Helping The Homeless

It’s not just a job, it’s part of who they are.

For most, a job is a means to an end. You put in a day at the office, collect your pay and move on with the business of living your life.

For a select few, a vocation becomes something more. It grows to become an essential part of your identity. A key tile helping define the overall mosaic that makes up who you are.

For the poverty and homelessness caseworkers with the Warren-Forest Economic Opportunity Council (EOC), their profession leans to the latter.

“It’s not like an 8 to 4 job,” EOC Community Services Director Julia Roque said of the employees based out of the Faith Inn on Pennsylvania Ave.

“We don’t come in and just work for 40 hours when we’re here,” Chad Ressler said. “This is what we do. I think this is just second nature. We see people at, like, Walmart and overhear them and we stop and help.”

Ressler was one of five EOC caseworkers, each with their own specialization, who took time to share the ups and downs of helping others to help themselves.

Ressler works with individuals with mental illness, and often accompanying substance abuse problems, who are homeless or at risk of becoming so. He was joined by Jason Walters, who specializes in foreclosure and utility shutoff prevention; Laurie Maletto, who oversees housing at the Faith Inn; Lauren Timco, who works with victims of domestic violence, and Jill Lyon, who deals with employment training and placement. Caseworker Brandy Ambrose, who oversees housing facilities for the EOC, was unavailable.

While each of the EOC employees interviewed has their own specialties, they work together to provide the clients that walk through Faith Inn’s door with all of the services available.

“When somebody comes in it’s like a jigsaw puzzle,” Ressler said of clients situations and resultant needs. “We don’t care how it got that way. It’s our job to put it back together.”

As a result, no matter which employee is the point of contact, they work as a group to meet needs in all of their specialties.

“The department handles all sorts of assistance dealing with homelessness and reducing poverty,” Roque noted. “Caseworkers here work in a symbiotic relationship. They’re not paid a lot, but they’ve developed a heart for what they do and they all work together.”

“It think the big thing we all do is connect people with services to help them rebuild their lives,” Maletto posited. “We all still have the same goal.”

But what drives someone to wake up every day and face a profession rife with red tape, frustrations and disappointments for little monetary gain?

“You have to really care about people to do this work,” Ressler, who is pursuing a career as a counselor, said. “Otherwise you won’t last. I wanted to work with this population in the future anyway and I thought I could really assist people in a lot of different ways.”

“I think it’s really the good outcomes that keep people doing this,” Maletto said. “It’s not always good, but, when it works, it’s a great feeling.”

“It’s the greatest high,” Roque said of successful cases.

According to the group, the benefits of their work extends beyond their client’s to themselves.

“You learn about a lot of different people,” Walters noted. “You build a lot of different relationships.”

“It kind of makes you humble,” Roque noted. “It gives you perspective.”

Lyon added, “I think a lot of our own experiences help us do a better job.

The work can be frustrating as well.

“The worst is when the funds are dried up,” Walters said. “People really need help and the money isn’t available.”

“The best is when the people come back to you and say it worked,” Roque said. “The worst is when you see them back with the same problem.”

“When people get the help that they need and things work out for them it’s great,” Ressler agreed. “I think the worst is when you see a client and you know what you need to do to help them, but they’ve burnt their bridges.”

“That’s the frustrating part,” Walters noted. “When people don’t do their due diligence.”

“We can give them all the answers,” Timco said. “But they need to do it.”

The group had advice for those facing crises; get help as soon as possible.

“Don’t wait until the last minute,” Ressler said. “We’re all very good at what we do, but we can’t work miracles.”

Timco agreed, “If you wait until the last minute to come in with a major crisis, it’s going to be very difficult to get help.”

“A lot of people think they’re the only ones who need help and they’re ashamed,” Walters said. “They’re not. They need to come in and not be embarassed.”

To ease the stress of having to ask for help, the caseworkers said they try not to be too formal.

“We try to treat you like a person,” Roque said. “Not treat you like a number.”

“We try to make the appointment not like an appointment,” Ressler added.

“They have to trust you,” Walters pointed out. “Sometimes all people need is a little knowledge.”

“People here are willing to help,” Roque added. “Not just the program, the people.”