This past April, we opened Strathcona House, the fifth congregate living program in our portfolio, which was created out of the need to accommodate larger families while providing them with consistent structure and ongoing support in hopes that it will decrease their lengths of stay in shelter. The average length of stay for families living in scattered sites is a little over 15 months, while those living in the congregate setting move out in about half that time. Families living in congregate living programs have the added benefit of residential assistants, who help with job and housing searches, life skills classes, and emotional support, in addition to their residential manager; not to mention living in close proximity to other families provides added motivation to move out of shelter and acquire their own space, their own home.
Strathcona House, which had previously been the location of 12 scattered site apartments, now shelters 20 families, increasing the number of families we are able to accommodate to 126, at any given time. This new building has a unique model in that there are both single family (6) and co-shelter (7) units. A co-shelter unit is an apartment in which two (2) families share a kitchen, living room, and bathroom, but each have their own bedrooms. Strathcona House, similar to our other four congregate living programs, is staffed 24/7; however, because it is the largest congregate a case manager is located on-site in addition to a residential manager (RM) to help shoulder the caseload.
Gamuchirai “Gamu” Bere was promoted from a scattered site case manager to residential manager where, in addition to the families in shelter and stabilization she manages, she’s also in charge of 11 residential assistants, all newly hired in February and March. Gamu explained why she decided to apply for the RM position, saying, “My previous experience in residential programs and, most importantly, my previous role as a case manager within Hildebrand motivated me to apply for the residential manager position as I was already familiar with the organization’s structure, programs, and operations, which allowed me to smoothly transition into that role. My role as case manager in the scattered site program has equipped me with the fundamental skills in case management, applying the organizations policies and procedures to ensure clients’ overall well-being whilst in the shelter program and help them reach their expected outcomes, which is moving into permanent housing with increased self-reliance skills. I also believe being a residential manager is a right step towards my long-term career development and I am grateful for this opportunity and the support I have from all my superiors and the wonderful team of residential assistants at Strathcona House.”
Meaghan O’Donnell, who was hired as a scattered site case manager in December, chose to transition to Strathcona House because of her previous experience working in a residential setting. “When the opportunity arose, I decided to move into the case manager position at Strathcona because I had been working in a residential setting for five and a half years prior to joining Hildebrand, and felt that my knowledge of how it works would be a benefit to that position because I am able to empathize with my clients as well as hold them accountable,” Meaghan explains. She joined Hildebrand in December because of her desire to work with families experiencing homelessness. “I have experience working with individuals experiencing homelessness,” she says, “as well as working with families. I had a desire to work with families who were experiencing homelessness and was glad to find Hildebrand because the people who work here do an amazing job partnering with families during their time of need.”
In July, Meaghan was promoted from case manager at Strathcona House to the residential manager at Morse House. Brianna Gaddy, the new case manager at Strathcona, comes to us with a unique background, earning a Bachelor’s in English from Ursinus College. Before Hildebrand, Brianna worked as a Resident Service Coordinator at a public housing development in Connecticut, where she provided supportive service counseling to residents helping them achieve short and long term goals to self-sufficiency. Her goal for her first year at Hildebrand is to establish meaningful relationships with clients and assist them with their housing search. “I hope to utilize my previous experience to help my clients address the barriers they face in obtaining sustainable permanent housing… [and look] forward to maintaining and creating community partnerships as resources for clients." This fall, Brianna will be attending Boston College School of Social Work to earn her Masters.
Of the 11 new residential assistants who’ve joined the Strathcona team, I spoke with Brooke Murphy and LaToya “Toya” Doman about what initially drew them to join Hildebrand. Brooke explains, “I was immediately drawn to Hildebrand by our shared beliefs in the immeasurable value of community engagement, the need for social justice, and the power of applied compassion. When I learned Hildebrand’s mission pushes beyond providing shelter for families experiencing homelessness and aims to work with each member of every family, I wanted to be a part of that mission.” Toya’s desire to join Hildebrand echoes Brooke’s, saying, “What drew me to Hildebrand was how passionate the company is about helping families in need.” She adds, “The help is very unisex, it’s not just for mothers with children but for single dads as well which I find cool. Growing up, I always wanted to be a part of something that makes me leave work despite its difficulties saying, ‘Yeah, I made a difference.’”
While converting a building from 12 scattered sites to a congregate of 20 families certainly had its struggles, we know that the passion of the staff and the motivation of the families living there are a combination for success. Homelessness in and of itself is a traumatic experience that can leave a family feeling disaffected. “I would live to create a sense of community,” Meaghan says of her hope for the future, “the congregate living model can be so much more than just a place for clients to sleep; families can find a sense of pride in working with their case manager or residential manager in order to move towards self-sufficiency and onto permanent housing.” Gamu reiterates Meaghan, saying “I expect to develop a sense of community among the Strathcona residents, and have a nurturing, productive environment for families, supported by excellent staff members.”
Although they’ve only been working at Strathcona for a short period of time, it is evident that the staff have adopted Gamu’s and Meaghan’s vision for the future. “Every day I walk through the doors of Strathcona, my main goal is to maintain a safe, nurturing, and stable environment by being available to provide genuine support and personalized assistance to every family and each family member,” Brooke explains. In the same vein, Toya continues, “I look forward to being part of a team that helps make families see that not only is this a shelter but it is a place where they can feel safe. I want to start coming up with activities for families so they can bond – like cook-outs and themed holidays for the families to be involved.
“I am also looking forward to seeing these families, who come in here needing assistance, leaving with a package full of hope for the future of their families and not looking back.”
We hosted an open house at Strathcona on Wednesday, August 3rd to celebrate its opening.