At the "Reaching Home" celebration dinner held last week in Connecticut, Cathy Zall was awarded The Rev. Richard Schuster Housing Advocacy Award. In her remarks, she calls out the special assistance and attention she and her organization received from CSH. Cathy is the Executive Director of the New London Homeless Hospitality Center in New London Connecticut.
I am honored, but quite frankly surprised, to be standing here tonight. Our work at the New London Homeless Hospitality Center has been far from the big leagues of permanent supportive housing. In fact, what we have been doing until recently is probably best described as the sandlot, pick up game version of permanent supportive housing.
Just over a year ago we had our first DMHAS program review conducted by CSH. I had asked our staff to organize our documentation into binders so we could put our very best foot forward when April Morrison and her team arrived at our site. Somehow that didn’t get done and, without my realizing it, April and her team ended up with a few virtually empty binders for their chart review. As the exit conference unfolded, a sinkhole sized sinking feeling came over me. Slowly, even though April’s most diplomatic summary, it was clear that something had gone very wrong.
But even in the midst of this record keeping disaster, the review team found positive things to highlight about what we had been doing. What saved us was that, almost without knowing it, we had brought the right spirit to what we were doing in permanent supportive housing. We got the paperwork mostly wrong but we got much of the spirit right.
What is that spirit? It is more than caring about people and certainly more than doing things for people. It is something much bigger—a way of thinking about human life; most broadly it is about seeing the inherent worth in every human being. It is about believing that everyone has within them the desire and capacity to live a life of wholeness and meaning. It means recognizing that people are experts on themselves and that all change is self-change. It means knowing that recovery and change is hard but possible for everyone. It means recognizing that our job is to actively partner with people so they can build on their strengths and achieve their personal goals.
Affirming strengths, sincerely walking with people on their journey, providing concrete support when it is needed, having patience, really listening to people with the goal of understanding how they see things, respecting people’s right to make choices about their lives. In the year prior to our first review we had been working really, really hard informed by this spirit and may of our participants—not surprisingly—had responded by staying housed, by starting work and by changing in ways that mattered to them.
This spirit rescued our early work. And equally important, being on the receiving end of that same spirit allowed us to learn and grow from the experience. CSH staff walked the talk--they worked with us with the same spirit they advised us to have with our participants. They affirmed our strengths. They partnered with us—even coming for a second visit to look at the files we had neglected to have ready the first time. They were business like about what had to be done but I felt a tremendous sense of encouragement and confidence from the review team.
And very importantly, DMHAS and CSH made available the tangible resources we needed to improve. In particular I would highlight the Medicaid Institute for Supportive Housing Agencies as the best-designed training I have ever attended. The DMHAS funded catalog of courses has transformed our staff from well-meaning novices to skilled professionals.
Not surprisingly the spirit that facilitates change in individual lives also changes organizations.
There will be no empty binders at our next CSH site visit. Eligibility will be documented, our releases will be current, our assessments will be complete, our reassessments/housing checklists/crisis plans will be done, service plans will be person centered and current, our progress notes will tie into plans, leases will be in the file and each participant’s acuity index completed. But even more important, I want the reviewers to find all our work infused with that same spirit that saved us in the beginning. Because it is this melding of spirit and process that will eventually help us graduate into the big leagues of the permanent supportive housing world.
And it is in the big leagues of compassion and competence that we all need to play if we hope to honor the legacy of those who have come before us by ending homelessness.
Thank you, Cathy, for your kind words. We at CSH applaud the valuable work you and your organization do on a daily basis to assist those facing homelessness.