Connecting with Community-Based Services
Although every supportive housing project has an organization that functions as the lead service provider, this does not mean that it will provide all of the services that tenants may need. Instead, the lead service provider should establish linkages to community-based organizations that provide core services needed by tenants. Common linkages in supportive housing are to providers of behavioral health care, employment services, primary health care, and substance abuse treatment and support. Increasingly, supportive housing projects also are establishing connections to resources such as their local Veterans Administration and family and child welfare services. Even if the project offers some of these supportive services at the project site, tenants may still prefer to access services in the community and to build their support network outside of where they live.
Codifying these linkages using written agreements can help ensure tenants have quick and easy access to these providers, once they express a desire to receive services.
Although tenants may choose to connect with other supportive housing tenants or with peers — and service staff should provide opportunities for this to occur — it is also important that tenants have the opportunity to connect with the larger neighborhood and community. This is particularly important for supportive housing tenants who may be living in scattered-site settings in which they may feel isolated. These activities also can give tenants a foundation through which to build friendships with diverse individuals. They also may serve as a neutral space through which tenants can reestablish connections with family members.
The following are ideas for connecting tenants with the community:
Create linkages to networks of other provider organizations, self-help groups, coalitions and advocacy groups that will likely be of interest to tenants and staff. Staff and tenants can identify social issues and concerns that are important to them — such as AIDS, homelessness, crime, mental illness — and work together (e.g., attending rallies, participating in letter-writing campaigns, etc.) in the interest of promoting change or more progressive social policies with other community members. These kinds of activities also can provide tenants with an opportunity to develop communication and advocacy skills and to strengthen self-determination and awareness.
Encourage involvement in neighborhood community development efforts. Supportive housing has support staff and resources (however limited) that many neighborhoods and communities lack. In many cases, the efforts of staff and some resources can be adapted to assist the neighborhood and broader community. Tenants clearly benefit from efforts to improve the quality of life in the broader community, and sponsors realize long-term benefits as well. The value of being able to garner community support when requesting new funding or attempting to locate new supportive housing units, for instance, should not be underestimated. From almost any angle, connecting with the neighborhood creates “win-win” scenarios. A short list of examples of these initiatives includes:
- Sponsoring or supporting community gardens
- Sponsoring or supporting local crime-watch groups
- Sponsoring or supporting neighborhood cleanups
- Sponsoring a “speakers bureau” of formerly homeless individuals and others who provide educational and motivational lectures
- Opening businesses/storefronts that serve the neighborhood and provide jobs (cafés, bookstores, ice cream shops, thrift stores, bakeries)
- Providing information and referral information to local tenants
Work with tenants to develop a community engagement plan based on their individual interests. Staff and tenants can work together to identify and prioritize ways to be involved in the community including activities and social connections. Examples of programs and places that offer tenants with opportunities to connect to the neighborhood and larger community include:
- Open 12-step meetings
- Voter registration drives
- Community gardening
- Local park cleanups
- Public speaking (speaker’s bureau)
- Community board meetings
- Spiritual community such as a church, temple or mosque
- Parent/Teacher Association