done the morning rounds. Everyone in our team has done the morning round. Okay so so the morning rounds is like that’s the daily thing that that is the daily thing and while they’re doing their morning rounds they are also responding to 3 1 1 calls to these community calls because community calls come 24 hours a day you’re driving around looking for people on the street.
S7: Yes. How do you decide where you going to go looking.
S6: So we decide by actually three when one calls help us a lot because that helps us find out where homeless individuals are staying. So we definitely appreciate the community members helping us out but also we get help from the Department of Homeless Services. They inform us where there are hot spots or homeless encampments for us to keep an eye on for us to canvass for. Also we have a giant map in our office with neighborhoods to focus on our neighborhoods that we should canvass every so often every couple of weeks. How do you how do you pick a neighborhood.
S8: The way we do that is we try to canvass every neighborhood about once a week or so sometimes even more so we just try to keep rotating those neighborhoods so that we can remember to we tried not to leave any neighborhood out. I think it’s definitely helpful for us to have this giant map in our office to help us remember where we need to canvass. We plan with the team actually every Friday and team meeting of spots that we need to remember to canvass spots that we need to certainly keep an eye on. And what is a hot spot hot spot is where more than one homeless individual hangs out or congregate. That would be considered a hot spot.
S7: Are there like regular hot spots kind of.
S8: Some can be regular hot spots and other times maybe depending on the season it just dies down and it’s not a hotspot anymore for the season.
S7: But you’re keeping track of those as well. And are those up on the map.
S8: They are up on the map but they’re also just known to the team is like hotspots like it’s known in the team that that’s a spot that we should definitely keep an eye on.
S7: What kind of places turn into hot spots. Is there any kind of pattern with them.
S8: There’s not really a pattern but we find hot spots around train stations or maybe close to a park entrance. Yeah but there’s no there’s not really like a pattern it could be anywhere.
S7: You mentioned encampments. My understanding is that New York has first off less of a street homelessness problem than a lot of places like California. Because we have we have a right to shelter here. And as a result you know you get told a lot is that when when you call people about the stop is that we don’t really have tent cities or we don’t really have encampments. But I guess there are some there are some are they like tent cities or are they just like what what what do the encampments tend to look like in New York.
S8: Some encampments are tents other encampments we’ve found encampments that are actually built with with like wood.
S6: Yeah I definitely like put together and made until like some sort of structure tarps just like encampments.
S7: You say What are you saying. It’ll be like a one off little kind of house or hut someone’s made or is like a little shanty town here.
S6: Like a little like a hut like yeah sometimes. In definitely in upper Manhattan where it’s heavily wooded. We have we have seen clients like Bill like a little hut made out of like the wood that they find in the brush or in the in the park. So we definitely see that. I’ve seen like a little like hut city. You’ve seen huts. I’ve seen a hut city where it where did you find a hot city in New York. I don’t feel comfortable disclosing just because I want. In the privacy of those clients. But I want it. We do fine. A lot of encampments in heavily wooded areas.
S7: Interesting. So it’s happened so in New York. It’s. It exists. It’s just out of view. It’s sort of awe compared to like California compared to Colorado where it’s sort of really out in the open. Right. I wouldn’t realize that. So you’re out looking for folks in the car I guess going into parks or whatnot. I mean when you see someone how do you tell they’re homeless as opposed to just like someone who’s maybe just poor and hanging on the street. How do you know like I need to go talk to that person.
S8: We ask them. We approach them and ask them if they’re homeless and in need of services. We do identify ourselves we say you know hey. So and so we are a homeless outreach team. Are you in need of homeless services. Are you homeless need our help.
S7: You look and you can. I mean obviously there are times you can kind of just tell.
S9: And other times if we’re uncertain we just ask do you ever guess wrong. Do people ever get offended. We’ve had people get offended but not many to be very honest. They are appreciative of the fact that there is a team going out there offering services to the street homeless individual.
S7: You go up to them and ask Do you need services. What services are you actually offering.
S6: So what we actually offer is either drive over to shelter if they wish to go inside. We offer referrals to soup kitchens drop in centers places where they do free haircuts and provide free clothing and then we’d certainly also inform the individual that we can help them obtain permanent housing.
S7: When you meet someone for the first time what’s the reaction usually but also how do you how do you say hi.
S6: I was so what I say is hey I’m Stephanie. I’m with the homeless. Homeless Outreach Team. Are you in need of any services. That’s and then you usually say well what kind of services. Okay.
S7: They grow when they grill you the way I’m grill. Yeah. Right now. OK. So would you say you the reactions usually curiosity what what is it how do people respond.
S8: Depends on the individual. Some clients won’t even look at us at all and just completely ignore us. And so we just do is we either leave a business card or a street she and we let them know that we’re leaving that with them or close to their street spot. Like maybe if they’re sitting on a bench we’ll leave it like inside and we encourage them to seek us out call us come to the office and other clients if they want to talk to us and ask us questions. They will do that. They will engage us in conversation and they will ask us questions.
S7: How often would you say folks are ready to gab and how often are they kind of giving you the brush off.
S8: I feel like most individuals are ready to talk or just at least ask questions if they’re not ready to accept services and work with this towards housing that’s OK. But I feel like most individuals are ready to talk.
S7: Yeah they’re interested. Yes. Are they actually interested in getting housing usually or are they. Are they interested in you know going to a shelter.
S6: Usually they’re interested in getting housing OK. And working with our team.
S7: Let’s say a shelter. Yes. So for your listeners. Explain the difference between those two things. I think that’s actually probably an important step on what what is a shelter versus housing.
S8: A shelter is a place where you go and see just temporary. You just have a roof over your head and you may be placed in a facility that has a bunch of individuals in one room kind of a dorm type kind of a dorm style type of facility right. Yeah whereas housing for us it’s permanent housing it’s your own room apartment SRO. So it’s two completely different things. But in the meantime since we automatically can’t place someone into housing what we can do is place someone into a safe haven and that’s different from shelter.
S7: So there’s there’s shelters there’s safe havens and then there’s probably housing housing. I think it actually probably be helpful. And this is good I get into policy talk here. I think that’s important to understanding your job. So with the shelter I understand there’s like a there’s like one big shelter in New York downtown right or there’s like or a few major ones. How does that work exactly.
S8: So there’s a men’s intake shelter downtown.
S7: How many people are there usually.
S8: Oh I don’t exactly know the number but hundreds OK hundreds. And then there’s a women’s intake shelter in the Bronx.
S7: Those are the the main shelters the city runs right.
S8: So what happens is that an individual goes to one of those intake shelters and over time they eventually get placed in to their assigned shelter which is a smaller building but it is it tends to be also like a dorm style type facility. OK. So they move out of the intake assessment center into their own assigned shelter and those like the nonprofit ones and things like the city run and the nonprofit ones.
S7: I see. So you get the intake shelter and then you get the smaller ones and but people aren’t necessarily interested in going to that they’re not necessarily interested in that.
S8: No. How come. Well from I’ve asked clients these questions and from what they’ve told me is that they don’t feel safe there. A lot of clients deal with mental illness and they find that being in that sort of environment with hundreds of individuals is super triggering. Yes. Super excited provoking so they’d rather not say and in that sort of facility and that’s rather be out in the streets.
S7: That’s why they’re on the streets because again New York has a.. Right there if you present yourself and identity shelter they have to put you up somewhere. Right yeah. So that’s legally you’re entitled to a roof over your head. Right. But they won’t because you here like the shelters are dangerous that people get hurt. I mean how is that. Is that a problem that you’ve got people like attacked or things like that. That’s what clients have told me and most of clients are they men women single.
S6: So we work with adults just the adult population. That’s why I make that clear we mostly encounter men there are women out there. Yeah but we mostly do encounter men out on the streets.
S7: So you don’t men who who don’t want to be in the shelter system because either they’ve got mental illness or they they think they’re going to be attacked. Yeah. Then you said there’s a second category there’s safe havens. What’s a safe haven.
S6: So a safe haven is only open to the street outreach team. So once a homeless individual connects with the street outreach team and decides that they want to go inside and they don’t want to go to shelter. What we do is we offer them the option of going into safe haven which is like a shelter it’s similar but it’s a way smaller building a lot more case management on site. And these facilities tend to be there are some that are dorm style but these facilities tend to have either single rooms which is which a lot of clients prefer to have or their shared rooms you share with one other individual instead of having to be in this giant dorm style facility facility like the Bellevue intake shelter if it feels like maybe dorm is even maybe I was being too generous there at the Major.
S7: It sounds like mostly an old hospital ward or something. When you say just like it is it just really a giant open room or is it.
S6: I’ve actually been to I haven’t been inside of the Bellevue intake shelter OK. But though women’s one is up in the Bronx it’s just a big like a giant gymnasium big gymnasium. So it’s an open yeah.
S7: So I could see how it would feel really chaotic. Yeah. And so the safe haven is for someone who who’s been frightened away. It’s a I guess a more appealing option. So you tell them about that.
S8: I definitely tell them about that and I tell them I explain to the neighborhood that the safe haven is in and what the style of the facility is whether it’s a single room a shared room or a dorm style facility.
S7: How often would you say people are interested in that pretty often. That that sounds great. Pretty often yes. Safe Haven sounds good. Yeah. So you have the shelters you have the safe havens. Meant to appeal to people who’ve been kind of burned or feel like they’ve been burned by the system and then housing. And that’s kind of your end goal getting them the end goal. What housing are you getting them into. How are you doing that. Where are you placing them.
S8: We are placing them into either a supportive housing with case management onsite or we are looking for independent housing housing with the city there’s a new voucher out it’s called the city for helps voucher. We can take that our clients could take that to brokers and we can just find any sort of apartment or room in the community that clients can rent out like a Section 8 voucher.
S7: It’s pretty similar I see but it’s specifically for people who’ve been homeless is that the idea or is it a little.
S8: This is for people that have like an active public assistance case and are in shelter or homeless.
S7: And in the end or are you putting them like in regular apartment buildings or you sit like Section 8. So I imagine that could just be like a normal like public housing or normal private apartment.
S8: The way we place people into housing is by starting something called housing packet a housing package consists of a birth certificate I.D. such as your benefit card or like a state I.D. a Social Security card a psych eval a psycho social eventually once we get all of those important documents. Oh and income is a big one because you need an income in order to pay rent. So once you have all of those things we put it together we send it off to the Human Resources Administration and there is a department in the Human Resources Administration that reviews this packet and comes back to us with a determination. So what this determination is called a determination letter and what this is caught with with this determination letter states is what sort of housing the client would benefit from living in I.
S7: So there are a few different options. Yeah which is like you said anything from supportive housing which is supportive housing is what also so supportive housing has case management on site. Does that mean a social worker is around as a social worker.
S8: Case manager they help clients follow up with psych appointments maybe assist them with taking their medications. Some clients would benefit from being what’s called a representative payee. If they receive any Social Security income from Social Security what the housing could do with the supportive housing site could do is help the client pay their rent and then help them budget like manage their money throughout the month so that they’re not out of money. Is it sort like an institutional thing. No it’s not at all OK. Not at all. Is it like an apartment and then it’s an apartment with just like case management in the building like an office maybe like on the first floor on the top floor somewhere in the building there’s an office with a social service department onsite.
S7: I got it. So that’s like one option that someone might be able to qualify for but then they’ve also they might just qualify for a voucher and a normal part right is another right. And you’re talking to this housing packet and you were. I was trying to write down as you went. Your psych evaluation social evaluation and all their paperwork have to have an income which seems like it’s tricky if you’re living on the street you do you kind of oversee putting that whole thing together.
S8: I definitely oversee putting that whole thing together. So what the case manager does is assist the client in obtaining all of those documents and OK I’m overseeing that entire process. Each part of it every day each component of the housing package I Oh I certainly oversee that including getting a job part if the client wishes to get a job. What we can do is certainly like assist them with referring them to the appropriate agency or well I guess because you said income so. Oh so what I mean by that is either if they want to get a job we certainly help them either apply or maybe refer them to an agency that can help them do a work program but we also help them apply for public assistance. A client if a client is unable to work or just can’t work for some reason we can’t get them public assistance in the meantime so they can have cash assistance and they can have some food stamps medicaid or.
S7: Right yeah. How long does it take ordinarily to put together this package.
S6: Sometimes they can be a couple of weeks a month and or sometimes they could be a long time like a year or a year.
S8: So it really depends on the client. We move at the client’s pace. We don’t try to rush the client we really do try to meet them where they’re at obtaining all of those documents can be pretty overwhelming.
S7: Yeah. Do you get people into housing for temporary housing a safe haven first and then start this process or do you start this process for people who are still on the street both so they can be on the street and we could start this process while they’re on the street. They would rather stay on the street and put together a packet. The process for permanent housing. Yeah. Rather than go back to a shelter or yes a safe haven yes that that strikes me is kind of strange because they want to get housing presumably they want a roof over their head a lot of clients don’t.
S8: What they tell me is that they don’t want to go into a place it’s like a shelter. They just want to move directly into housing. They don’t want to go inside. They don’t want to go inside unless it’s their own roof.
S7: They’re that frightened of the concept of a shelter. Yeah. So that’s like a really deep sounding fear. So you’re you and your caseworkers are holding their hand through all of this. Yes. And that can take a month or a year. Are they. Coming in for appointments while you do this or are you just going out every day and looking for I mean how do how do you like you said it’s a client relationship so how do you manage that.
S8: Well we definitely meet with clients on the street like if they prefer to meet on the street. We definitely can make that work. So if they want to do the psychosocial on the street or fill out paperwork on the street we certainly do that if they want to come into the office. We offer that as well we can drive them back to the office and you know sit in a private room and just like complete the paperwork that’s needed to be completed.
S7: But it’s up to the client so it’s up to the client. So when you’re making like when you’re scheduling a time to meet. Is it like three o’clock Friday at my corner or is that kind of that’s a thing.
S9: That’s something we do. Yeah yeah. It’s come to the park. Yeah I’ll be there. Yeah exactly. How often do they show up and make the appointment. Sometimes they don’t. And that’s OK. We try again. That’s totally fine. It sounds like there’s some you need some flexibility in this line of work. Sometimes that’s why it takes so long to get a housing package together. Yeah. How many your clients have phones. I don’t know enough about that. Like do they I can’t even guess like roughly like how many clients but we do have clients some clients do have phones. So some of fancy you and others don’t.
S7: You can get in touch with them that way. Yeah. So if someone doesn’t have a phone.
S8: How do you get in touch and go find them at their streets but try to ask their friends if they’ve seen some clients do you go to other community organizations for services. So we might go to that case manager and you know ask them hey have you seen so-and-so. If you have let them know that the outreach team is looking for them. Yes. So there they’ve been. Other organizations have been super helpful at helping us connect with clients.
S7: Do clients just kind of disappear sometimes. They do. It’s happened as I feel you kind of when you when I ask that you there is a look that was like It’s not fun it’s not about like then you’re just we’re just left wondering like man like I hope they’re okay.
S8: Like where are they. Yeah. And we do we actually when clients do go missing we do what’s called a diligent search. OK. So we call hospitals we check the the criminal justice system we can you can check online to see if anybody who’s been incarcerated. So we look at that. But if we don’t find them and we just hope we kind of just have to hope that they turn back up to fight you find them on their rounds.
S7: How long is it before you start looking for something like How long does it have to be since you last saw them. Sometimes we give it like three weeks three to four weeks if so and hasn’t turned up after a month that’s usually a sign that something’s gone awry. Yeah. Your day. What does it mostly consist of. What are you actually spending your time on.
S8: I am spending my time on trying to get housing packets out for clients. Yeah trying to get clients matched to permanent housing. Trying to get clients into safe haven if that’s what they want.
S7: So you’re just on the phone kind of dealing with these bureaucratic issues all day.
S8: It’s basically just a bunch of emails and making sure that I’m on top of my emails. Yeah. So that I can if there are any vacancies for any permanent housing. I’m on it. I’m trying to get this client in or save for safe haven if there’s a vacancy at a certain safe haven that a client wants to go to I am I’m on it. Yeah. Trying to get that bed for them.
S7: So you’re sort of the advocate. Yes. At that point you’re the one trying to help them off the street and you’re there voice in the system. Our whole team is here. You and your whole team. Right. What are the problems like typically come up when you’re trying to put together a housing package aside from people vanishing or are here not showing up at the park at 3:00 p.m. on Friday.
S6: Sometimes you need I.D. in order to order I.D. which is tricky. Because if a client doesn’t if they’ve lost all of their I.D. It’s hard to order a new I.D. because you need to have a form of I.D. to order and you I.D. you’re in a Catch 22.
S7: What do you do in that situation.
S8: So what we do in that situation is that we write a letter we can sometimes write a letter and provide like our si si si si s like Homeless Outreach I.D. confirming that the client is street homeless has lost all of their ideas and we need a state idea or we need some sort of likes any sort of identification to be ordered for housing purposes.
S7: So you have to kind of say Hi this isn’t a scam. Yeah.
S8: Where we’re the. Like I’m vouching for this client this individual truly a street homeless does not have any ideas I can confirm that you’re collecting all this paperwork are you holding onto it or are they holding onto it. So each client has a chart that we have locked up in a filing cabinet so we hold on to the paperwork but for I.D. If a client wants to keep that in their pocket we certainly give it to them so that they can have their I.D. on them. Yeah it’s totally fine. A lot of clients actually ask us to keep their original I.D. safely because they know it right. Yeah they know that you know it might get lost or something if they get robbed. Yeah something along the lines.
S10: And how.
S7: I mean and you mentioned like psych and social evaluations. I mean who’s who. People are coming into art like who. What what is that.
S8: So a psycho social is usually done by the case manager or social worker and is just sitting down with the client to basically get the client’s history their whole life history maybe like Psych information from them if they’ve ever been diagnosed with mental illness. We get medical information from substance history. So that’s just one big report.
S7: I guess you can say and that’s to help determine whether they need to go into something like you said supportive right or they can kind of live on their own. Right.
S8: It can manage it and then the psych eval is when the psychiatrist sits down also meets them. Also sort of gets like a social history on them and then determines whether or not this individual has a mental illness or has a substance history when a client has a severe mental illness.
S7: How does that affect your job.
S8: In cases of severe mental illness what we try to focus on is getting the client stable enough with the help of the outside psychiatrist and the true medical team so that eventually we can get this housing package together. We certainly focus on stability.
S7: You’re you’re going out and finding people during the daily rounds who are sometimes kind of isolated. Right. I mean like there are times where you’re probably the only one person they’re talking to of course. Right. What do folks want to talk about. What do you chat about.
S8: We don’t always chat about housing. It’s like we talk about their hobbies. They talk about like what they want to do or what their goals are for the future what the rest of the week is going to look like. Just very normal things things you want to talk about with your friends. Yeah.
S7: People just like kind of shoot the shit. Right. Do you ever really feel like you get to know someone. Absolutely.
S8: Yeah absolute I mean this is it’s a pretty long process to get someone housed and yeah you know there are. We have a lot of engagements in between getting that housing package together. So there’s a lot of time to get to really know someone.
S7: Do you ever kind of keep in touch with people after they’ve gone through a process and been housed.
S8: Not really. Yeah I’m sure someone’s been house we discharged them after three months. We prepare them for the termination process. The client can certainly come they there are some clients that do come back to our office and they want to say hi and they want to check in with us and they want to let us know how they’re doing and we love that.
S7: What kind of problems to your clients usually ask for help with aside from getting housing.
S8: A lot of it is getting help with having their basic needs met. It’s either like asking where they can get clothing asking us where they can get food. Sometimes we do buy them food so that they sometimes come to us and be like Hey can you buy me a sandwich or can you make me coffee. Clients do come to our office and we do make them coffee or hot chocolate so they’ll come in for a little things like that. They’ll ask us for like help with toiletries and we have a toiletry kit that we give them socks and clothing is something that we. That’s a big thing. Yeah. Our clients socks. Yeah. Why socks. We actually get every year we get a donation of about I want to say like 500 socks over so it’s something. Yeah yeah. It’s something that we have in our office we have in all of our cars our clients know that we have these socks and it’s important for them to just they want to have some sort of like clean article of clothing on it. It helps in during the winter time to prevent frostbite on their hands and feet.
S6: A lot of clients use the socks as gloves and it’s certainly helpful for them in the summer to prevent just speed of moisture collecting like in their in their shoes or in their old socks.
S7: So are you like always carrying a bunch of socks in your car when you’re out on my hands. Yeah it’s just like a box of socks. It’s just a whole bag of socks. So you bring socks. Is there anything else you kind of carry with you.
S8: We always carry what’s called a street sheet which is just a listing of like food pantries and soup kitchens and haircuts and other places to get clothing and the addresses of the intake shelters are on there and the drop in centers. And that’s what you have. That’s what we hand out we keep the business cards in our car. Sometimes we try to keep clothing in our car but not often it’s hard to.
S6: Have clothing for different. There’s everyone’s just a different size and different body type. It’s just very hard to keep clothing.
S7: Yeah if you meet someone for the first time and they say fuck off hard or they they don’t squander it. Yeah okay it does happen it happens. Do you come back. Yeah. What do you do the second time.
S9: Just. Hey so and so just come to say hi. Just checking up on you make sure you okay. And they might tell me to fuck off again but I let them know that I’m coming back for them. We’re gonna try to win them over. It’s happened we’ve won over clients. What’s the most times you had to keep coming back before they’d kind of crack. It’s hard to say. I mean with some clients it could be like the hundredth engagement re hundredth engage really that long. Yeah that many time. Yeah for them to say Okay I’ll talk to you. You know the hundredth engagement. Yeah. And every client is different. I guess by that point you kind of always know where to find them. Yeah absolutely.
S7: Is there any concern ever about safety. I mean I I almost hate asking that question because I’m talking about the homeless like they’re you know like they’re all violent or crazy. That’s not what I mean. But there are there there’s obviously someone with severe mental mental health problems. I mean is safety ever a concern in your guys.
S8: I mean we always go out in pairs and we certainly keep an appropriate distance away from the client. Just we also want to respect their space. We don’t want to be up in their face especially if they’re sleeping and bedded down. Sometimes we do. I just don’t want to frighten anybody so we definitely do try to keep our distance but safety is a concern. Again not every client is violent. That actually rarely happens that where we are where we encounter someone who’s violent towards us but we certainly go out in pairs when we’re canvassing inside parks or heavily wooded areas. Yeah because that’s something it could be dangerous. Yeah it’s secluded. That’s exactly why. Because it’s so secluded.
S7: You said you’d kind of shoot the shit with your clients. What are the biggest challenges that they face living on the street. What do you hear from them. Like I mean to me just living on street sounds kind of horrible generally but I’m curious what you’ve learned talking to them.
S8: The weather is a big one. Yeah. When it’s super cold out or if it’s super hot out that is a pretty big challenge for them. Just finding a place where they feel comfortable temperature wise and they don’t have to worry they don’t have to worry about any sort of like in the wintertime like freezing to death like they don’t have to worry about that.
S7: So you’ve got people who are worrying about freezing to death at the same time they still don’t want to go to a shelter.
S6: So what we offer in the wintertime we push clients to consider going into a church bed during the overnight hours so that they are somewhere warm and they are in a place that they can take a shower and have a meal. That’s another option.
S7: So it’s actually in the winter time there’s kind of a lot of problem solving some extent yeah you’re figuring out how to keep this person safe. Right.
S6: And then we also give them like a lot of jackets and maybe if we have blankets we’ll give them blankets if they do decide to stay on the street. They can at least have like layers of clothing to try to keep warm.
S7: This is gonna sound so morbid but have one of your clients ever died while they were out on the street not from the cold enough. NICOLE Yeah from other things. Drug overdose drug overdose yes that’s a that’s a big one and that’s I guess part of your job is probably trying to get help them to get treatment right.
S6: That’s if they want. We don’t push it. That’s something we certainly offer. We do give clients you know depending on the drug that they use. We do give client like Narcan kits so that they have that sometimes if we have on hand the fentanyl testing strips we give them that just so that maybe you know they can use safely. We try to encourage that and educate them to use safely. And we try to point them in the direction where they can get clean needles. Harm reduction is a big part of our job.
S7: You said earlier on that you responded 3 1 one calls a lot. Hmm. Does that ever require dealing with the caller with dealing with the neighbors.
S8: Not really. Yeah. The thing is is that the caller or the neighbors are never there. Okay. When they put in these three when one calls. So when we pull up in our car we just really we only see the homeless individual. We don’t see the caller.
S7: When you first meet clients how often do they have any idea of what options are available to them. The fact that they could get housing or or they they could get into a safe haven.
S8: Actually the majority of clients almost all clients aren’t aware that safe havens even exist.
S7: There’s limited understanding of that. Yeah. How about that. Housing is something that they could theoretically qualify for.
S8: I don’t think they realize that there are different types of housing that their support of housing that they can find independent housing that there’s the option to get housed. There’s an option for them to get something called the city perhaps housing voucher. There’s a lot of educating on our part when it comes to navigating the housing process with them.
S7: I ask because I’m trying to picture what a homeless person would even do it like how they would even begin trying to navigate all these different systems. If someone like you didn’t exist. Like if you’re terrified of a shelter Yeah and you don’t you don’t want to go back to one and you don’t really know how the system works. What the hell would that person do.
S6: I mean if I were in their shoes I’d probably stay on the street I wouldn’t know who to turn to.
S7: Yeah I got after to talk to you about all the different aspects of your job. This is a very good question. I’m just thinking about like what people in California now or Colorado or somewhere that didn’t have a service like this didn’t have someone kind of doing outreach like what the system would even look like to them. Like how would you yeah. It seemed. It’s kind of unimaginable to me.
S8: I mean I honestly wouldn’t know where to start. If I were homeless in New York maybe I’d start by going to the human resources administration. Yeah like I’d start going you know to go to the welfare office and ask questions there. It’s been just a night with sort of hope that someone would point me in the right direction or to the right agency that could help me get permit housing.
S7: I mean your job is to deal with the bureaucracy. A lot of it a lot of it and that’s that’s tricky. I mean like I was trying to call like housing preservation recently for something like that. It’s like a random upper middle class white guy was you know with time on my hands was almost impossible to get deal with. I mean like your smiley but like New York bureaucracy is not not easy right. Like there’s gonna be times you when I tear your hair out dealing with it.
S9: Most of the time yes. I mean it’s it is frustrating trying to navigate all these different systems.
S7: I feel like after do I spend it after you was just trying to get someone on the phone by trying to pick up their phone like that. That’s a thing that’s tough. People work in city government don’t necessarily respond to their messages like right. Do you find it. Sorry I’m like ranting and raving.
S8: I mean I’ve definitely found that you know when I try to call other organizations or agencies like it’s hard to get someone on the phone but when I finally do I try to get the name that contact person the number. Ask someone is the best time to reach him to short it’s sort of make that connection with them. Yeah I know like if the next time I need to reach someone from that agency or from that organization I know who to ask for part of your job.
S7: Is I kind of networking and having knowing who to call yeah. Which string to pull essentially right. Is that something it’s taking a while to learn.
S8: It’s definitely taken a while to learn and definitely our team is very good at networking and trying to find like who’s the right person to reach out to for these different organizations and we try to share that information with one another.
S7: Have you ever had a client who you got into housing and then you ended up back on the street. Yes.
S8: What do you do then get them right back into housing we start with the housing package. Just start. We start from scratch.
S7: Start from scratch. Yeah. All right. Thank you for coming in and talking about all of this. Thank you so much. This is one.
S5: That’s it for this week’s episode of Working. I hope you enjoyed the show as usual if you did. Please leave us a review at Apple podcasts.
S2: And if you have questions comments please please please please send me an email at working at Slate dot com. There was a little editing glitch when we released last week’s episode which by the way I apologize for our bad very sorry. We tried to give you the best product possible each week. And the reason we caught it was because someone wrote to us send us an email told us hey you messed something up and we rushed to fix it. So we love feedback. We love hearing when we’ve missed something. We will repair it we’ll do better next time.
S3: Either way the producer I’m working as always is just met Molly. Special thank you to Justin D right for the add music and please join us again next week.