What do people need most when they settle into housing after experiencing long periods of homelessness? For someone utilizing services at the Urban Ministry Center main campus, those needs can often be easier to identify. They need a hot lunch, an ID, a shower. For an individual moving off the streets and into permanent housing, those needs can be harder to define and change over time.
Research has proven that 80-90% of individuals in our HousingWorks programs will maintain their housing in a given year. As people continue to grow in our housing programs and move beyond a place of just housing retention, the next steps must involve improving their quality of life. How is this accomplished? One avenue in which HousingWorks empowers tenants to become more involved in the community and enhance their lives is through the Neighbor to Neighbor Program.
The Neighbor to Neighbor Program pairs volunteers with tenants of UMC’s HousingWorks in a one-on-one capacity connecting individuals with similar interests and availability, so that these hobbies and opportunities for learning can be explored together. The program was designed to engage tenants who less frequently attend our other events such as bingo, movie night, and basketball group. It was evident that we needed a new way to tap into the diverse range of interests among the tenants, so the Neighbor to Neighbor Program was created out of that need.
Each “pairing” looks a bit different. One group volunteers side by side in the community for organizations such as Beds Equals Dreams and Harrison United Methodist Church. Another group meets a few times a month to go out for lunch. And another volunteer hosts weekly tutoring sessions to help a tenant learn basic reading and writing skills. Each tenant and volunteer brings their own unique set of skills, interests, and hobbies, and we pair individuals together based on those areas of overlap. Our goal as a staff is to facilitate the introductions and serve as an ongoing resource, while allowing friendships between volunteers and tenants to grow and flourish organically.
John Woodcock, a former UMC board member, joined the Neighbor to Neighbor Program last year after looking for a new way to get more engaged in the organization. He wanted to step outside of his comfort zone and avoid being lost in the crowd. This is what he appreciates most about the program: “I like the premise that is implied in the name Neighbor to Neighbor. We are peers. Not volunteer and resident, not mentor and mentored, rather two folks that may have different stories, but also much in common. The more we get to know each other, the more I am seeing how true that is.”
There is a power differential within a mentoring type of relationship and it accepts the idea that one individual has more to offer than another. The goal is to move away from this power structure and instead towards a place where two individuals are coming together for the benefit of one another.
In a society often polarized by trivial differences, it’s important to reinforce the similarities that unite us rather than those that can separate us. This is what the Neighbor to Neighbor Program strives to do; bring the community together to support our tenants while removing the stigma and negative stereotypes surrounding those who experienced homelessness.
With another single site facility officially on the way, it serves as an important reminder of the great work that has been accomplished, but also how far we still have to go. As our goal to end chronic homelessness draws closer, it is crucial that we as an organization and a community continue to work together and ensure the needs of our most vulnerable citizens are being met, even years after they move into housing. We must continue to change the dialogue within our city and work to understand the challenges each individual is facing, while empowering them to make improvements within their lives. Dr. Sam Tsembaris, the founder of Housing First said it best, “meet people where they are at, but don’t keep them there!”
To get involved in the Neighbor to Neighbor program, contact Adam Calderone: firstname.lastname@example.org or (980) 224 9315.