Some people who find themselves homeless already have the life skills to live independently. But there will always be others who will need ongoing support to remain successfully housed. That is where the watchful eye of consistent and ongoing case management is so important: To thwart the possibility that formerly homeless persons will return to homelessness, again.
These were some of my reflections on reading a recent article in the Santa Fe New Mexican about landlords having bad experiences with renting to people transitioning out of homelessness.
When I worked at Family of Woodstock in Ulster County, NY in the mid-1980s, we opened our first adult homeless shelter on Christmas Eve. The shelter was a joint venture with the Kingston Area Council of Churches and the United Methodist Churches and was housed in the basement of a Methodist Church. Reverend Ralph Darmstadt was the pastor.
Ralph was a kind and generous man, and a tireless advocate for those who found themselves homeless. He was also a strong and determined believer in the better side of human nature.
Ralph had newly renovated some apartments he owned, and Ralph being Ralph decided to rent them to people being served at the shelter. To his surprise and dismay, they had all but destroyed the apartments within six months.
That’s when we learned two things.
One: Every person we moved into an apartment needed to sign a case management contract with us. Two: we needed to send a case manager, daily at first, to support and assist tenants with life skills, if the expectation was that they would adequately maintain an apartment of their own and remain housed. Once we began intensive case management, we achieved much greater success in keeping the former shelter guests housed and the apartments in good working condition.