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Team helps homeless journey past red tape

Jennifer Isaac-Harrington (right), Journey Navigator and SOAR coordinator for Micah Ecumenical Ministries, gets a hug from Cathy Harris at the downtown Fredericksburg facility on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. Isaac-Harrington provided Harris’ daughter Rachel Smith Social Security assistance through Micah’s Journey program. The program connects Micah clients with resources such as the Moss Free Clinic, social security and housing help. (Peter Cihelka/The Free Lance-Star)

BY AMY FLOWERS UMBLE / THE FREE LANCE–STAR

The path from living in the woods to living in an apartment is usually long and gridlocked with pitfalls.

At Micah Ecumenical Ministries, a volunteer guide walks the clients through the journey from homelessness to housed.

Five volunteer Journey Guides serve as case managers for Micah clients who are ready to break down the barriers that keep them on the streets. For many, those barriers are the same: a lack of ID, health problems and a lack of income.

“When you have a problem and you’re ready to address it, this is where you start,” said Micah Director Meghann Cotter, gesturing to the Journey intake office.

There, volunteer Dave Croner sat ready for the day’s clients.

“The most important thing to do is listen,” Croner said. “Sometimes they come in with a basic need, but as you listen to their story, you discover there’s a lot more going on.”

Each Journey volunteer serves one day a week, for about four hours.

“We wanted to provide a hands-on volunteer opportunity,” Cotter said. “I don’t think there are many nonprofits where you get the chance to actually come in and fix people’s problems.”

There’s no telling what a day volunteering as a Journey Guide will mean.

The morning could start with a simple request to find an appointment at the Moss Free Clinic.

Or it could involve someone who needs ID, which usually becomes complex. To get a birth certificate, a person often needs a photo ID. And to get a photo ID, a person needs a birth certificate.

Usually, there are more subtle problems hiding underneath the client’s immediate needs. As the volunteers spend time with the clients, those hidden issues often come to light. It is not uncommon, for example, to talk about getting an ID and end up learning about family problems or mental illness.

To help guide their clients, the volunteers can turn to binders filled with color-coded resources and tips for using the Moss Free Clinic and prescription programs, finding jobs and housing and for getting new ID.

Each section includes “back-door hints,” tips that Micah’s staff have learned after years of navigating the complicated social services system.

The Journey Program also includes money for supportive housing, which helps clients afford a place to stay. It also helps Micah provide mentors who can help them learn to budget the bills, get along with landlords and roommates and keep the house in decent shape.

Micah recently received $58,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to keep the supportive housing part of the program going.

Micah’s program represents a new direction for HUD, which in recent years has started to focus more on finding permanent housing and less on supporting homeless shelters.

And the Journey Program represents Micah’s path—the name was chosen because the coalition of city churches started simply as a place for the homeless to get breakfast and a shower.

The program was named for Micah’s journey from providing hospitality to solving the problem of homelessness.

In five years, Micah has helped 144 homeless men and women find homes.

“What Micah is doing is just phenomenal,” said Journey volunteer Bob Carr. “It’s a very positive thing for Fredericksburg, and I’m so glad I can be a part of that.”

HELP WANTED

Micah Ecumenical Ministries is looking for more volunteers for its popular Journey Program. To help, contact Micah at 540/479-4116.

 

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973

aumble@freelancestar.com

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