July Newsletter

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?

References

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.