By Lauren Everett
Amanda starts her workday by checking her phone to see if there have been any crises overnight. She sometimes ends the day with a late-night phone call from someone who has just moved into their first home in years. “When I know that they just moved in I will answer my phone and they just need reminding that they’re okay, this is their home.”
As the Housing Retention Specialist for Do Good Multnomah’s Mobile Support Services team, Amanda is there for program participants throughout their housing journey. From helping clients apply for apartments to finding furniture for their new home to offering encouragement and reassurance when they move in, “It’s ever changing, always different. Every day is a new adventure.”
The Mobile Support Services program, which is funded by Metro’s supportive housing services fund, is designed to help people transition from homelessness into permanent housing. The program focuses on serving veterans, seniors and people with disabilities, applying a trauma informed approach to supporting participants. The goal is not only finding stability in a new home but also to improve overall wellbeing.
Amanda’s team includes a social worker, a Housing Access Coordinator and Brittanie, who is a Peer Support Specialist. Program participants are referred from Do Good’s shelter sites, located throughout Multnomah County.
Amanda and Brittanie work together to help clients with everything they need to be comfortable in their new home and successfully transition to living inside. This includes helping them get practical items like cellphones, furniture and food boxes. They also help with things such as applying for Supplemental Security Income (many participants are not able to work full time or at all), budgeting, paying bills, setting goals and learning how to advocate for themselves with landlords after they move in. Sometimes, it just means offering moral support.
According to Jess Gibly, Director of Supportive Housing Services at Do Good, Mobile Support Services teams play an important role in the organization’s mission. “Shelters are a great resource and can provide folks with much needed stability, security and access to resources, but where do they go from there? Housing programs like [this] are crucial as they draw on the stability that shelters provide to connect individuals to permanent housing, then provides support to help them thrive in housing.” This additional support, she explained, “is the only way to truly end someone’s experience of houselessness.”
Many program participants face barriers to passing a rental application screening and advocating for her clients is a key part of Amanda’s work as Housing Navigation Specialist. Criminal record, eviction, credit, property damage and lack of rental history are some of the most common barriers program participants face.
This advocacy often means writing a letter to a landlord and asking them to give the person a chance by renting an apartment to them.
“I definitely bring it back to myself,” Amanda explained. “Had no one given me a chance then, you know, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Amanda has also experienced homelessness, living at times in her car with her kids. Today she’s in recovery, has a bachelor’s degree and overall stability. She tells landlords that her clients are just people and “everybody deserves to be housed.”
When asked if her life experience makes her better at her job, Amanda said, “Yes, I don’t think I could build the rapport I do with people if I hadn’t lived a different lifestyle.” Building empathy and trust through shared experience is an important part of Do Good’s approach to this work.
Brittanie also has life experience that helps her connect with program participants. “I grew up in a pretty rough kind of environment. So I got to see a lot of the world very fast and it kind of, you know, influenced me when I got older to help people get through that because I was able to get through it.” She describes herself as a person who’s naturally drawn to taking care of other people. She started out doing elder care and then worked at the Queer Affinity Village in inner SE Portland before her current role with Do Good.
Move-in day is one of Amanda’s favorite parts of the job. “I had somebody who moved in on the third and they cried when they got their keys and they were just so grateful. That was so rewarding,” she explained. “I was so grateful to be able to experience that with them.”
While move-in day can be joyful, it can also come with anxiety and mixed emotions. That’s where the team steps in for support. Amanda tries to give clients time to process the transition in advance, ordering furniture beforehand so they can visualize their new environment.
The move from a shelter, vehicle or the street into an apartment or house is transformational. Amanda was able to advocate for a client who had been unhoused for over 25 years and wasn’t feeling hopeful about getting into housing, who now calls her often “in total disbelief that this is her life now.” Another client who recently moved into his new home set goals of being sober and not gambling, and is maintaining both while searching for employment.
Amanda describes moving into a permanent home as “empowering,” with a positive impact on self-esteem. Brittanie also loves seeing the positive changes in participants’ lives when they’re housed.
“Just seeing people evolve,” Brittanie said, “I think that’s the best thing. And knowing I was there to aid them in that.”
This includes returning to things they love to do, like playing music. Even though shelters are an important part of the support system, Brittanie explained that there’s nothing like having your own space. For many people, just being able to breathe and relax without looking over their shoulder is a significant positive change.
At the end of the day, the human connection might be the most important part of Brittanie and Amanda’s work. As Brittanie explained, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just sat down with someone and they were just, like, instantly, you know, calm or at ease.” She thinks this is because “humans thrive off connection, like we’re here to connect with people. And yeah, I just think it means everything to them.”
This article was originally posted on the Metro website, oregonmetro.gov.