Interview with Katherine Erickson, AmeriCorps VISTA

For the past year, Katherine Erickson spent her AmeriCorps VISTA year of service working on Housing 1000. The Housing 1000 Team is incredibly grateful for all of her contributions to our campaign. Thanks to Katherine we have this blog, a website, YouTube channel, newsletter and a great presence on social media. Thank you Katherine for your dedication to this campaign, creativity, technical skills and social media savvy!

We wish you the best of luck in law school at NYU!

Q: What led you to spending your AmeriCorps year working with Housing 1000?

Katherine: I actually applied for the position from China, where I was teaching English at the time. I accepted the offer via email while visiting friends in Singapore. Can you imagine trying to explain AmeriCorps VISTA to a Singaporean? It’s a complicated enough program to explain to other Americans!

My dream is to work for social justice as a civil rights attorney, and I believe that housing is arguably the biggest poverty issue in America today. I grew up in Santa Clara County, and I’ve really appreciated being able to return to my home to help make it a better place. I wanted to work on the Housing 1000 Campaign partly because I appreciated its concrete, time-limited goals. A lot of organizations out there help the homeless—but Housing 1000 is about ending homelessness altogether.

Q: What have you enjoyed the most about working with Housing 1000?

Katherine: Housing 1000’s mission to house the most vulnerable is absolutely revolutionary. In the history of America, the normal way for communities to respond to homelessness was to force indigent men and women to leave. Wealth earned societal acceptance—if you had nothing, you were nothing. In colonial times no town would allow destitute newcomers to settle there—nobody would give you a chance. We’ve moved away from this idea somewhat with shelters and other services for the extremely poor, but sit-lie laws still make it effectively illegal to be homeless. Our mainstream culture still blames people for their poverty. I really believe that criminalizing poverty is a human rights violation—and so does the United Nations.

Housing 1000 is subversive because the Campaign is basically saying that the historical approach is wrong, and that people do have an innate dignity, regardless of their net worth. It’s saying that extreme wealth next to extreme poverty is obscene. It’s saying that nobody should ever die on our streets when we have the means to save them. I’ve truly enjoyed helping to advance that mission.

Q: What experiences will stay with you after having worked with this campaign?

Katherine: Americans have this idea that since we have emergency health care, and we are relatively wealthy, that there’s no extreme suffering in our nation. But I’ll never forget the story of a wheelchair-bound client that Housing 1000 helped this year. He took the survey, we realized he was very vulnerable and we tracked him down. When we found him, his legs were covered in open wounds. He hadn’t even been able to take off his shoes in 4 months. Thankfully, with the help of Housing 1000 he’s housed now!

Q: How has your perspective on homelessness changed after this year of service with AmeriCorps?

Katherine: I have a new perspective on men’s issues. Before working with Housing 1000, I wanted to work mainly on women’s issues—I still do, but I now have a much better understanding of issues affecting men. This year I spoke with a disabled man earning poverty wages on a VASH voucher, who lost his housing because his child support was over $400 a month! People need to pay their child support, but there’s something wrong with the system when people are becoming homeless because of it. Housing 1000 helped this client lower his child support payments to a more reasonable monthly amount, and he is currently housed with a full-time job!

I also learned about the challenges of finding any housing at all after any sort of criminal conviction. Even a misdemeanor can be a barrier, and try getting a job after a felony conviction! The data tells us that defendants of color are more likely to be convicted for any given crime, with the same evidence presented—and that they’re more likely to be assigned a harsher punishment, and do more jail time. That means that solving homelessness is a racial justice issue as well. This county’s population is 3% African American, but our homeless African American population is 17%. I have a problem with that. We should all have a problem with that.

Q: What’s in store for your future?

Katherine: Next year I will be studying law at New York University. I’d love to wind up working for a nonprofit working on civil rights issues. I’m interested in international human rights, but I’m beginning to think there’s plenty of work to do at home. I have a lot of friends in California, so I’ll be visiting the Best Coast again soon!

Q: Any final words of advice for Housing 1000?

Katherine: When the going gets tough, remember—it’s supposed to be hard. That’s what it means to be revolutionary; you’re doing something that has never been done here before. The data says it will work, and you’ve got an amazing team, so just keep going, stay adaptable, and together you’ll get there.

Thanks for the smiles. I’ll miss you all!

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Housing 1000 July Newsletter!

Housing 1000 July 2012 Newsletter


Year One Update

It’s hard to believe Housing 1000 is a year old this month. Twelve months ago, we didn’t even know this was possible. But your support this year has produced some amazing results since Registry Week.
Read more…

Mike Wasserman Interview

“The Housing 1000 Registry Week was such an eye-opening experience,” says Mike Wasserman of the County Board of Supervisors. “It really raised my awareness of the enormity of the problem.” Mike has a head for numbers and a heart for people. The current Supervisor of District 1 of Santa Clara County works to advance Housing 1000’s mission through his expertise and leadership in our community.
Read more…

The Long Road Home: Meet Richard

When Richard was found by the Housing 1000 team, he was living in a broken wheelchair behind a gas station off of Monterey Highway in San Jose. After 20 years of homelessness, Richard had numerous medical, health and mobility issues.
Read more…

CTA Showcase & Volunteer Appreciation Event

On May 10th at WestGate Church, Community Technology Alliance (CTA) celebrated our community’s hard work and dedication with entertainment, light refreshments, a raffle, an “Innovation Showcase” and a keynote address by County Supervisor Mike Wasserman. Through the four stations of the Innovation Showcase, guests were able to explore the innovative ways our community is harnessing the potential of technology to prevent and end homelessness.
Learn more!

Buy Your Tickets!
Comedy Unhooked, Wednesday, August 15
Be a Dear and Donate a Brassiere, ComedySportz, and Comedy Day present COMEDY UNHOOKED!, a fundraising event to benefit Housing ONE. The event will be held at ComedySportz, 288 South 2nd Street, San Jose, CA 95113. Tickets for the show are $25 (includes dessert and drink) and all proceeds will benefit Housing 1000.

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Interview with Tina Case, Volunteer Photographer with Housing 1000

Housing 1000 is pleased to introduce our new volunteer photographer, Tina Case (of Tina Case Photography).  Tina has been a professional photographer since 2008 and has devoted her time and energy in various volunteer activities.  Now she’s combining her two passions by volunteering her photographic expertise at Housing 1000.

Tina Case, Housing 1000 Volunteer Photographer

As a photographer, Tina works with light.   And now she’s using her skills to shed light on a cause that is often full of misconceptions.

“We have to enlighten the general public,” says Tina, “about how becoming homeless is not a choice, and how it happens to the best of people.”

Read her interview below!

Q: How did you first get involved with Housing 1000?

Tina: Volunteering to serve others means a lot to me. I currently serve as a volunteer at two other organizations, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and The PMD Foundation.  My oldest brother passed away in 2011 from pancreatic cancer.  He was a doctor and devoted his career toward helping others, so now I volunteer my time as a way to always remember him.

Before I’d even heard of Housing 1000, I had already been thinking about doing a photographic series on homeless people. After participating in a photography contest, I read about Housing 1000 in Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman’s newsletter.  It seemed that I was seeing homeless men and women wherever I went, and I wanted to take action to help.  So I contacted one of Mike’s assistants to find out about volunteering.  It was serendipitous because at the same time, Housing 1000 was looking for a photographer!

Q: What kind of bond does photography create between you, the artist, and the subject?

Tina: I definitely feel a bond whenever I take someone’s photograph. But with homeless men and women I feel a particularly strong bond because their stories are so compelling.  At the end of each photo session it is automatic that we feel the need to hug each other.  In that short span of time we have learned so much about them and they have poured their souls out telling us about their story.  You can’t help but grow close to them.

Days after the interview is over, I find myself still thinking about them. I asked Jennifer Loving if we could do a follow-up story in six months with many of these clients. It’d be an interesting retrospective for Housing 1000, but also I just want to see how they’re doing!

Q: What are some challenges you’ve faced in photographing the homeless?

Tina: The homeless people we are working with are fragile emotionally and physically.  Everyone wants to do our best to protect them and assure them that our intentions are to help them get back on their feet and provide a roof over their heads.  Their emotional state makes them vulnerable so confidentiality is very important.  We do not want to exploit their situation but we do want to share their stories so that others can better understand their struggles and get involved.

My first experience photographing a newly housed person was challenging because the client changed his mind at the last minute—after I had already arrived at the interview!  He told us he no longer wanted to be photographed.  I told him I completely understood but that I would stick around during the interview, just in case.

After about 30 minutes he sensed that I wasn’t there to take advantage of him. He changed his mind and told me to go ahead and take photos, that he felt okay about it after all.  In whatever subtle way I could, I tried to reassure him that I was sincere and only wanted to capture his story to help others.  I tried to make sure he could feel my sincerity.  It worked and we got some wonderful shots now featured on Housing ONE.

Housing 1000 Client Storyboard for Leonard

On a photographic level, the challenge is not to use a flash or strobe when taking photos.   I avoid using one because I feel a flash is intrusive and has a ‘paparazzi’ effect that I want to avoid.  It is a good challenge for me as a photographer to take their photo with existing natural light.

Q: What are some pitfalls in publicity for homeless causes? How have you navigated those?   

Tina: I think there is a general misconception that all homeless people are the same wherever you go.  Some of those generalities and misconceptions are that homeless people are all drug addicts, alcoholics, and have mental issues.

But I have learned quickly that every situation is unique.  One person I met became homeless after the sudden death of her husband.  She went into a deep depression and wasn’t able to find work.  We have to enlighten the general public how becoming homeless is not a choice, and how it happens to the best of people.

Q: In looking at the faces of homeless individuals, what do you notice about them?

Tina: On any given day, the faces of the homeless are really no different than anyone else’s. However, there is one thing I notice in all of the Housing 1000 clients I have taken a photo of so far.  There is an incredible smile of gratefulness in all of them—every single one.  Although all of these people have been through extreme times, each one of them feels so grateful for all they’ve been given and all the help they have received.  I think that is one of the astonishing things I have learned.  That even in their deepest despair they haven’t lost touch with hope.  They all thank God and every human being who has touched their lives.  They are truly and completely thankful.

Q: What is the goal of a portrait, for you?

Tina: For me, the goal of every portrait is to capture the truth and the emotion from each person.  I have to take a number of photos before I capture the one I love.  I’ve also been composing storyboards, to capture a series of photos that tell their story.

I’m listening intently when they tell their story about being homeless and then that first moment when they walk into their apartment. When I photograph someone, I’m looking for that expression that words cannot fully express, that one image that says it all.

Louis, Housing 1000 Client

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Interview with Mark Walker, Managing Director of Global Community Affairs at Applied Materials and Chair of the Destination: Home Leadership Board

Mark Walker is the Managing Director of Global Community Affairs at Applied Materials and the Chair of the Destination: Home Leadership Board. Applied Materials is working to microfinance solar power for schools in India, as well as to end homelessness in Santa Clara County.

Q: How are you involved in ending homelessness in Silicon Valley?

Mark: Applied Materials is one of the biggest supporters of Destination: Home, but I personally have been involved since the inception of the Housing First movement in Santa Clara County. Housing First gave us the conviction that we could be successful with a new model of ending homelessness, and creating systems change. It made it doable, and also gives us a way to quantify the problem.

Right now we’re working on measuring the cost per person of being chronically homeless, in mental health services, hospital costs, justice costs and more. We’re making progress, thanks to great cooperation from the County this year. It’s been great to see our hopes for a better, more just future coming to fruition in Housing 1000’s successes.

Q: You manage Applied Materials’ philanthropy across the entire world. Why worry about homelessness in a very affluent area of a comparatively rich nation?

Mark: We do have a global reach—Applied Materials is electrifying villages and schools in India right now. There are currently 400 million people in India who live off the grid, many of whom use unsafe and polluting kerosene fuels. We’re using microfinance techniques so that people can purchase solar home lighting systems, and we’re outfitting schools with solar power and charging stations for lamps. That way it actually strengthens school attendance too, since kids need to go to school to recharge their lamps for reading at home.

Approximately two billion people around the world live on a dollar a day. That means an enormous number of people live below the level of economic self-sufficiency. India, China, and other developing countries have vast economic inequality, with some people who are very rich and some who are extremely poor—as does America.

On a relative scale, America has the same issue of extreme poverty, with an alarming number of people living on meager incomes. Almost 25% of the population in Santa Clara County lives below the level of economic self-sufficiency—and if they have a financial problem, they don’t have an economic buffer and can easily go into crisis-mode and lose their housing. Global poverty is heart-wrenching, but people are suffering right here in Silicon Valley. Homeless men and women in America need help as badly as anyone else in the world.

Q: How do you see corporate responsibility playing out in Silicon Valley?

Mark: All companies have a role to play. Some encourage volunteerism among their employees even before they become profitable, which is just wonderful. Others use their corporate foundations for philanthropy.

There’s a tendency to isolate ourselves from the challenges faced by the homeless and the working poor. We need to be more sensitized to the issues and solutions. When I worked at United Way we created maps with green, yellow and red zones showing the areas where people of different income levels live. Often those living in the green zones—the wealthiest—don’t cross paths with those in the red zones—the lowest income areas—on their way to work. This kind of neighborhood isolation can lead to lack of understanding of how others live.

There’s this pervasive idea that everyone can bootstrap themselves to success, but realistically not everyone can. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important for Housing 1000 to reach out and educate people. Housing 1000 is filling the gap for the most vulnerable members of our society–those who can’t succeed without our support.

Their creative approach to solving this social problem is a great fit for Silicon Valley, which is home to some of the most innovative minds in the world. It is my hope that we can leverage the innovation, creativity and global responsiveness from our business sector to increase philanthropy focused on this critical community need. And that’s my real message to all Silicon Valley professionals.

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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!

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Thanks to the work of the awesome team over at C Sharp Video Productions, Housing 1000 has a new video to share with you!

This video has some amazing, eye-opening shots of people living in creeks, and in other extreme conditions. The people featured in it are clients, volunteers, and Housing 1000 team members. You can spot our team member Julia, slipping through a hole in a fence to go survey our homeless neighbors during Registry Week.

At the end we interview Lynn, a client of ours who we’ve recently helped become housed. Why not take a look?

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Interview with Lorena Collins, Senior Program Director of South Bay Mental Health and Men’s Services with InnVision the Way Home

Lorena Collins is the Senior Program Director of South Bay Mental Health and Men’s Services with InnVision the Way Home. But before that, she spent 20 years as a case manager—so she knows what it means to be there every day for the poorest and sickest members of our community. Read her interview below!

Q: You’re the program director for Men’s Services. What does that mean?

Lorena: Men’s services are often forgotten in this field—people want to help homeless women and children, but they think men can just “make it” on the street. What they may not realize is that all of our clients have experienced trauma. They’ve been raped, or beaten. When one of my clients was little, his father nailed his hand to the kitchen table. Others were kidnapped, or abused during their childhood. Imagine trying to trust somebody after that—or to give government officials your personal information. It’s almost impossible.

I wish people could remember that homeless men have talent, kindness and amazing potential—they too were once somebody’s child. Some of them tend to put up these independent or aggressive fronts, as a coping strategy, and part of our job is to help them admit they need help, and trust us to give them support. They get scared, just like anybody else.

People don’t realize that homeless men and women learn adaptive and survival skills on the street that are different from what it takes to succeed in other places. They learn ways to cope with poverty and fear, and at times these compensatory strategies may not serve them well when it comes to, for example, a job-search. Many homeless clients may develop mental illnesses caused by past trauma—or that is exacerbated by past trauma—and then use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. They do it to survive, but then they may become addicted and it’s even harder to escape from the cycle of poverty.

Q: How does your work involve Housing 1000?

Lorena: I supervise our Housing 1000 case manager, whose clients are often featured on Housing ONE. I also assist with ongoing coordination of surveys being completed at our Cecil White Day Services Center for the Housing 1000 Registry. Our Montgomery Street Inn and Julian Street Inn are both doing the Housing 1000 survey upon intake. We’ve integrated Housing 1000 into our daily routines, here at InnVision.

Q: What’s the most important factor in housing these high-need men and women?

Lorena: Aside from affordable housing actually being available, case management is by far the most important part of housing chronically homeless individuals. Case managers need to be adaptable to help people get housed and stay housed. It takes a team because these clients are high risk. They need to learn to trust people in order to make progress, and it takes a great case manager to build that trust.

Q: You mentioned trust issues, anxiety and self-medication as struggles for mentally ill homeless people. What other ways can mental illness impact these clients?

Lorena: There’s a stigma against mental illness. When people talk about mental illness, the term schizophrenia is sometimes used indiscriminately. It’s a common mistake to assume because you suffer from mental illness, you are schizophrenic—but actually mental illness can be anything from acute psychosis to bouts of mild depression.  People tend to believe it’s like in the movies, with  individuals hearing voices causing them to be quite extreme with their behavior and volatile, but that very often isn’t the case.

Our motto here is that no matter their starting situation, everybody can be helped. Everyone can improve, given the right support.

Q: Do you see mentally ill individuals getting employment at all?

Lorena: I see our clients getting and keeping employment all the time. Here at InnVision, we tell our clients what they CAN do rather than what they can’t do. They’re certainly employable. You can suffer from mental illness, and still be just as effective as anyone else.

There are barriers, especially now with the economic downturn—you’ve got people with degrees going for the Safeway jobs, so our clients are seen second. Most of our clients don’t have cars, so it’s hard for them to get to work. There’s a need for more support especially now.

Q: What about barriers to housing specifically?

Lorena: People who owned before the crash are now renting, so there’s more competition for units. Landlords would much rather not pick someone with an eviction and bad credit history on their record, if they have a choice, so our clients have it extra tough. Plus there’s not enough deposit or rental assistance available, with funding cuts to the public sector.

Housing 1000 can make a difference by spreading awareness. People should know that mentally ill homeless men and women can be successful with any risk factors they have. It’s important to talk about the real challenges our clients face, because only then can you truly see how far they’ve come.

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