ICS Provider Partner – Mark Voss with The Life Link

How do you talk to someone who is homeless? How do you connect with him or her to help them?

Meet Mark Voss from The Life Link, who has an office at ICS. Mark has thought a lot about these questions in his position as the Outreach Services Program Manager and mental health counselor. The Life Link placed Mark at Pete’s Place (along with outreach specialists Avi Golenberg and Quill Head, who were featured in the last issue of The Scribe) through a PATH grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. PATH, which stands for Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness, funds services for people with serious mental illness experiencing homelessness.

“Talking with the homeless starts with listening and caring,” Mark said. “I try to establish a relationship with the individual and I recognize that mental health issues are one of the main obstacles facing individuals in getting out of homelessness.”

Mark was inspired by Bernie Glassman, a Zen Master and founder of the Zen Peacemakers. Glassman established an international, interfaith network called the Peacemaker Order, stressing the integration of spiritual practice and social action through Three Tenets:

  • Not-knowing, thereby giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and the universe;
  • Bearing witness to the joy and suffering of the world; and,
  • Loving action for ourselves and the world

These tenets provide a framework within which Mark, Avi and Quill work. The first tenet, not knowing, reminds Mark not to make assumptions about the issues a homeless person bears and how to resolve them. “I ask questions and listen to the answers,” Mark said, “and provide opportunity for the person to determine what it is they want and need. It can be difficult amidst the stress of living homeless for them to recognize their obstacles and how to overcome them.”

The second tenet reminds Mark that after listening, “bearing witness” means he should be with them where they are. People need to know and feel that we are with them in their difficulty, sharing it with them, and that we won’t run. It is only then that “loving action” comes in.

“I can then refer them to the services that the person has said he wants and needs – and is ready to work toward that goal,” Mark said. “And then I can be with them, if they want, while they work to achieve their goals.”

As a licensed professional clinical counselor, Mark meets individually with clients who need mental health counseling. These sessions occur either at his office at Pete’s Place or at The Life Link offices. Mark also instituted and facilitates a women’s support group at Pete’s Place that meets weekly.

“The group provides the structure for the women to teach each other. They support each other,” Mark said. “I believe that the support group is helping the women share their wisdom and coping skills with each other.” Mark is also working toward getting a men’s group started at Pete’s Place.