An interview with Carrie Smith, Outreach Counselor at
Samaritan House/Housing First Apartments, New Hope Housing, Inc., in Fairfax,
Q: Tell me a little
about New Hope Housing.
A: We work with both individuals and families who are
homeless. Most have some type of mental
illness. We provide different levels of
housing assistance. We work in Northern
Virginia, on Route 1 in Fairfax. Many of the people we work with have lived in
the woods in tents provided by the County.
Q: What do you do at New Hope Housing?
A: I work as an Outreach Counselor for two different
programs that follow the Housing First model. Samaritan House is a group home
that just opened in early March. It has
room for eight single men. Currently, seven men ranging in age from 21 to 65
live there. The other program is the Housing First Apartments. These apartments
opened in April 2007. There are seven apartments – two one-bedrooms that house
two people each and five studios that each house one person. I provide case
management for people in both programs. I visit each resident every week or two
and provide financial assistance, employment help, or whatever else they need.
Q: Do these two
programs serve the same population?
A: Mostly yes. But most of the men in the Housing First
Apartments came directly from the woods. The men in the other program mostly
come from shelters.
Q: What do you enjoy
most about your job?
A: I enjoy helping clients – helping them to see the
benefits of the resources out there and how to use them. I also enjoy hearing
how they see the world – what it looks like through their eyes.
Q: What do you find
most challenging about your job?
A: You can’t really plan any activities in advance. People
may be interested one day and then the next day they are not.
Q: Is there anything
that makes this job particularly challenging for a recent college graduate?
A: Sometimes it’s challenging to work with people who are
older than I am. It can be hard to get them to take you seriously. This is
particularly true when I’m working with the younger men. They give me a harder
time than the older men.
Q: When family and
friends ask about your job, how do you describe what you do?
A: I’m usually pretty vague. I usually just say I’m a case
manager for people who are homeless. Most of the time people ask some
questions. But most of my friends, even those in the social work field, don’t
really understand the Housing First model.
Q: What do you mean?
A: Some people don’t understand why services are voluntary
or why we’re just giving people apartments without working on their other
issues. Really, they don’t understand the goal of the program. The successes
that you see in this field may not seem like much to an outsider. But to the
clients, these are big steps.
Q: What do you think
about the Housing First model?
A: It’s a good idea in theory, but sometimes it needs to be
tailored to individual needs. For some
people it works, but for others it kind of feels like giving up on them. It can
be a good first step to get people comfortable and safe in housing before
working on other issues. But for some people if you don’t push them at all they
might never seek more assistance. I think it needs to be used as a tool for
building relationships. That way once you gain someone’s trust, you can offer