Safety and Solutions Now, Basketball Later

April 2, 2020

When Room In The Inn (RITI) was abruptly suspended in March due to COVID-19, hundreds of people who depended on the program were suddenly unsheltered. A triage plan was enacted to help them determine quick alternatives. Rick Spreitzer volunteered to help counsel individuals and help them “get linked to the next best thing: Do you have a family member or friend you can stay with temporarily? Can a bus ticket get you to another town where you have support? Do you have a tent?” In a time of anxiety, Rick’s positivity was out front. “It’s really a life philosophy, instilling hope, figuring out the next best move, while offering neighbors genuine positive regard.”

Rick is a case manager with our Scattered Site Program, providing permanent supportive housing (PSH) for people who were previously experiencing chronic homelessness. Moving into an apartment, as Rick will tell you, is just the first step. Next comes “doing whatever helps the tenant to gain, maintain and grow in independence.” Help filling out a rental application, applying for employment (or unemployment), filling out money orders, finding food sources, going to medical and mental health appointments, even learning how to do your own laundry – “cleaning the lint trap!” As Rick describes the “whatevers” I think of a parent’s role supporting a child growing to adulthood – something that the tenants may not have had. Most importantly, Rick provides time to hear their stories and give encouragement as they inch their way forward and when they get stuck.

Move-ins continue, even more urgent during this time, and are reasons to celebrate. Rick is a self-described hugger, though, and social distancing is the norm right now. Moving a woman into an apartment last week, he tells “how hard it is not to hug someone with congratulations for moving into her home.”

“Martin” (not his real name) is a 30-year-old man living with schizophrenia. He’d moved into housing but was mostly sitting on his couch. Rick learned that physical movement helps Martin and he likes to play basketball. “Let’s shoot some hoops and begin to find out what you want to do.” They started meeting once a week for a very competitive one-on-one session of H-O-R-S-E, opening the door to a trust relationship that benefits Rick as much as Martin. “I find the spirits and personalities of young people intoxicating and enlivening. It is inspiring to work with all of the Scattered Site tenants.”

The next thing you know, without Rick’s knowledge, Martin applied online for a part-time job at a grocery store. He got the job and is moving forward.

Several of Rick’s tenants don’t have cell phones, so how do they stay in touch? Rick answers calls from any unknown number because it could be a tenant borrowing someone’s phone. But during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, easy contact is essential, so Scattered Site case managers are providing phones to tenants who don’t have one. “I delivered four phones yesterday, one to a client who had NEVER had a cell phone before! Now, I am far from techno-savvy, but this was clearly a ‘things we take for granted’ moment for me.”

In what other ways will Rick and other case managers now support their tenants?  They’re increasing their phone contacts and still do home visits for emergencies. Rick is still wrangling with the unemployment office on behalf of one tenant. He’s picking up food pantry referrals and delivering them to doorsteps. But what about Martin now that they can’t shoot hoops together? Rick’s positivity is infectious (pun intended). He’ll check in more frequently by phone, keep tabs on Martin’s grocery store job, and continue to talk trash about who’s the better basketball player. Soon they will get back on the court.

Rick’s enthusiasm and energy for his work is nurtured by his life-long love of music. “Music is a big part of who I am. It’s my therapy and my joy.” He’s a songwriter and performer, pouring all of himself into it just as he does in his work. He will blend his passion and his talent this Saturday, April 4, by co-hosting a Facebook Live Music Fundraiser to benefit UMC|MSC  – you can join him!