Interview with Shelly Barbieri, Housing 1000 Care Coordination Project Manager with EHC Lifebuilders

“Last week we housed a 77-year-old man,” says Shelly. “He’d been homeless for 40 years.”

It’s all in a day’s work for Shelly Barbieri of EHC Lifebuilders—she does intake, referrals, and periodic life-saving detective work. As the Housing 1000 Care Coordination Project Manager, she is at the heart of all the work that we do. Here’s her story.

Q: What’s an average day for you?

Shelly: I do a ton of different things, from supporting the case managers to communicating with upper management to locating homeless clients. When we started out I was having the case managers go look for their clients, but we realized that was an inefficient use of their time, so I’m mostly charged with that now. Some homeless folks don’t have a phone number or an email address or anything, so they can be hard to reach. I use our database to see if they’ve checked into a shelter, make phone calls, and try to figure what city they’re in. Once I’ve narrowed it down I’ll go walk through encampments and try and ask around.

If I’ve got a photograph I can show it to people, and say “have you seen this person?”

One lady we surveyed didn’t even give us a photograph—and she was 77 years old, so she popped up pretty quickly on our list of the most vulnerable. We actually first started looking for her in December. We asked police, and walked encampments, the whole deal. We’d surveyed her in June, and she wasn’t showing up in the HMIS database—that means she had never, ever accessed a shelter service. So she obviously needed our help and was very high risk, but no matter what we tried, we just couldn’t find her.

Then last month, the craziest thing happened. We got an email through the EHC Lifebuilders website, and it seems that a Good Samaritan had been providing food every morning to a local homeless woman. The donor knew that the homeless woman had a daughter in Oregon, and had contacted her. Apparently the daughter then emailed all the local service agencies, including EHC—and well, the names matched. It was the same woman we’d been looking for!

But the daughter still couldn’t give us very much information. All we knew was that the homeless mother was in Morgan Hill, and that she hung out “at McDonald’s.” Well, there is more than one McDonald’s in Morgan Hill, let me tell you—and I have now seen all of them. I went there with Tonya, our EHC Lifebuilders case manager, and we ordered tea and gave my card to an employee, but he hadn’t seen her. We went to the next McDonald’s, went through nearby encampments, and walked through fields looking for this lady. We went to a third McDonald’s, and by this time I was exhausted and I just asked Tonya to run inside and check, and then we’d turn around and give up for the day. I wasn’t expecting anything—I didn’t even turn off the car engine! Then I noticed Tonya pausing inside—she was in there, right then. It was like a little miracle.

She moved into her new place Monday the 11th. It’s the first time she’ll be housed in 23 years, and it couldn’t have happened without our tightly knit team of people all working together in coordination with each other. Housing 1000 is different from anything else—it’s almost like the CCP is its own agency, because we’re collaborating so well. It’s such a group effort. And it’s working.

Q: That’s an amazing story. What other obstacles do you face in your work for Housing 1000?

Shelly: There was some resistance to the Housing First methodology. I myself have been working with EHC Lifebuilders for 15 years, and it’s hard to realize, “oh, I wasn’t doing best practices all this time,” or “I wasn’t doing what worked.” But when you’re trying to help someone move forward as a case manager, and they’re homeless, it’s like this endless cycle and you constantly feel like you’re starting from scratch. It turns out that Housing First actually makes our job easier—your client may have many other needs, but at least you can know that they’re safe in housing. The other thing is that it’s wonderful for their self esteem. It’s so hard to tell someone about a new job program, or about life skills they might need, when they’re losing their shelter bed the next day. Housing First really gears clients towards looking to the future.

There’s some great moments in this work, too. Last week we housed a 77-year-old man who’d been homeless for 40 years of his life. He loves the place he’s living in, now. Afterwards I high-fived every single person in the office—it takes a team to house someone.

There’s such a satisfaction in this work, because what you’re doing is so major.

Sadly though, a lot of clients don’t make it to 77. These folks have extensive medical and mental health issues, and even after they start getting services it’s difficult. Making an encampment on private property—something people sometimes need to do just to survive—gets you a misdemeanor charge. Landlords don’t want to rent to folks with a criminal history! Plus most of them have evictions on their records. So it’s a struggle to build those relationships with landlords.

Q: What’s your take on Housing 1000’s new website, Housing ONE?

Shelly: I think of Housing ONE as a tool to celebrate my clients’ successes. I tell clients they should be proud of the work they’ve done to get where they are, and they should want to tell that story to the world. For some of these clients, who may have multiple disabling conditions—including severe mental illness and paranoia—it’s a huge step even making it to a shelter. The client is doing this. We’re supporting them, but we’re just the supporting cast. The client is the star.

Q: How are you utilizing technology and innovation in your work?

Shelly: We work with Community Technology Alliance to manage client data. It’s always nice to have somebody tell you how great you’re doing! CTA gives us numbers that make it real, and help us measure our performance—they can tell us how many people we’re housing within 60 days of being referred, for example. It’s great to have someone who has the technical skills to manage our data, and who also understands the mission.

Q: Anything else you’d like people to know about the Care Coordination Project and the work that you do?

Shelly: My CCP team is amazing. I couldn’t have wished for a better group of people in my wildest dreams—they’re just completely awesome. Thanks also to the executive team, Destination: Home, the County and our other partners for supporting not only this project but also the clients. The executive team has been awesome at providing resources eliminating barriers. Destination: Home has been great at leading the fight to end chronic homelessness.

Housing 1000 is all of us. It’s not just the CCP, it’s not just EHC Lifebuilders. We all need to take ownership of it. It’s a community effort—jump on the train!


About K.A. Erickson

I worked with Housing 1000 ( from August 2011 until July of 2012 as an Americorps VISTA member. I am the ghost of Katherine past! I wrote a couple interviews to post automatically even after I left--from beyond the grave, as it were. ;) My current blog talks about fiction writing, world travel and other adventures:
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