“Homelessness doesn’t discriminate,” begins Kelsey Lewin, a volunteer with Warwick-based House of Hope, a nonprofit organization working in local communities to try to end homelessness. “It’s easy to forget that when you’re on the other side of it. These are people with all different stories, backgrounds, journeys.”
Lewin and her team from Shamrock Home Loans donate their time with House of Hope’s mobile hygiene program Shower to Empower, which offers basic needs ranging from showers to haircuts at no charge. The program also includes on-site case management and medical services to those experiencing homelessness.
“Shower to Empower is an innovative approach to delivering services,” according to House of Hope’s executive director Laura Jaworski. “We want to meet our clients where they are, and this mobile approach really works to connect us to people out in the community.” With sites in Pawtucket, Providence, West Warwick, and Woonsocket, the program runs Monday through Friday at locations in the community accessible to House of Hope clients.
For some, services and referrals are provided on the spot, while others are assisted with accessing services like housing, employment, and social security benefits. A family nurse practitioner and psychiatrist join the outreach team and are able to provide some care literally on the street when necessary. “It provides an entry into services,” says Jaworski. “Many people don’t know where to go or where to start, so we find them and help connect them to an array of resources and referrals.”
Ultimately, the goal of House of Hope is to guide people toward finding permanent housing, but that’s a long road for many, filled with many obstacles along the way due to a myriad of hurdles, including a difficult-to-navigate social services system. “Since our founding more than 30 years ago, we’ve always been focused on getting people into permanent housing,” says Jaworski. “But it’s not a simple process of moving clients from the street into a home. Until then, we need to do what we can to keep them safe.”
The first step is to connect people experiencing homelessness with services, and then to make sure they have at least some form of temporary shelter, whether it’s a tent or a room in a hotel. Next begins the process of moving people into permanent supportive housing, finding employment, and accessing benefits. It can take years.
Jaworski shares, “often we need to work with clients to overcome years of trauma, which is understandable after living on the streets for any amount of time. We need to build a relationship and earn their trust before we can provide any kind of long-term assistance.”
And that relationship begins with Shower to Empower, the first service that many House of Hope clients encounter. Lewin adds, “While you wish there weren’t a need for this program at all, once you witness the transformation that a simple shower and haircut gives a person, you’re grateful it’s there.”
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