Elizabeth A. Roberts, MSW, Policy Analyst, Partnership for Strong Communities
Being employed with an organization that utilizes a collective impact approach has been an aspiration since I began a career with a Masters of Social Work in policy. Joining the team at the Partnership for Strong Communities (PSC) has been an extraordinary experience. Not only does PSC strive to end homelessness and expand affordable housing, but PSC also encourages the establishment of robust communities. PSC is unique because we address multiple social and systemic issues. I am honored to be a part of an organization that envisions a future in which “Connecticut is a state of strong, vibrant communities where all people can find safe, affordable homes with access to opportunities, and where being without a home, even briefly, is the rare exception.” This vision dovetails perfectly with my professional goals.
I truly began to recognize the important role of safe and affordable housing during my time as a graduate student, on both an academic and personal level. One of my most rewarding experiences was with a pilot program that combined inter-professional collaboration with community outreach. Each member of the team was from a different area of expertise, from a dentist to a psychiatric nurse. The purpose of the program was to aid individuals who frequently utilized hospital emergency departments.
As a social worker, my role was to develop relationships with our clients, gain their perspective, and identify underlying causes and concerns. Each member of the team provided evaluations from a strengths-based perspective. Since the team aimed to implement sustainable changes, we included our clients in the decision-making process. The clients we served were from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances, although they all had situations in which housing played a role in their health status. Some of the individuals we assisted were on the verge of becoming homeless, some were living with relatives, and others were disabled or Veterans. Through participation in this pilot program, I observed wonderful outcomes. In addition to resolving some housing matters, our clients also underwent health improvements and an increased ability to perform self-care.
Despite the successes, it became progressively apparent that there are many barriers involved in the process of obtaining housing. In fact, I had a profound personal experience that furthered my awareness, particularly in regards to discrimination with health and housing matters. Unfortunately, my experience began with the passing of my grandparents. Prior to their deaths, they provided care for my uncle who was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy as a toddler. Over the course of several months, my mother and I became advocates for my uncle, and we still are today. Not only does a person’s health affect their ability to locate housing, but disabled individuals frequently experience discrimination in the process.
The National Alliance Trends Report confirms that in 2016 over 80% of housing complaints involved some form of discrimination, including 55% based on disabilities (NFHA, 2017). These statistics reveal that there is an ongoing need to address social and systemic issues. Ultimately, we helped my uncle obtain safe and affordable housing. Yet, this experience provided an in-depth understanding of the ways in which health influences housing, and vice versa. These experiences helped sustain my ambition to complete a graduate degree in social work, as well as fuel my desire to belong to an organization that is dedicated to ending homelessness, expanding the creation of affordable housing, and building strong communities in Connecticut.
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