Provider Content Network member Bobbi Jo Evans gives advice on helping consumers locate and obtain housing. Based on her experience as a case manager, she emphasizes the importance of working with consumers to set goals, feel comfortable with change, and develop relationships with landlords.
Bobbi Jo Evans is a contributing writer for the HRC website as a member of the HRC Provider Content 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. Bobbi Jo has worked for eight years in the housing field as a property manager specializing in subsidized housing.
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Helping consumers who are homeless locate and secure housing can be a challenge. Landlords are very selective. Consumers may have spotted credit histories, a criminal record, and little, if any, rental history, compounded with alcohol or drug use, physical or mental illness. I often find myself working with someone who landlords are reluctant to consider. In this article, I share some of what I have learned in my work helping consumers to navigate the hurdles of locating and securing housing.
It is very important to work with consumers to establish goals and plans from the outset. Spend time with consumers and find out what they want.
Be clear about the rules and regulations associated with living in housing, but also emphasize the positive benefits. The consumer will need to regulate noise levels, keep the apartment clean, pay bills on time, and maintain a level of respect for neighbors. These rules may seem confining to some consumers; reassure them that the benefits of having a safe and secure apartment will outweigh any negative feelings toward holding a lease.
A consumer’s success may depend on the availability of counseling and case management during the housing process. Consumers need to be assured that they will not be forced into any situation. For some, taking small steps can ease them into making the changes necessary to successfully transition into housing.
An important step is working with consumers to identify and modify behaviors associated with living on the street. While these behaviors may have helped someone to survive on the streets, they may be viewed negatively in a residential setting.
Listening to Consumers
Communication throughout the process is vital. It is a good idea to meet with the consumer daily or weekly. Viewing apartments together helps to support a sense of self worth. It is important to recognize that consumers are empowered by being able to decide where they want to live. It restores a sense of control over one’s life. Each consumer is a unique and independent individual, and I strive to respect each person’s individuality.
Recognizing What Landlords Want
In addition to working closely with consumers to prepare them for housing, caseworkers must know what landlords are looking for in prospective tenants. Generally, a landlord wants a tenant who will pay the rent, maintain the property, and get along with the neighbors.
Working with Landlords
There are typically two stages to applying for housing. The landlord first encounters the consumer “on paper,” with a review of his credit report and criminal history. It is vital to work closely with the landlord at this juncture. As a caseworker, it is your job to provide the landlord with simple, straightforward, and sincere explanation of the consumer’s history. Often, a face-to-face meeting works best.
Once the consumer is accepted on “paper,” it is time to for the consumer and landlord to meet. At this meeting, presentation is everything. People tend to make judgments based on appearance, speech and attitude. Prepare the consumer thoroughly for the meeting, especially for specific questions that the landlord may ask. Some questions may feel invasive to the consumer, and it is best to prepare for this possibility.
If the landlord rejects an applicant, it is very important to work with him or her to maintain a positive attitude and motivation. Explain that it was only one landlord and one apartment. Continue the search and be ready to have multiple options at hand to continue the apartment hunting process at a steady pace.
Anticipating the Challenges of Change
Moving toward housing is not a straightforward path, and it is not always an easy transition. For example, I worked with a consumer who lived on the streets for over a year. He became housed and suddenly, he had to adjust to a whole new routine. While living on the streets, he lived according to the train schedule and other rhythms of the street. Now, he must adjust to a whole new way of life. So far, he spends most of his time alone in his apartment and has increased his drinking. It is important to recognize that moving to housing is a huge adjustment. People need support as they face the challenge of creating new relationships and routines and finding their place in the community.
Knowing What Really Matters
The process of helping a consumer move toward housing may feel long and tedious, but the rewards for everyone are immeasurable. When a lease is signed and keys are handed over, everyone is excited. What may have been viewed as the impossible has now become a cozy little place called home.