Meet Hilary Haake: DCD's new HMIS Program Coordinator

Lara Dorfman, BA

The newest member of the Department of Community Development (DCD) is Hilary Haake. Hilary started as the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) coordinator in early December. Hilary came into DCD with vast experience in managing databases and reporting but this is her first job in the non-profit sector. She had previously worked for corporate profit centers and other businesses where excelling did not mean nearly as much as it does now. At DCD, Hilary feels her work is exponentially more rewarding and that she can indirectly aid people in need by providing key decision makers with essential data to push them in the right direction and better our community.

Hilary was born in the Chicago suburbs but moved to Chester County when she was nine so she is very familiar with the area and how it has grown over the years. Growing up in Chester County, Hilary says she has a strong connection to the County and she’s excited to be able to have a positive impact. Growing up, she admired her grandmother who was not as fortunate early in life. Hilary explained that her grandmother had lived in an orphanage until the age of 14 and found a way to stay positive and determined throughout her entire life, eventually passing that trait and optimism down to her grandchildren. Hilary told me that her grandmother, “always had a clever way of making things better,” even in the toughest of situations.

Hilary never had one dream job growing up because she had so many interests. In high school, her passions were art, history and math. These interests eventually pushed her to develop key analytical and problem solving skills that lead her in this career direction. Outside of work, Hilary is hunting for antiques and vintage collectibles at auctions and garage sales but she has not had much time for that because her free time now is spent helping her sisters plan their weddings.

Hilary has also been quite busy adjusting to her new role at DCD. She never has one typical day, which is a good thing. She spends her time helping providers with their system needs and collaborating. There is consistency in her work though in that a significant and extremely important part of her job is data maintenance. Hilary also has a variety of small projects on her plate at all times. In short, she’s very busy, but she loves it.

“Empathy is the main piece that you need in order to get into the field; the rest will fall into place”. Hilary gets through even the hard days with her positive attitude. She knows what has to be done at the end of the day and she lets nothing stop her. Her personality also aids her work in that she is very analytical, likes mystery and reconstructing things backwards. She’s a problem solver and that is a huge part of the work she does at DCD, constantly brainstorming and problem solving. Her favorite day at work so far was attending the Voice and Vision Meeting where we heard from a panelist of people with lived experience. She found that the meeting was inspiring and so important to move forward as a County and end homelessness. Hilary finds the most significant challenge for low-income families in Chester County to be lack of affordable housing inventory and the cost of utilities. She’s confident that we could end homelessness tomorrow if we only had the resources because we have the skillset in the County.

On another note, if Hilary could have anyone play her in a movie about her life it would be Mira Sorvino. I hope you enjoyed getting to know more about Hilary Haake, our new HMIS program coordinator for the Department of Community Development.

An Interview with Katelyn Malis

Roberta Machin, BA


Katelyn Malis, recently appointed Director of Programs at Open Hearth, feels like she’s home again after a lot of twists and turns in her career.  Growing up as an army brat, Katelyn moved around a lot, but spent most of her childhood in San Antonio, TX before moving to Montgomery County in High School.  While in grade school, Katelyn considered being an actress, and participated in all of the school plays.  But she also had an empathetic side to her from an early age.  “I felt very in touch with others, and I always rooted for the underdog,” said Katelyn.  “I lived a sheltered life when I was young – but my parents made a point to make us aware of how fortunate we were, so that we did not take anything for granted.  Still, growing up I didn’t see homelessness unless it was portrayed in films, which you know is incredibly stereotypical.”

Originally interested in law, Katelyn majored in psychology with a minor in justice at American University.  Preparing to go to law school, Katelyn says that her experiences at two internships redirected her career plans.  She interned at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., advising mental health clients of their legal rights, and she interned at a criminal defense law firm in Philadelphia.  “I realized law wasn’t for me,” Katelyn said.  “I wanted to do something more helpful, and I enjoyed focusing on the rehabilitative, rather than the punitive aspects of these experiences.”

At Katelyn’s first job at Fellowship Health Resources in Phoenixville, she worked as a resource coordinator.  “I’d say that 75% of my caseload was struggling with homelessness,” said Katelyn.  “For me, this flipped the stigma of homelessness upside down.  I began to realize that in a county as affluent as Chester, poverty hides in plain sight.  So I started referring a lot of my clients to Open Hearth’s Gateway program, and we forged a great relationship.  After two years, they recruited me for the position of program coordinator.”

Two years ago, Katelyn left Open Hearth to work in the corporate world – and she hated it.  “I had no passion,” she said.  “Now that I’m back at Open Hearth, I feel reenergized.  I’m proud of what I’m doing and I’m proud to be here.”  As Director of Programs, Katelyn is experiencing a completely new role.  “Open Hearth is a small organization, so I wear a lot of hats,” she said.  “Since I’m a supervisor, my first responsibility is to my staff, supporting them and addressing their concerns.  And since they work directly with our clients, it’s important that they feel supported.  I also meet weekly with our housing team to go over their caseload and problem-solve – that’s how I get energized.”

Katelyn admires her boss, Kelly, for always searching for creative solutions and handling each situation with tact and poise.  She also draws inspiration from her clients, for showing resiliency in the face of hardship and getting up each day to do what needs to get done.  “I don’t know how I would handle being in their shoes,” she said.  For Katelyn, success at her job comes from helping her clients achieve their goals and find permanent housing – and then seeing them years later, still stably housed.  “You don’t always get a thank you,” said Katelyn.  “But you don’t really need one.”

Katelyn feels proud of the work she does, which helps her get through the tough days.  “We are doing something bigger than ourselves, and that leaves a lasting difference.  It’s a ripple effect – if you help one person, they can pay it forward and help someone else.”  Katelyn also admits that some ice cream and maybe a margarita after work helps her destress after a long day – “And I couldn’t get through the day without coffee, and lots of it,” she laughs.

As a perfectionist and a very type A individual, Katelyn gives 110%, and expects others to do the same.  “I have high expectations for the people I work with,” said Katelyn.  “I want to be approachable and friendly, and I prefer to be flexible, not rigid.  In my younger years I was a hippie wild child, but now I like more structure.  Still, accessing my strict side is tough sometimes.”

In her free time, Katelyn enjoys living a simple life.  She loves watching The Office on Netflix with her fiancé and her cats.  “As soon as I move into a house, I want a puppy,” Katelyn admits.  “I have a soft spot for animals in need.  I want to adopt every animal I see.”  Katelyn also loves to travel whenever she gets the chance.  When asked who she would want to play her in the movie about her life, she responded, “Kristen Bell.  People have likened me to her before.”  She would also choose to be a horse if she could be any animal, because they are wild and free.

Katelyn advises those who are interested in beginning a career in social work to separate their work from their life.  “At the end of the day, turn off,” she said.  “The bleeding hearts in this line of work will hemorrhage, and there will be nothing left of them.  Don’t take a client’s failure personally – they weren’t trying to hurt you.  Sometimes, people have opportunities in front of them, but they choose to take a different path that’s maybe not so good for them and end up self-sabotaging.  Even if this happens, try to put yourself in their shoes to understand what’s really going on, and treat them the way you would like to be treated.”

When asked to think about her most memorable day of work, Katelyn recalls working at Fellowship with a client who was very closed off and guarded.  Slowly, she developed trust with him.  Before he left the program, he wrote her a beautiful handwritten letter, thanking her for helping him.  A few months ago, when Katelyn returned to Open Hearth, the client stopped by her office.  “He heard that I was back and came to visit me.  He looked at me and said, ‘I knew you’d be back.  This is where you belong.  You’re meant to help people.’  I had kept his letter the whole time I was gone, and still have it now.  Sometimes, if I’m having a hard day, I reread the letter and think, ‘this is why I’m here.’”

Katelyn is proud to be a part of Decade to Doorways, and a voice among so many important voices within the community.  “I was in the county when D2D first began,” she said.  “I think that we can end homelessness in Chester County, but it’s going to take a lot of time and collaboration.  And even if we can’t, it doesn’t mean that we stop trying.”

D2D Movie Nights: Film Review

Lara Dorfman, BA


If you are thinking of attending one of our four movie screenings in the county but aren’t sure which movie you want to see most, look no further! I will break each down for you to ensure you pick the best movie for your interests and preferred genre. There are four nights and three movies: The Soloist, The Lady in the Van, and The Pursuit of Happyness, which will be playing twice because it is an obvious fan favorite.

If you are interested in seeing the Smith father-son duo (and I’m not sure why you wouldn’t be) then come by our movie screenings on November 13 at East High School or November 15 at Unionville High School, or both, if ugly crying is something you like to do more than once a week. The simultaneously heartwarming and heart wrenching film chronicles the story of a family struggling to meet their basic needs. The family is thrown deeper into trouble when father (Will Smith) pursues a huge career opportunity and risks accepting a 6 month unpaid internship with a stock broker in hopes that he will be the one offered a full time position at the end of the term. The Pursuit of Happyness is an important film for everyone to see in order to better understand that homelessness does not discriminate. Will Smith won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Pursuit of Happyness, so it is not a movie that you want to miss!

The Soloist provides a mental health perspective on homelessness. Jamie Foxx plays Nathaniel, an extremely talented musician who suffers from Schizophrenia – the main reason he had to drop out of Julliard and ended up living with all of his belongings on the streets of Los Angeles.  Columnist Steve Lopez, played by Robert Downey, Jr., takes a keen interest to Nathaniel when he desperately needs an idea for a story. The film offers a rude awakening of the darkness of both homelessness and mental illness. This film is inspired by a true story, in case you needed another reason to come by The Gordon Literacy Center on November 14 to watch it with us for free!

Lastly, Maggie Smith provides a breath of fresh air in The Lady in the Van. Maggie plays a quirky, outspoken older woman who voluntarily lives out of her van. Another true story, the film follows her and her neighbor, Alan Bennett, after he suggests she park the van in his driveway for a few months after many complaints from others in the neighborhood. These few weeks turn to months and eventually 15 years in Alan’s driveway. The film depicts how much you can learn about someone after 15 years and captures the woman’s fear and struggle beneath her hard and witty exterior, a struggle that explains why she is so adamant on living in her van. The important thing to remember here is that usually there is more to someone’s situation than what meets the eye. Get to know a person before you assert judgement. You can catch this film at the Colonial Theater on November 15!


Don’t forget to register for free tickets at:


My Experience as an Intern

Carly Hill


My name is Carly Hill, and I am a senior social work major at West Chester University. Besides being a student, I work as an intern on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays, I intern at Friend’s Association in West Chester and on Thursdays I intern at the Department of Community Development. At Friend’s Association, I assist with shelter case management and volunteer tasks. Sometimes my tasks are as simple as giving winter coats, cleaning supplies or hygiene products to families that need it. I also design the bulletin board at the shelter, which advertises community events, Friend’s Association updates, and resources. Also, I helped set up and attended Friends Association’s Fall Festival at the Oscar Lasko YMCA.  When I am helping with shelter case management, I meet with the families, assess their needs, and discover what led the family to becoming homeless. Also, I help the families create and accomplish a goal plan. My work includes connecting the clients to resources, such as mental health services, food banks, rapid rehousing programs, and child care.

At DCD, I have many roles, which include working with the Decade to Doorways team, the VISTAs, and sitting in on meetings. Also, I sit in on the VI-SPDAT calls with Gene Suski and other staff members. Decade to Doorways focuses on hunger and homelessness awareness and is Chester County’s ten year plan to end and prevent homelessness. I am working with the Decade to Doorways team to plan the annual Point in Time Count. Also, I am helping to advertise for the National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week movie nights, which take place during the week of November 12th.  Another task of mine includes sitting in on Permanent Housing Options Committee meetings, where I take notes and keep track of the meeting minutes.

There is a true fascination in seeing and participating in many aspects of ending and preventing homelessness. Whether that be the micro level of helping families one on one, the mezzo level of sitting in on meetings, or the macro level of learning about DCD and HUD policies. I was trained on how to use Chester County Client Information Management System (CCCIMS) and how to complete a SPDAT assessment. As a bachelor’s level social work intern, I have learned an incredible amount over the last few months. I will be interning at both Friends’ Association and DCD until May and I am excited to keep learning how to prevent and end homelessness.


In the Spotlight…CAAP Self-Sufficiency Award Recipients

Roberta Machin, BA


The Community Action Association of Pennsylvania acknowledges the determination and exceptional accomplishments of those who have persevered through financial and personal hardship by presenting these individuals with Self-Sufficiency Awards.  Among the 22 award recipients recognized during the 20th annual award ceremony, three of these individuals were nominated by the Chester County Department of Community Development: Angela Bush, Cecelia Jackson, and Susan Jones.


Angela Bush

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In April of 2016, Angela called Home of the Sparrow because she was having trouble paying for all of her household expenses.  There, she learned about the Supportive Housing Program, a rental assistance program for single working women.  Extremely hardworking and motivated to improve life for herself and her daughter, Angela was accepted into the program on May 1st.  After expressing a need for clothing, Angela was connected to Wings for Success, a local nonprofit that provides work attire for women.  She was also able to receive clothing for her daughter from Cradles to Crayons.  During her time in the Supportive Housing Program, Angela managed to increase her income by finding another job, eliminate a good portion of her debt, get her daughter into a private school, and she was also accepted into a local community college so that she could pursue a degree in nursing.  Her hard work and determination have allowed her to successfully reach her goal of becoming self-sufficient, and Angela says that she “doesn’t know how she would have made it this far without the care and support from Home of the Sparrow.”


Cecelia Jackson

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Cecelia struggled for years to find a safe and comfortable home for her and her four children.  In 2009, she moved with her family into Gateway Shelter.  While there, she tried to obtain Section 8 housing assistance, but was turned down.  After some hard work and persistence, Cecelia moved into 532 Supported Housing and found employment using her Certified Nursing Assistant certification.  During this time, Cecelia was accepted into the Bridge of Hope program.  Through the help of the Bridge of Hope mentors and their childcare assistance, Cecelia was able to begin setting goals and becoming more financially stable.  In 2011, Cecelia and her family moved into a CYWA apartment, where she was able to connect with additional professional development opportunities.  In 2014, Cecelia got married, and in 2016, Cecelia and her husband bought their very first home together.  She has worked at Simpson Meadows Retirement Community for years, and her next big goal is to earn her Registered Nurse License and begin working with infants.


Susan Jones

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After getting laid off from a job she’d held for 10 years, Susan came to the Work Ready program.  There, she learned about Platform to Employment, a program that assists those who have been unemployed for 20 weeks or longer to return to the workforce by providing career development tools, workshops, and job search strategies.  Susan applied to the program and was one of the 20 applicants out of 100 who were selected.  During the program, Susan was able to build up her self-esteem, learn about interviewing, enhance her resume, and speak with several mentors.  Currently, she is taking classes to become a Certified Youth Mental Health First Aider, and attending De-escalation and Safety Training.  After much hard work, Susan obtained a full time job as a Case Worker for Devereux, where she is able to help those in need.  Susan said, “The staff at DCD has been completely supportive with my efforts to get back into the workforce.  They have all provided me with various training classes, tools to get where I need to be, workshops, and assisted with my housing which has been extremely helpful.  The support level has been outstanding.”


Congratulations to all the recipients of the 2017 CAAP Self-Sufficiency Awards!

Groundbreaking Ceremony at SteelTown Village

Roberta Machin, BA


October 4th marked a historical day for Phoenixville, as construction officially commenced on the new 3.2 acre affordable housing development, SteelTown Village.  The $13 million project, developed by Petra Community Housing, will feature 48 units of affordable one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, which will house veterans, persons with disabilities, workforce families, and the elderly. 

Proposed in response to the need for more affordable housing options for low-income families in Chester County, the project faced several years of setbacks, including resistance from neighbors and soil contamination.  After numerous meetings, environmental analyses, and soil remediation, final approval for the project was granted in March. 

Don Coppedge speaks about SteelTown Village and affordable housing.

Don Coppedge speaks about SteelTown Village and affordable housing.

Steve Kambic, executive director of Petra, led the groundbreaking ceremony on the morning of October 4th.  He compared the initiation of the project and its setbacks to “herding cats across a minefield – and then someone lets out a pack of dogs.”  After identifying the property Kambic wanted to use for the project, which was not initially for sale, Kambic pushed forward because he believed in the mission, despite the obstacles he knew would come.

Also in attendance at the ceremony was Jim Kovaleski, Phoenixville Borough Council President, who played a large role in addressing the complaints from the neighbors.  “I live a few minutes from here,” he said, “and I always saw this field, which has done nothing for years.  Now, it will do something great.”

Funding for the project came from a number of sources, including $1 million from the county, $9 million in equity from Fulton Bank, $10,000 from Phoenixville Community Health Foundation, as well as other grants, private funders, and low income housing tax credits.  Holly Glauser from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency said that it was unusual for a first time applicant to receive a low income housing tax credit.  Lou Beccaria from the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation added, “This project is a symbol of hope for low-income families and a great example of how the community of Phoenixville comes together and leaves no one behind.  It takes a village to raise a village.”

Other notable guest speakers included Commissioners Michelle Kichline and Kathi Cozzone.  According to Commissioner Kichline, the county has put more than $6.7 million into Phoenixville in the last 15 years.  “Phoenixville is known for its vibrant downtown area, and we all know that the diverse population of people who will come to live here will contribute to a thriving Phoenixville community,” she said.  Added Commissioner Cozzone, “As one of the wealthiest counties in the state and nation, Chester County is sought after when it comes to finding a place to live. But the truth is — not everyone can afford to live here.  We can’t stress enough the importance of affordable housing in places like Phoenixville.”

Long-time proponent of affordable housing in Phoenixville and honored guest Don Coppedge concluded the ceremony.  “Oh, what a day!” said Coppedge.  “We are all blessed to be standing here today as a part of history.  It takes not one individual, because we are here to share our gifts.  This is about what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives — to help people make it a better place to live.  This is only the beginning — there’s a lot to be done. Let’s make it the community that we can.  Phoenixville is the best!”


2017 Collaborative Conference: Inclusion by Design

Lara Dorfman, BA


The Alliance for Nonprofit Resources (ANR), The Community Action Association of Pennsylvania (CAAP), and PANO teamed up last week to put on the 2017 collaborative conference, Inclusion by Design. A few of us at the Department of Community Development and Decade to Doorways kicked off October at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center to attend the conference and learn about how to bring together all of the voices of our community. Inclusion by Design was created to bring together an array of voices in our community and learn how to successfully eliminate bias in the workforce and in our daily life.

The conference opened with a very special guest, Candi Castleberry, the founder of Dignity & Respect Inc. and Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity at Twitter. Candi was an incredibly engaging and inspiring speaker who spoke on achieving an inclusive culture for everyone in your workplace. Candi’s presentation was followed by a slew of workshops that echoed her ideology, honing in on communication, bias, cultural competency, advocacy, mindfulness, and building meaningful workplace relationships, just to name a few.

Candi was a tough act to follow, but the other keynote speakers did not disappoint.  Dr. Al Condeluci’s presentation was as energetic as it was relevant. Al is the CEO of CLASS, a non-profit focused on supporting people with disabilities, and bounced around the room offering the audience incredible enthusiasm about our ability to advocate for each other in our communities. Dr. Frances Kunreuther, co-director of the Building Movement Project also spoke to us on how to strengthen and diversify nonprofit leadership. The entire conference was filled with intelligent and important conversation.

My personal favorite part of the conference was the self-sufficiency awards. Every family and individual who received an award had overcome incredible challenges with the help of one of the sponsoring organizations. The room was filled with pride and positivity as these amazing award recipients sent a message that we can all overcome the odds with a little bit of support.

 The 2017 Collaborative Conference Inclusion by Design’s message is so important because the event focused on how to become better; not just better at your job, but better to each other and to ourselves. Inclusion requires genuine conversation and constant self-reflection. If you missed out this year, you can always join in for the 2018 Collaborative Conference next October at State College!



Creative Solutions for Displaced Youth

Roberta Machin, BA


Youth homelessness is a serious and growing issue in the United States, with 46% of homeless youth reporting physical abuse, 75% dropping out of school, and 40% of the entire homeless youth population identifying as LGBT.  In order to raise awareness of this issue and present relevant information and statistics to those who work with at-risk youth, Pennsylvania’s Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness (ECYEH) held its second annual regional youth homelessness conference on September 27 at the Crowne Plaza Reading, entitled “Creative Solutions for Displaced Youth.”

Jack Williams, Co-Executive Director of the Berks Coalition to End Homelessness, opened the program with a story.  He explained that his wife was a kindergarten teacher, and one night a woman came to the school with all four of her children for a parent teacher conference.  The woman’s car had broken down seven miles away, and she had to walk the rest of the way to the school with her children in the pouring rain.  Jack’s wife decided to dig a little deeper, and discovered that the woman was a victim of domestic violence and attempted murder.  She was going to lose her house in one week.  Jack and his wife helped to connect her with social service resources so that she could begin to recover and get back on her feet, and she now has a safe home for herself and her children.

After Jack told his story, he introduced Joe Willard, Vice President for Policy at People’s Emergency Center in Philadelphia and keynote speaker for the conference.  Joe spoke on the current state of youth homelessness.  He explained that work with homeless children and youth is in the beginning stages, because a lot of systems don’t have the capacity to serve them yet.  Joe explained that with cases of youth homelessness, building relationships with students is the key.  A series of workshops followed the introductory and keynote speakers, and I decided to attend “Chocolate & Poverty,” “Weathering Brainstorms: Understanding Trauma,” and “Addressing Higher Education & Homelessness.”

Stacey Spagenburg, Admissions Counselor at the Milton Hershey School, led the workshop “Chocolate & Poverty.”  She explained that Milton Hershey grew up extremely poor, and since he and his wife were unable to have children, they decided to start a school free of charge for children from low-income families.  During her workshop, Stacey showed us a video of a commencement speech by a student named Kevin, who said, “The art of dreaming is a response to opportunity.”  Stacey explained that kids in poverty do not have the same opportunities as those from the middle class, they struggle more academically, and they face more health problems.  “Every nineteen minutes, there is a child born into poverty,” said Stacey.  She also went over the different ways that loaners and businesses might take advantage of vulnerable families living in poverty.  In conclusion, Stacey said, “It does not matter what hand you’re dealt in life, it’s how you play that hand.”

The second workshop I attended, “Weathering Brainstorms: Understanding Trauma,” was led by Mike Ritter, Public Education Coordinator of Lebanon’s Domestic Violence Intervention.  He spoke about the three levels of stress for young children: positive, tolerable, and toxic.  Mike explained that positive stress is necessary and promotes resilience.  It arises from adverse encounters, and allows you to develop coping skills and utilize social support.  Tolerable stress is serious and temporary, activated due to severe stressors such as a car crash.  With appropriate care and guidance from adults, children can turn tolerable stress into positive stress.  Lastly, toxic stress presents due to an ongoing, intense trauma and a lack of necessary social supports.  Mike defined trauma as “the unique individual experience of an event or enduring condition,” which may lead to threat of life or sanity and may affect capacity to cope and function regularly.  Mike showed us images of a healthy three year old brain and an unhealthy three year old brain; the unhealthy brain was underdeveloped, and you could clearly see a lack of brain matter.  According to Mike, trauma-informed care is an essential method to use for children who have experienced trauma, because it is strengths-based.  Instead of asking, “What did you do?” ask “What happened to you?”  In order for children to overcome trauma and turn their toxic stress into positive stress, they need help from an adult who is caring, consistent, and compassionate.

Lastly, Tori Nuccio, Assistant Director of Financial Aid at West Chester University, spoke about “Addressing Higher Education & Homelessness.”  The goal of her workshop was to educate participants on how to assist students in accessing financial aid.  She explained different scenarios in which a determination could be made that a student is an unaccompanied homeless youth, which would entitle them to additional financial aid.  In order to make this determination, the youth must be under 24 years old, not in the care of his or her parents, and without fixed and adequate nighttime residence.  Many times a student chooses to or is forced to leave home, due to a family conflict, abuse, or parental incarceration; however, the reason does not matter when making the determination.  Tori explains that many times, a FAFSA is rejected because the student is not sure how to accurately fill out information when they are homeless, and they are unaware that they can receive additional financial aid if this determination is made.  Tori attempts to identify homeless youth, so that she can connect them to additional financial aid, as well as resources such as food pantries and housing assistance.

All of the speakers at the “Creative Solutions for Displaced Youth” conference had interesting and important information to share.  The workshops sparked a lot of conversation around the topic of youth homelessness, which is vital for creating additional resources that aid children and young adults experiencing homelessness.

An Interview with Laurie Richardson

Roberta Machin, BA


When Laurie Richardson was in grade school, she heard a story about Trevor Ferrell, an eleven-year-old boy in Philadelphia who delivered blankets to people sleeping on the street after asking his parents how he could help the homeless.  This story prompted Laurie to take an interest in homelessness and helping others, because she was amazed that one little boy could possess so much generosity and kindheartedness.  She had always felt drawn to helping that population, and in high school, career aptitude tests indicated that Laurie was well suited for the social work field.

Growing up in suburban Delaware County, Laurie did not see much evidence of homelessness.  “But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any homeless individuals there,” she said.  “They just weren’t stereotypical.  More often than not, the people who were homeless in my town were not ‘bums.’”  Even though Laurie did not see very much poverty firsthand, she still liked the idea of helping people.  Briefly, Laurie considered becoming a nurse, but she decided she could not administer shots.  “I had no stomach for the medical side of it,” she laughed.

Laurie attended West Chester University, and was originally interested in early childhood education, before she began taking social work classes.  For one of her classes during her senior year, Laurie did an internship with Safe Harbor, and she realized that this was the kind of work she wanted to do.  “It doesn’t get boring,” she said.  “There are a lot of different factors that come with being homeless, and you get to work with a variety of people.”  Her supervisor at Safe Harbor, Barb Thompson, was someone whom Laurie really admired for her relationship with clients.  “She had a very forthright personality,” Laurie said.  “She wouldn’t sugar coat anything for the clients.  But the clients were ok with it.  They sensed her warmness, and knew she was trying to help them.  Now I try to take on that personality with the work that I do.”

Currently, Laurie works as a case manager of Independent Living Solutions with Handi-Crafters.  Founded in 1961, Handi-Crafters is a nonprofit organization in Thorndale whose goal is to help their clients overcome challenges so they can achieve financial independence.  The organization engages with over 400 individuals who struggle with disabilities and mental illnesses, helping them learn life skills through rewarding employment opportunities.  They further assist their clients by offering case management.  In particular, Laurie works with people with disabilities who are in housing crisis, in order to find them affordable housing options.

When asked about her day-to-day activities at work, Laurie said, “There’s no typical day.  Some days I take clients to therapy sessions or help them check into a hotel.  Sometimes a crisis comes up that I have to assist with.  I spend a lot of time meeting with clients to discuss their situation, and often I drive to their location because no transportation is available for them.”

Laurie has found ways to go above and beyond the parameters of her job, including volunteering for the yearly Point in Time Count, a one night (overnight) census of all the individuals within the county who are street homeless or living in shelters.  In addition, she has put collection boxes in her office building during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, asking for donations that can be sent to the homeless shelters or the food bank.

When she first started working at Handi-Crafters, Laurie had no idea that she would be helping clients in such a variety of ways.  “I help clients move into new homes, which involves a lot of heavy lifting to get their stuff into the house.  I’ve even helped a client change a lightbulb,” she remembers.  Despite the occasional twists and turns in her work, Laurie believes that it is important to laugh and have a sense of humor.  “Sometimes in a messy situation, you just have to tell yourself, ‘it is what it is,’” she said.  “This job is not routine – but that would be boring.  I couldn’t do a desk job.  With my job, I spend some time in the office writing up my notes, and some time in the community doing outreach.  It’s always changing.”

Outside of work, Laurie participates in a nutrition group and toning classes.  She enjoys meeting people with similar interests and hobbies, and recently she went rock climbing with a group of friends.  Laurie considers raising her daughter to be her greatest success in life.  “I’ve tried to teach her that life is not easy, that it has its ups and downs, but it’s important to continue on anyway.  You can’t wallow in misery or let things eat away at you – you need to be productive despite what’s going on in your life.”

If Laurie could choose any celebrity to play her in a movie about her life, she would choose Angelina Jolie, because she’s a good actress and pretty.  If she could be any animal, she would choose a cat, because they’re sneaky and they have nine lives.  She would also consider being a bird, because she would be able to fly over people and observe and analyze them, without them knowing.

Laurie advises people who are thinking about beginning a career in social work to follow their interests.  “I could never do business – it would bore the death out of me,” she said.  “And you’re not going to make any money in social work.  But you can’t choose a job based on money, you have to choose based on what you like.”  Laurie explained that in social work, it’s important to have a ‘go with the flow’ attitude.  “You can’t let what clients say or do get to you.  Let it go, or you will become burned out quickly.”

Within Chester County, Laurie admits that while the goal of ending homelessness is admirable, it might not be too realistic.  “We don’t live in a perfect world,” she said.  “You can’t control people.  They’re going to make their own decisions.  And mental health/illness is unpredictable, and long term treatment is difficult, financially.”  Laurie believes that the high cost of living accounts for the amount of individuals currently homeless.  Despite this, Laurie has heard from many clients that Chester County has a wonderful social service system with a lot of useful resources.  “A lot of other counties don’t have these kinds of services,” she said.  “In Chester, we’re doing our part to eliminate as much homelessness as we can.”

9/11 National Day of Service: Commemorating Tragedy and Triumph

Lara Dorfman, BA


On the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, we look back on a tragic day in American history. Much like previous anniversaries, it can feel impossible to deservingly commemorate the victims, survivors, and heroes who risked their lives without a second thought. That is why in 2009, Congress designated September 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. A day so vividly remembered but hard to comprehend has now become a day to give back, to honor the fallen, and to take note of the resilience and compassion that first responders and everyday citizens showed on this day sixteen years ago.

On Friday morning, just a few short days before the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, several members of the Chester County Department of Community Development teamed up with Friends Association in West Chester for a Day of Service in remembrance of 9/11. Friends Association for Care and Protection of Children is Pennsylvania’s oldest continual running child welfare agency. Friends Association works with families who are experiencing homelessness or on the verge of homelessness by providing emergency family shelter, homeless prevention programs, and outreach to homeless families. Friends relies on volunteers to keep administrative costs minimal, which in turn allows the money to be better spent on programs and services.

The Chester County Department of Community Development volunteers split into two groups. The first group stayed in the Friends Association office and helped prepare for the release of their newsletter. Friends Association explained that a few hours of stuffing envelopes saves over $2,000, which can then be used to assist a family in need. The second group set out to Friends Association’s Emergency Family Shelter down the street, where the morning was spent cleaning, weeding, and moving a family of five from a small apartment to a larger two bedroom apartment, where they will be much more comfortable.

The Chester County Department of Community Development recognizes the importance of embracing different ideas and working together as a team, the same way our 9/11 heroes did sixteen years ago. We volunteer to bridge the gap of our differences and work hard to implement solutions that benefit humanity. As we march forward together, we give back in remembrance to those who lost their lives, lost their loved ones, and risked everything to help others on September 11, 2001.

Hear Our Voices: D2D’s Week of Advocacy and Awareness

Roberta Machin, BA


Did you know that the Community Development Block Grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, serves 5,877 households in Chester County alone?  These funds aid the men, women, and children sleeping in homeless shelters or teetering on the brink of homelessness, and support the rehabilitation of our neighborhoods, roads, and homes.  In 2017, 2.285 million dollars were allocated for CDBG-funded services within our county.  But a 6.2 billion dollar decrease to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was proposed in the 2018 federal budget, including the complete elimination of the Community Development Block Grant.

As a response to these proposed budget cuts, Decade to Doorways hosted a Week of Advocacy and Awareness from August 22nd to 25th.  At 5:00 pm on the 22nd, the community came together to kick off this week with a fun event on the front lawn of Uptown Theater in West Chester.  Stages Art Initiative performed live music throughout the event, and Giant Food Store provided snacks and desserts.  At the Kick-Off, Decade to Doorways provided information about the services funded by these crucial federal dollars, and the traveling photography display “Humanizing Homelessness in Chester County” was exhibited so that attendees could learn more about real people within their own community who have experienced homelessness, and the process of their recovery.

Everyone also had the opportunity at the Kick-Off to fill out a postcard to their legislator, explaining why they personally feel that supportive services and affordable housing programs are beneficial to their community, and urging legislators to vote in support of the preservation of the funds for these programs.  Decade to Doorways was able to distribute nearly 1,000 postcards at the event and to staff members at organizations throughout our community that rely on these funds.

On Wednesday the 23rd, Decade to Doorways asked that the whole community take a moment to call their legislators and speak with them about the importance of preserving federal funding for supportive services.  Thursday was Email-In Day, and D2D provided information about, a website that allows you to easily find contact information for your legislators and email them about specific topics, such as homelessness.  Then on Friday, the final day, D2D asked that everyone complete their postcards and mail them in to the members of Congress that represent Chester County.

Although Advocacy Week is over, it’s not too late to voice your opinion!  It is critical that we continue to stand up for the people within our community and throughout the country who rely on these federally funded services.  You can continue to make your voices heard by visiting, calling, emailing, and writing to your legislators, and educating others on the importance of these programs that aid people on the brink of and experiencing homelessness.

An Interview with Gina Ruggieri

Roberta Machin, BA


As Director of Programs with Open Hearth, Gina Ruggieri is no stranger to working hard and overcoming challenges.  Her commitment to her work stems from her parents, whom she admires greatly for their work ethic and dedication.  “My mom and dad immigrated to the United States from Italy,” she said.  “They had to learn how to become adults as teenagers.  They had to overcome language and culture barriers.  My dad quit school to get a job and support his family, and was able to send two daughters to college.  I’m incredibly grateful.” 

Growing up in Drexel Hill, Gina says she took for granted having a “normal” home and family and rarely noticed evidence of homelessness.  She didn’t have a clear understanding of what poverty was until she started college at Villanova.  There, Gina was able to go on service trips to poor communities in Mexico, Peru, and South Carolina, where she witnessed poverty firsthand.  Originally interested in becoming a teacher or marriage counselor, Gina earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology.  However, while volunteering with Mercy Volunteer Corps as an outreach counselor, Gina fell in love with her position and decided that she wanted to help people find homes.  She earned her Master’s in Social Work at the University of Maryland, with a specialization in Social Planning.

While every day at Open Hearth is different, Gina enjoys the unpredictability of her job.  She tries to always be prepared for what might be thrown at her.  She spends some days working out issues with clients, and others filling out reports for funders.  Her work involves switching gears fast and constantly, and it’s never the same.  Gina says that her most memorable days of work have involved crisis intervention and resolution, particularly while she worked as a member of the ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) Team for Pathways to Housing in Philadelphia.  There, she sometimes faced dramatic highs and lows due to the unpredictable nature of the job.

Gina enjoys the challenges that social work presents.  “Impoverished people within the community deal with a complex puzzle of issues, and it’s my job to match the resources to each person and situation so that they can overcome the barriers they’re struggling with,” she explained.  Gina has felt the most successful in her career while doing direct service.  “When you help someone get into a house, you feel like you did your job,” she said.  She’s happy that she has experienced a variety of roles and positions, and believes that challenging herself has allowed her to understand homelessness from multiple perspectives.

What surprises Gina most about her work is how intertwined she has become with her clients’ lives, and how much they are willing to let her in.  “It’s incredible how much they trust you to help them,” she says, “and it’s strange that being intrusive starts to feel normal.”  Gina always tries to balance between holding clients accountable and making sure she is being respectful.  She won’t sugar coat a situation, preferring to be firm and direct, but she also wants her clients to feel comfortable and trust her so that she can help them to the best of her ability.  When she can, Gina tries to bring laughter into a situation, so that she can get others to lighten up. 

With the understanding that the work she does is not about her, Gina says she always tries to leave her ego at the door.  “When people only think about themselves or making their own organization better, they lose community support.  It’s not about you, it’s about the common goal: working towards ending homelessness.”

As an incredibly active and dedicated member of Decade to Doorways, Gina is proud to have co-chaired the Systems Change Action Team.  Originally nervous to be in charge of the committee, Gina has proven herself to be a worthy and diligent leader.  She has enjoyed gaining the trust of the group and learning how to lead, and praises her team for accomplishing the goals they have set.

Outside of work, Gina enjoys being outdoors, especially if she’s going for a run or a hike.  At the moment, her favorite role in life is being an aunt to her nephews, whom she loves spending time with.  Gina also loves desserts, and when asked what gets her through the tough days at work, her answer is simple: “ice cream.”

While discussing the biggest challenges facing low-income families in Chester County, Gina said that she is shocked that buses still don’t go to certain areas of the county.  “This prevents opportunities from happening,” she said.  “It all comes down to access.  Since services tend to be in the bigger cities, that’s where people go.”  She believes that it is possible to end homelessness in Chester County, because interest in the issue has been growing.  “As awareness of homelessness builds, people will be more interested in funneling money and resources into solving the issue,” she said.  “Chester County has a manageable homeless population, and DCD is very committed to refocusing their goals and working hard to solve this problem.”

Gina recommends that anyone interested in beginning a career in social work needs to be able to go with the flow.  “Don’t plan, but always be prepared for any possibility,” she said.  “Since you can’t always anticipate what’s going to happen, you need to learn to let go, because there is no rigidity or predictability in this line of work.”

When asked what animal she wishes she could be, Gina responded, “definitely a giraffe, because they’re so gentle and non-aggressive, and no one is scared of you.”  Tina Fey is the celebrity she wishes would portray her in a movie about her life.  “I think she’s a perfect combo of hilarious, smart, driven, bold and engaging,” she said.  “I hope I’m viewed as that at some point in my life!”

Gina will soon be leaving Open Hearth to work at the Philadelphia Office of Supportive Housing.  While the Decade to Doorways community is sad to see her leave, we are excited for her as she embarks on this next chapter, and we are incredibly appreciative of her dedication to her work and the cause.  She concluded our interview by saying, “For nearly 5 years Chester County has been home to my career and I will forever be grateful to all the wonderful and passionate people living and working here. Being a part of Decade to Doorways, the development and execution, has been an important learning experience for me and I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to be part of such a dedicated community. It’s been a pleasure to work alongside other providers, advocating for those in need. Though I’m moving on in a different county, I look forward to seeing what D2D does next!”

10 Fun Facts about Lara Dorfman, New AmeriCorps VISTA

Roberta Machin, BA


The newest member of Decade to Doorways, Lara Dorfman, began her year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the end of July.  She is excited to work alongside Lauren and Roberta and collaborate with the other agencies within the community who are working diligently each day to prevent and end homelessness.

Here are 10 things you didn't know about Lara:

1.      In May, she graduated from Temple University with a BA in Communication Studies and Public Health. If she could do it all over again she would, because she thought the Communication program at Temple was incredible.

2.      Her favorite class was called Media Criticism, which she took during her last semester. Her professor tailored the class to focus on Apocalyptic Scenarios, which ended up being very interesting.

3.      She has three younger sisters and two older brothers.

4.      Her favorite food is French fries.

5.      She went to London last spring and did an internship with the NHS program called Thrive Tribe. The program offers free weight management classes that included cooking, simple exercises, and other support. They also offered free smoking cessation counseling and smoking cessation products. It was her favorite internship and she wishes these kinds of programs would be implemented in the U.S.

6.      In high school she was on the crew team, and now she runs for fun.

7.      She has absolutely no sense of direction.

8.      Her favorite movie is Superbad.

9.      She went to the University of South Florida for one semester before transferring to Temple, because she couldn’t stand not living in the city.

10.     She decided to join AmeriCorps after an old internship supervisor described her own experience with AmeriCorps, which she loved.


My time on Capitol Hill

Lauren Campbell, Decade to Doorways Administrator


This past week I was able to attend the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference and Capitol Hill Day in Washington, D.C.  It was an incredible conference, packed with great speakers that addressed crucial topics.  I felt privileged to have been able to attend and bring back the knowledge to assist our community in bringing an end to homelessness!

While I was particularly fond of the food choices in D.C., I have to say that the most enriching experience during my time there was my visit on Capitol Hill. It was pretty fascinating, albeit slightly daunting, seeing the inner workings of the buildings on Capitol Hill. The buildings you enter are pristine and primarily marble. There is a strict security process and stoic guards (who will not laugh at your jokes, so don’t try). Each person that passes by you seems more important than the last. And even though we dressed the part (which basically means heavy, layered, stifling clothing – not fit for the 95 degree weather we traversed in), there remains a nagging feeling in your stomach that says, “You don’t belong here.”

But today, I wasn’t here to be a wallflower. I wasn’t here to be a silent bystander. And when finally arriving in front of the office of my legislator, I had the timely realization that, I absolutely belong here. This is my country, and if I am unhappy with the implications that this government would have on those in need in my neighborhood, I don’t have to say anything, I get to. What a privilege.

The fact of the matter is, I wasn’t there to speak for me.  Being motivated by assisting others – this helps me. I often pray to be given the words that would sustain the weary, and today was no different. Today I’m speaking for approximately 1,200 people who were homeless and received services last year and potentially thousands more at risk of homelessness in my County. I’m speaking for the individual that may never get the chance to set foot in this building – because they’re working three jobs to pay for the rent, their kid’s child care, and a van to fit the new baby on the way.  The individual who is forced to choose between paying for housing and paying for medication to treat their depression. The individual whose husband left them alone with three kids and no car.  That’s the person I’m here for. And on Wednesday afternoon at 3:05 pm while I waited for the visit with my legislator, I imagined them.

At that point, it didn’t matter if I said all the right words. It mattered that I showed up and I spoke up – because there are so many that can’t.

We’re in a time where actions matter. We must be vocal about the impacts that funding cuts would have on those who are most in need in our neighborhood. Perhaps you can’t show up, but call, write, text, tweet. Find a way to say what needs to be said to protect the most vulnerable in our County.

An Interview with Anthony Zayas

Roberta Machin, BA


Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Anthony about his role as Housing Support Specialist with ConnectPoints, and how he got involved with social work.  Tan and cheerful after having just returned from a family vacation at Disney World, Anthony first chatted with me about his trip – including his fear of roller coasters and his lengthy quest for his step-daughter’s lost Harry Potter wand. 

I first met Anthony at a Cross Systems Partnership meeting in Coatesville last winter, and was inspired by his passion for serving the homeless population, particularly during a frigid week where Code Blue was in effect and the Coatesville Library was closed, leaving many individuals on the street with nowhere to escape the cold.  Now, Anthony advocates for the development of a program to distribute lunches to kids in Coatesville during the summer, when school is out and they may not be able to eat all day.

After inquiring about his childhood, Anthony told me that growing up in northern Philadelphia, homelessness was a lot more visual.  “There were more services available in Philly than there are here,” he said.  “But whether or not people were utilizing them is a different story.”  Anthony admitted that he didn’t really have any career aspirations as a kid.  “I didn’t think college was for me,” he said.  “My mom was so proud that I graduated high school.  A lot of the kids in my hometown got into drugs and never finished school.”

After graduating high school, Anthony was unsure of his next step and didn’t have much guidance, and so he worked at a lot of different jobs while trying to decide on a career goal.  Eventually, the fear of unemployment encouraged him to begin looking into college.  Anthony realized that he loved the idea of helping people, and was fortunate enough to find a social work program at Eastern University that offered night classes. Therefore, he was able to work during the day and also complete an internship at a homeless shelter in Philadelphia, where he helped run an after school program for youth.

For the next few years, Anthony worked hard to complete his education.  He also began working at a second internship with the Good Samaritan Shelter in Phoenixville.  Anthony explained that the long days were very stressful, and left little time for him to see his wife.  When he received his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, Anthony described getting his education despite the town he was from as his greatest success in life.

While at Good Sam, Anthony met Rei Horst, who was working at Family Service of Chester County.  Rei was impressed by Anthony’s people skills and informed him that Family Service was in need of a multilingual provider, and so Anthony applied for and received the job.  Now, Anthony describes Rei as a great role model and mentor in his life, always willing to offer him support and flexibility.  In his role as Housing Support Specialist after the establishment of ConnectPoints, Anthony speaks with people in need of emergency housing, rental assistance, food, and other supportive services on a daily basis.  Anthony enjoys connecting with individuals from other organizations because he believes collaboration between agencies will more efficiently provide clients with the assistance they need.  He also prefers to meet with clients in person, because he has a talent for reading other people’s expressions and analyzing their intentions.

As an active member of Decade to Doorways, Anthony is most proud of his work with the Housing Stabilization Action Team on the Ride Guide, an interactive and user friendly map of transportation throughout Chester County.  Anthony is also interested in becoming a board member at Orion Communities soon.  He enjoys spending time with his family, swimming in his new pool, and watching comedy shows and skits on Netflix.

Having been in the nonprofit world for ten years, Anthony sees himself as quite flexible, a team player, and very much a people person.  Anthony finds his job most enjoyable when the opportunity arises for him to get out in the community and meet with clients or members of other organizations.  Despite being tough-skinned, Anthony still finds it difficult when he knows someone is in a desperate situation and there is nothing that can be done.  He recalls one time when he knew a client would have to spend the night on the street during the winter because the shelters were full, and he felt so upset that he considered paying out of pocket.  But in the end, Anthony says it’s important to keep a thick skin in this line of work, because if you are too soft you can easily be manipulated.

What surprises Anthony the most about his work is that we do not have more resources and affordable housing, considering the level of need in the county.  While he admits that this is partially a funding issue, he also points to the lack of volunteers as a huge factor.  Anthony says he has a hard time finding people who are willing to sacrifice time or resources in order to help out as a volunteer.

On a lighter note, Anthony confessed to me that if he could be any animal, he would choose to be a puppy, because “everyone would treat you good.”  He also proudly stated that he would want Denzel Washington to play him in the movie about his life, because he looks up to the actor.

When asked if ending homelessness in Chester County was possible, Anthony responded optimistically.  “Absolutely,” he said.  “But first the community needs to realize that this is a real situation, because many people are not aware.  We need the general population to come to our meetings.  I think only about 70% of the county knows that ConnectPoints exists.”  I asked Anthony how he thought we would successfully end homelessness, and he said, “If you had asked me this when I first started working, I would’ve said the answer is that we need more shelters.  But now I realize that not everyone has the skills to become stable on their own.  I think we need a housing first approach with more extensive case management, so that we can help people get back on their feet and stay in their housing.”

Have You Heard of "Doubled-Up"?

Lauren Baker, BSW


There are incidences where we have either stayed with family and friends or had family and friends stay with us during times of need. For families or individuals experiencing homelessness, staying with family and friends can be a means of staying out of shelter and trying to get back on their feet. Living arrangements of the homeless population are on a spectrum. To list a few situations: “doubled-up” (with family and friends), transitional housing, emergency shelter, or on the streets. The doubled-up living arrangement of the homeless population is maintained through informal social supports.

The Value of Informal and Formal Social Supports

Doubled-up living can be considered an informal social support and as informal housing assistance. Social supports impact the ability for a family or individual to attain stability. Informal social supports, also known as natural supports, can be identified as family, friends, kinship ties, church communities, and other community circles. On the other hand, formal social supports are characterized as social service agencies, government agencies, community resources, assistance programs, shelters, etc.

Informal and formal social supports have their own unique value: informal social supports as bonding ties and formal social supports as bridging ties. Studies identified informal social supports as enduring, long term, and providing “bonding” means of emotional support. In contrast, formal social supports are identified as short term but “bridge” individuals and families to resources that can maximize their economic and educational strengths (Cook-Craig & Koehly, 2011;Hawkins, 2010; Skobba, Bruin, & Yurst, 2013). Often, informal social support networks and doubled-up living situations can become strained, exhausted, and burnt out. As a result, individuals and families resort to tapping into formal social support systems and programs.

Housing Assistance

Housing Choice Vouchers and Rapid Re-housing are two forms of formal rental assistance programs where availability and funding can fluctuate.  At times, the need can exceed availability of resources.  Many government entities, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), use the United States Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) to identify whether an individual or family is homeless. The CFR used to identify eligibility of specific government programs, deems doubled-up living arrangements as “at risk of homelessness” (Emergency Solutions Grants Programs, 2012). Therefore, individuals and families in doubled-up situations would not meet eligibility requirements for specific government rental assistance programs.

Food for Thought

Individuals and families currently in doubled-up situations may feel trapped between the decision to ‘hit rock bottom’ and go into shelter to access formal assistance programs or to continue living in an uncertain and strained, doubled-up living arrangement without access to formal rental assistance. Often, this is when social service agencies receive the call for help. As a community, I pose these questions to you:

  • How can we assist and support neighbors in doubled-up situations?
  • How can we tap into and maximize informal social support networks as the strengths that they are?
  • What services or means of diversion can we provide to support individuals, families, and social support networks to become stable and out of the shelter system?
  • What resources can network together to provide a web of support to families unable to access formal rental assistance to attain financial and housing stability?


Cook-Craig, P., & Koehly, L. (2011). Stability in the social support networks of homeless families in shelter: Findings from a study of families in a faith-based shelter program. Journal Of Family Social Work, 14(3), 191-207.

Emergency Solutions Grants Program, 24 CFR §576.2 (2012).

Hawkins, R. (2010). Fickle families and the kindness of strangers: Social capital in the lives of low-income single mothers. Journal Of Human Behavior In The Social Environment, 20(1), 38-55.

Skobba, K., Bruin, M., & Yust, B. (2013). Beyond renting and owning: The housing accommodations of low-income families. Journal Of Poverty, 17(2), 234-252.

Decade to Doorways Tri-Annual Meeting

Roberta Machin, BA


At the most recent Decade to Doorways Tri-Annual Meeting, the group took a step back in order to evaluate the effectiveness of D2D’s structure and reflect on the successes and challenges of the past two years.  With a goal of restructuring Decade to Doorways to maximize its efficiency and move closer to the end goal of eliminating homelessness within Chester County, the Action Team chairs posed the following questions to the group of community supporters, government workers, agency providers, and nonprofit members sitting before them:

  • What should the role of Decade to Doorways be?
  • What has gone well during the past two years in D2D?
  • How has D2D changed or influenced what you or your organization does?
  • Reflect on the meeting format of D2D.
  • Where is there room for improvement within D2D?

These questions sparked lively discussions and debates amongst the approximately 80 individuals in the room, and for the next hour, the group dissected Decade to Doorways, praising its accomplishments and how the homeless support systems have evolved due to the implementation of D2D, and offering suggestions that could help to develop and expand current practices.  The atmosphere was very positive, as everyone believed that the progress made so far has helped our agencies serve the most vulnerable people within our community, providing them with the resources and supports necessary to improve their lives.

The group generally decided that the role of Decade to Doorways should be to provide strong leadership that forges connections between nonprofits to build a robust, interconnected web of support, all while advocating on behalf of these organizations to the community to raise public awareness of the issue of homelessness, and to government officials to educate on the importance of these services and protect the federal funding that supports them.    

Many attendees commented on the lack of affordable housing in Chester County, and the need for more supportive services that assist in diverting individuals on the brink of homelessness, so that they never have to enter the system in the first place.  This could include rental and utility assistance, meals, or personal care items.  An increase in case management once a client receives stable housing was acknowledged as a key element that would lead to future success with housing stabilization.

Another need identified by the group had to do with the lack of public knowledge about what Decade to Doorways is, and how it operates.  By spreading the word via social media and news outlets, D2D will be able to gain public recognition and a potential increase in public support.  Most importantly, the need for more consumer voices at meetings and events was brought up several times. This would allow individuals with lived experience to have an influence on the decisions that are made concerning the services they receive. 

The group commended the collaboration between nonprofit agencies, organizations, and the government that has increased due to D2D’s support and leadership.  This collaboration has increased communication about the types of services each organization offers, so that we can all work together to serve the homeless and at risk population more effectively.  The implementation of ConnectPoints and the VI-SPDAT has allowed supportive organizations to identify and prioritize the needs of the individuals they are serving, so that we can ensure we are serving the most vulnerable people first.

To end the meeting, Lauren Campbell posed the question: How do we end homelessness by 2022?  The answer is not straightforward or simple.  But by ensuring that everyone’s experience with homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring, we can more effectively serve everyone in our community who is in need of support.

An Interview with Sandra Lewis

Roberta Machin, BA


As a child, Sandra Lewis dreamed that she would one day grow up to be a dancer or train horses.  She initially became a certified Interior Designer, before deciding this was not the career path she wanted to follow.  Her faith guided her down a different path, and she realized she wanted to help homeless and impoverished women and children. 

Growing up in a tight-knit, safe neighborhood in Virginia next door to her best friend, Lewis had no knowledge that homelessness existed within or beyond her protective community.  “It was a different day and time,” she said.  “In the 40's and 50's, you took care of your neighbors.  My family was very compassionate for others.  I never saw any evidence of homelessness in my community.”  Now, she wonders if we are more aware today of the problems that exist among the poor, or if these problems have escalated.

After moving to Coatesville and witnessing poverty firsthand, Lewis’s empathy for the poor grew.  She had always felt that her faith and beliefs held her true, and she was disturbed by the lack of shelter for homeless women and children.  When she became president of the Board of Directors for the Coatesville YWCA (currently the CYWA) in 1981, Lewis saw and heard about many women sleeping outside and in garages, tents, and campers, and wanted to do something about it.  In 1983, she founded the YWCA Emergency Shelter for Women and their Children.  There, she was responsible for supervising case managers, providing individual counseling, establishing a hotline for women in crisis, soliciting funding, and many other projects. 

Three years after founding the YWCA Shelter, Lewis delivered a speech in which she implored the general public to become more aware of the homeless women of Chester County.  Lewis laid out the facts about single mothers trying to survive and support their children on wages that fell below the poverty level, with little to no support from the community.  She said this was “fast becoming a critical situation,” and “answers will not be found until the issues, questions, and situations are posed.”  Concluding her speech, Lewis stated, “dare to look with me into the faces of our homeless women and children, may it haunt us all, comfortable Americans, until we are compelled to help ease the pain.”  A year later, Lewis founded and served as acting director for Bridge of Hope.

In 1998, Lewis received her Master of Human Services Degree from Lincoln University, where she graduated among the top ten in her class.  Two years later, Lewis became the Director of Counseling for the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, where she currently works.  Lewis says that every day is different.  Sometimes there is a crisis she must assist with, and sometimes she is able to celebrate when someone finds safe and affordable housing.

Lewis considers her coworkers to be superior mentors, and enjoys the shared wisdom she receives from working with them each day.  She also names Mother Theresa as a great influence in her life, quoting, “You can do what I cannot do.  I can do what you cannot do.  Together, we can do great things.” 

Lewis believes that the women she helps suffer from multiple layers of a complex trauma.  Since there is not a simple cause, there is no simple solution.  And while she is well aware of the amount of women living in poverty and unstable housing in Chester County, many others within the community have no idea.  “It’s not that they don’t care,” she says.  “They just don’t see it.”  Being so immersed in the struggles of these women, Lewis says she experiences “vicarious traumatization.”  Even though she has not faced the traumas that they have suffered, Lewis empathizes so deeply that she sometimes feels traumatized herself.  Knowing the dangers of this world, she fears for the safety of her own children and grandchildren.  Despite this, Lewis feels confident that she has done the best she can do to help those in need. 

For others who are interested in beginning this kind of career, Lewis advises, “If you’re looking for monetary reward, you won’t find it here.  This is a place to give.”  While her job is emotionally challenging, Lewis believes that “life is all in your perceptions, in how you view a situation.”  Lewis views each day as an opportunity to give love and to be loved.

Beyond work, Lewis enjoys a rich life.  She takes pride in being a confidante for her grandchildren, and relishes every moment she is able to spend with them.  Her parents provided for her a stable and supportive home life, and family means everything to her now.  Witnessing the wisdom of her children has been one of the the greatest successes of her life.  She is also an active participant in her church community and loves to spend time gardening.  Currently, she is learning French from a CD in her car.  If she could choose anyone to play her in the movie about her life, Lewis would pick Sandra Bullock, because she enjoys many of her movies and they share a name.  She would also choose to be a horse if she could be any animal, because she grew up around horses.

When asked by friends and family if she is planning to retire, Lewis responds, “what else would I do?  This is not just a job.  This is a calling.  It’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Chester County's 8th Annual Landlord Forum

Roberta Machin, BA


On May 22, Decade to Doorways collaborated with the Pennsylvania Link to Aging and Disability Resources to host a forum for approximately 75 landlords in and around Chester County, called "Healthy Tenants, Happy Landlords."  Experts spoke about Hoarding, Bed Bugs, and Lead and Mold Remediation.  Organizer Elizabeth Doan, Coordinator for the Link, hoped to foster new relationships between landlords and service providers in order to support low-income tenants within Chester County.

Annie Amoon Richard, Certified Professional Organizer for Amoon’s Custom Organizing, spoke first on the topic of hoarding.  She defined hoarding as a disorder in which a person has difficulty discarding, which leads to an accumulation of stuff that prevents normal use of space.  People who suffer from this disorder generally feel emotional attachment to their belongings, and experience distress due to feelings of responsibility and a fear of waste.  Most individuals who hoard are over the age of 40, intelligent, perfectionists, and socially isolated.  Unfortunately, Richard explained that hoarding can lead to conflict with loved ones over clutter, health risks, inability to have visitors due to embarrassment, and mental health problems, especially depression.

Many landlords view this situation as irritating due to the increased maintenance hazards and risks of infestation and structural damage.  Richard encouraged landlords to conduct a home visit and speak with their tenants patiently, asking questions and expressing empathy.  She explained that gasping or attempting to remove the tenant’s belongings without permission would lead to negative emotional reactions and increase the tenant’s distress.  It is important to evaluate the situation for safety violations and ask the tenant what kind of supports they need.  As a member of the Philadelphia Hoarding Task Force, Richard hopes to improve outcomes for people who hoard and reduce the catastrophic consequences related to hoarding for residents in the area.

The next speaker, Paul Bello of PJB Pest Management Consulting, led a lively discussion on bed bugs and pest management.  As the author of “The Bed Bug Combat Manual,” Bello is one of the foremost experts on pest control and has removed bed bugs from residential homes across the country.  According to Bello, it is imperative for landlords to establish an effective bed bug management program, which should incorporate chemical treatment, heat (at or above 122 degrees), and a high-powered vacuum.  A bed bug can lay up to 300 eggs in the course of its lifetime, which can last up to six months.

Bello explained that bed bugs are adept at hitchhiking, and so no matter how clean your own living space is, you could easily pick up bed bugs somewhere else and bring them home.  In addition, bed bugs can easily crawl through cracks in the walls of a neighboring apartment or room, spreading the infestation.  Therefore, it is not always the fault of the tenant when bed bugs are discovered at their residence.  Tenants, landlords, and pest management experts must work together in order to ensure the health and safety of all residents.

The final presenter, Ron Gerricke, Director of Field Operations at McCright & Associates, spoke on the topic of lead and mold remediation.  Gerricke focused on the dangers of lead-based paint, which can cause serious health problems if ingested due to its toxicity.  Prior to 1978, there were no federal regulations restricting the use of lead in household paint.  Lead-based paint is easy to identify on windowsills and wooden door frames, where paint may be peeling.  Children and family members could easily inhale dust from the paint or ingest flakes, which would present serious health risks for the household and legal issues for the landlord.  According to Gerricke, it is important to encapsulate all surfaces where paint is peeling, chipping, flaking, or dusting. 

In addition to the valuable information the landlords were able to take home with them, prizes were also given away during the raffle at the conclusion of the forum.  The prizes included a tour of the 6abc news station, gift cards to hardware stores and local restaurants, free consolations, and sports memorabilia and tickets.  Overall, the event was successful in educating landlords on the many ways to keep their tenants healthy and their units clean.