One morning I returned to the office after attending a lease signing with a client. The receptionist, who knew where I was, asked me, “One less, huh?”
“What?” I asked. I was confused. Theresa, the volunteer receptionist who was new to her position said, “You were at the lease signing with one of your people. That’s one less, right?”
Still unsure of what she was getting to, I asked, “One less what?” to which she replied, “One less homeless person.”
I was stunned, and after a moment, I smiled. She was right. I just witnessed someone go from homeless to housed before my eyes. By being with my client at her lease signing, I was witnessing a historical event in someone’s personal history. An evolution. A change. A second chance to start over, to rebuild, and the observe deliverance of hope.
In my program, I have new people coming in every month who live in shelters and on the streets. With the constant influx of new people, I see the constant need for affordable housing, a job with benefits, affordable childcare, and adequate medical care. Seeing the constant need day in and day out is emotionally draining over time, but seeing each person succeed charges my emotional batteries unlike anything else.
When I meet a new person who has experienced homelessness, I always like to know what was the straw that broke the camel’s back. What event occurred in their life that lead them to these experiences? Often, it is something small like their hours were cut at work. Sometimes I would think, that it would be easy to recover from, but as I get to know each person’s story, I learn that it couldn’t be further from the truth. Each person’s life, when I meet them, is like a tangled necklace. Each problem is a barrier that has looped around another until it’s a cluster that you don’t even want to mess with anymore. I can only imagine what they are going through, looking at their own life and thinking this is not the life I had imagined for myself at all.
Even though I work for a not-for profit organization that specializes in the homeless population, I know that I can never truly understand what they are experiencing. I have felt frustrations, anger, and sorrows but never to the magnitude that I can only imagine that these people go through every day. Being in a crowded shelter with rules that aren’t your own and don’t make sense, not getting your important mail because it was forwarded to your old address, or not being able to get to work because you don’t have the money for bus tokens. It’s all terribly depressing and sometimes, I know I won’t have the answer that will make their problems go away. But with our Housing Support Team program, I can at least get them set up in an apartment so that they may work on breaking down some of the barriers that were keeping them homeless. For me, I get to give people a second chance (or sometimes even a first chance) at living on their own, and in return, I get to see one less person at the shelter, in their car, or on the streets.
Katie Kemmerlin has been a Case Coordinator for the Housing Support Team Program at Aurora since October 2012. Katie has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of Southern Indiana and is currently enrolled in the Master’s program. Katie has had previous experience working vulnerable populations in the child welfare system as well as people with developmental disabilities.