Thandiwe DeShazor, Lead Housing Assessor & HMIS Admin at CHRIS 180, shares what it’s like to end youth homelessness in the City of Atlanta.
“I didn’t have the most traditional start in homeless services. With a background in performing arts, I began teaching improv as a life skills class at the CHRIS 180’s Drop-In Center (The SPOT). This led me to becoming a paraprofessional and Life Coach. When The SPOT started to conduct coordinated entry assessments, I became interested in housing services and transitioned to the Outreach and Community Housing (OCH) department.
I wear several hats here at CHRIS 180 including serving as a Housing Navigator, HMIS Administrator, and Lead Assessor. My work centers around managing CHRIS 180’s Coordinated Entry housing queue and leading the assessment team to ensure our youth get connected to the appropriate interventions. But most importantly, I also get the opportunity to coach some of our young people through the homeless and housing process.
CHRIS 180 is primarily recognized for their behavioral and mental health services. However, our experience in the homeless and housing arena has taught us that youth do not prioritize support services when they are unhoused. So, we work hard to address housing instability first, paired with social and emotional well-being.
The work I do has its own set of challenges and rewards. There is a disconnect between those who have lived expertise with homelessness, direct service providers who are working on the ground, and the decision makers that regulate how funds are spent for clients. My wish for the system is more collaboration between these stakeholders to close any gaps. Currently, case managers are putting forth their utmost efforts to fill these gaps with community resources. However, they often find themselves resorting to supplanting as a result of funding restrictions and institutional barriers. Compliance is certainly a must, however, added unregulated levels of requirements lead to fatigue, uneasiness, and burn-out amongst case management teams which can impact the level of service clients ultimately receive.
I also wish more people knew about the importance of prevention. Homelessness Prevention isn’t as high a priority as it was during the pandemic, but the need for prevention remains high in the City of Atlanta. Many also don’t realize the way foundations define homelessness differs from the way the average person may define themselves as experiencing homelessness. We have so many people in various stages of need and shared language plays a role in whether a person can get help or not.
Despite these challenges, when a client receives a move-in date with little-to-no institutional barriers, it makes this work worthwhile. One of my fondest memories working with CHRIS 180 involves “LC,” a Drop-In-Center client who presented with multiple mental health issues and childhood trauma. The team at CHRIS 180 was able to meet them where they were and get them housed in the Summit Trail Program.
I often reflect on the positivity of that experience and use it as a guide when people ask how they can get involved and make an impact. Being gentle with yourself and giving yourself grace is a rule of thumb in this work. If you find working in homeless services to be of interest, you will learn quickly that it’s best to ask for help. There are many things to understand about homelessness and housing, subject matter experts can help mentor you to success. Also, transparency is key when working with clients. They will appreciate your honesty as you assist them in reaching their goals. Sometimes we are the only healthy support network they may have, and it is an honor to be accepted by them as this.”