Article by Claudia Kittock
Editor's note - Claudia posed a set of questions to local nonprofits, and this is the first in a series of articles spotlighting the responses she received.
Nonprofit Spotlight: Edward Weibye, Street Outreach Worker, St. Stephen's Human Services
What do you do in your current position?
As an Outreach worker, we provide direct services and engage with individuals who are currently experiencing homelessness. Some places where we locate people sleeping outside include in cars, abandoned buildings, parks, buses and trains, doorways and alleys, and under bridges. We do outreach all over Hennepin County but mainly our efforts are focused Downtown and throughout Minneapolis.
We don't judge, we don’t criticize, we don’t abandon. We serve a population of some of the most mentally ill and chemically dependent.
What are you doing that is working?
Treating people with dignity and respect is important to building relationships with the population we serve. They need to feel that they can trust us, so when we offer our services they'll accept them. Outreach doesn’t shy away from men or women under the influence of drugs or alcohol, individuals that are dirty or have poor hygiene. We get right in there where they're at and sit and have conversations similar to the conversations you and I have with our peers, co-workers and family. We provide a safe place for them to come. They can vent and yell and scream, cuss and kick.
Outreach is here to serve the people who have been forgotten. It's not uncommon for an Outreach worker to give out basic needs items, such as hats or gloves. We also get people connected to services which many have a difficult time accessing and navigating, including: Homeless shelters, medical care and other supports. We help them fill out all the forms necessary to be completed for GA/Medical Benefits, housing applications, job applications, etc. Outreach is the first point of contact for the homeless. Our team knows about many available services, and if we don't know, we find out. We ask the questions that others don't. We get answers and we show results.
My primary focus is to get to know an individual and foster a supportive relationship, to be there to help them create goals and reach those goals. My hope is to one day see that person holding a set of keys to a home they can call theirs. We can't house everyone, but we house many. Outreach doesn’t give up on people like so many others may have.
What do you want the politicians of our city/county/state/country to know about the work you do? How can they help?
The work that Outreach does is extremely important. It’s good for individuals, but also benefits the community. Outreach workers have the ability to find people that are homeless. We go where your average typical person does not go or even think to go. Being homeless is about being out in the open without being noticed, being in places that are not trafficked by the majority.
With the numbers of homeless that we are currently seeing on the streets of Minneapolis, we need more actual places for people to live. BRICKS AND MORTAR. There are so many barriers to individuals experiencing homelessness. All the systems we develop often create more barriers and make it even more difficult to house an already difficult population. Expecting three times the rent up-front to be even considered for an apartment is unrealistic, not just for the homeless population, but for many Minnesotans. Denying housing to individuals that have criminal records, some of which were committed years past, still haunt people and perpetuate homelessness. We don’t have enough affordable housing. We also have an inadequate amount of shelter beds. We have an increasing numbers of seniors unable to access housing. Public Housing...? What's that? Some of the clients we serve have been on that list for literally YEARS. We need service providers to loosen up their criteria to house folks. We want to END HOMELESSNESS, but the system continues to bog down our efforts. City, State, County and the Federal Government need to support agencies that are in the trenches, providing services to the homeless, so we can help serve more and bring effective change with lasting results. Right now it seriously feels like we are throwing Band-Aids at an already gaping wound.
Homelessness is not going to end overnight. I can't end it; you can't end it; the city can't end it; the state can't end it.
WE AS A WHOLE POPULATION NEED TO CARE ENOUGH TO END HOMELESSNESS.
Claudia can be reached at email@example.com