“Connecting with clients means giving them the same respect, courtesy, and privacy that you would want if you were in their shoes. Showing you care doesn’t cost anything.” HRC Provider Network member Bobbi Jo Evans shares her thoughts and advice on how to connect with others. She offers practical tips for how to build trust and support clients as they move through the housing process.
Bobbi Jo Evans is a contributing writer for the HRC website as a member of the HRC Provider Network. She is the Housing Specialist at Harbor Health Services, Inc. in Branford, Connecticut, where she provides housing assistance to people with mental illness and works in eviction prevention. In addition, Bobbi Jo has worked for eight years in the housing field as a property manager specializing in subsidized housing.
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I believe housing is a fundamental right. Everyone deserves housing. Housing should provide a safe and secure environment that allows a person to recover, grow, and live. Housing cannot be taken for granted. This is my philosophy as a Housing Specialist. My clients come to my agency with a range of mental health and/or substance abuse issues. They come from a wide range of socioeconomic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. But they all have one thing in common: they are seeking help.
When I meet with a client for the first time, the circumstances can often be very stressful. He or she may be facing an eviction, an inability to pay the rent, or homelessness. Whatever the situation, I take the time to pay attention, listen, and acknowledge each person. I have learned from experience that there are some easy steps you can take to help create an initial bond with your client. These tips can help you to ease your clients into the housing process.
Offering the proper physical space can help to make your clients more comfortable. You should meet in a private and comfortable place. Ensure that the doors can close and no one will enter without knocking first. Privacy is important when discussing sensitive matters. However, you should also make sure that your client is comfortable with you closing the door. Take the same approach when speaking with clients on the telephone. If clients feel that their personal information has been shared throughout your office, they may not be willing to continue working with you. Worse, they may not feel they can trust you completely.
Make Eye Contact
With most clients, making direct eye contact shows you are actively listening. If you are distracted during a meeting (for example, answering emails) clients may feel disconnected. While some clients are not comfortable returning eye contact, looking at a person shows you are engaging with them. Eye contact helps you read your clients' body language. Non-verbal clues can be more important than the words spoken. Otherwise, you might miss important signs. Most people appreciate it when someone takes an interest in them, especially if they feel that they are not being heard anywhere else.
Offer Practical Information
I highly recommend creating informational packets for clients. I have prepared packets on different housing issues. Each packet contains basic information about seeking services in the area, local phone numbers for housing authorities, social service centers, food banks, and shelters. I include pamphlets for renters at risk of eviction and tenants having issues with landlords. I offer information that will help clients understand the process of applying for an apartment or how to get a security deposit back after moving. You can easily download and print housing information online, including Fair Housing Laws and Regulations. Clients can take packets with them and refer back as needed.
Help Build Your Client’s Confidence
When a client first arrives in your office, he or she may be experiencing low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. Her world may be shattering around her and she may be feeling lost and confused. We need to be there to help our clients pick up the pieces. Showing them that they have the ability to make a difference in their lives is an important step.
Without confidence, people are not able to meet a landlord and speak about themselves, especially if they may need to explain something like a questionable credit history. Helping your clients to build the skills to navigate the court system (if facing eviction) or to build relationships with landlords will help them accomplish their housing goals.
Always Follow Up and Follow Through
One of the easiest ways to show that you are truly invested in your clients is to follow up and follow through. If you tell someone that you will call him back with information, call. If you promise to look into an apartment building or gather information on a housing topic, do it and get back to the client. Clients often complain that no one calls back and that they feel lost in the system.
It’s All About Connection
Connecting with clients means giving them the same respect, courtesy, and privacy that you would want if you were in their shoes. Showing you care does not cost anything. It does not have to be elaborate. It just has to be sincere. Practicing these steps will help you connect with your clients as they move forward on their journey home.