The dedicated staff at Anawim Housing live out our mission every single day. Whether they are working behind the scenes or are meeting one-on-one with a tenant, their compassion and commitment keep our doors open and our work centered on strengthening the community. Stories from the Field offers an intimate glimpse into the everyday life and work of Anawim Housing.
Program Team Update: Overcoming Challenges and Maintaining Hope in a Time of Social Distancing
May 20, 2020
While the day-to-day work of our program team looks a little different than it did at the start of 2020, our commitment to keeping the most vulnerable individuals housed remains the same. Our team continues to connect with and serve tenants while maintaining recommendations for social distancing.
“I find the lack of face-to-face contact with my tenants the most challenging part of my day,” said Scott Sithonnorath, an Anawim Housing Program Manager. Taz Clayburn-Stills, another Program Manager, echoed this sentiment. “I worry that they may have basic needs that are going unmet because I am not visiting their home on a regular basis,” she said.
During a typical week or month, Anawim staff are in and out of units on a weekly or monthly basis. They are constantly addressing the needs and barriers of the people we serve. They are sitting with tenants at their dining tables and on their porches, listening to their stories and concerns, and helping them problem-solve and set goals for the future. This close contact is not possible right now and our staff is noticing the impact.
“I know that I am the primary or only support person for some of my tenants,” says Taz. When you take away that regular contact, it impacts the emotional and mental health of the people we serve.
And yet, through all of the distance, we are seeing signs of hope and inspiration everywhere.
“I have seen surprising self-reliance from program participants. It reminds me that housing stability is the biggest thing we can provide for a person. All of the legwork we do when we are seeing our folks regularly helps them achieve their goals to a successful life much more quickly, but for the most part, we know that our participants have been safe,” says Dan McBee, a Program Manager with Anawim Housing.
Staff have seen tenants utilize telehealth services to maintain mental health support. They have heard stories of checking in on their neighbors and sharing supplies and resources. “Seeing the togetherness in my community has definitely inspired me and made me more hopeful for the future,” says Scott.
Erin Larson, our Office Administrative Assistant, finds hope in the dedication she sees from both tenants and staff. “Some days are certainly better than others, but the tougher days have not slowed anybody down,” she says.
Staff Spotlight: Hunter Jimenez, Program Team Intern
April 8, 2020
My name is Hunter Jimenez and I am originally from Gilbert, Arizona. I came to Iowa to start college at Drake University in the fall and I am a Political Science and International Relations double major. I receive a lot of questions on why I traded palm trees and a forever summer for the land of corn and caucuses. Well, because it is “First in the Nation!” in electing the President and I was really impressed with Drake’s reputation as an institution and Iowa’s political environment.
A few weeks into the semester I began my internship with Anawim Housing, and it has been a joy since. I have always been a proponent of social justice, which is a symptom of my culminating experience in high school as an Anti-Defamation peer trainer. I also love to learn about issues that I am not completely knowledgeable about. Today’s culture tells us that homelessness—and people experiencing homelessness—are a threat. Popular opinion says that people experiencing homelessness are facing those circumstances because of their own choices. But in the time I have been with Anawim, I have learned that poverty is more precarious than what most people believe. I have learned that the institutional mechanisms that are supposed to bring people out of homelessness, may be keeping them there.
If you are someone who was born into the bottom 10% of earners, you are almost 20 times more likely to be incarcerated than people born into the top 10%. Essentially, “too poor to pay” legislation criminalizes vulnerable communities—especially housing insecure people. Imagine that anywhere you try to sit down, you are in threat of being arrested. In some ways, this is how people experiencing homelessness are treated by municipalities. We want our cities to look nice but at the expense of excluding those most disenfranchised by pushing them further and further outside our borders.
Being a part of Anawim Housing has invited me into the process of reconciling these grievances and taking part in the process of helping people become stably housed. My favorite part is welcoming people to Full Circle. Full Circle is a weekly peer support group Anawim Housing offers to its program participants.
I could probably write a book of anecdotes about all of the experiences I have had while working with Anawim Housing. Some of my work is coordinating volunteers, and that requires reaching out to community partners and inviting them to engage with our nonprofit. As someone who is not familiar with Des Moines, this has helped me network with different organizations in the area and connect our tenants with leaders in the community. Collectively, we have shared our lived experiences, our heartbreak, and our greatest victories. I am proud to be welcomed into an environment where the empowerment of each person is a top priority.
Hunter Jimenez is a first-year student at Drake University and is part of the Engaged Citizen Corps—a program that integrates academics and civic engagement.
Staff Spotlight: Nichole Crawford, Program Manager
March 3, 2020
Nichole Crawford made a cold call in 2016. At the time, she was a student at Grand View University working toward her Bachelor's in Human Services. She inquired if Anawim Housing needed an intern. "I had a dream to start a transitional housing program and I just knew Anawim was where I needed to be," says Nichole.
That summer, she provided programming for children at The Crest at Baker Creek - Anawim's affordable multifamily housing community on the northeast side of Des Moines. When the season came to an end, a staff position opened. "I applied and became the Family Advocate working onsite at several properties to build programs for victims of domestic violence, kids, and families," says Nichole.
Issues of domestic violence and homelessness are integrally connected. "People don't always see how they relate - that fleeing domestic violence means leaving your home," says Nichole, "when you make the decision to leave, you leave behind resources, finances, and support. You enter homelessness or go to a shelter. You are out there alone." Over 40% of the individuals we serve in Anawim's Permanent Supportive Housing programs report that they have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime. A lack of housing options often leads victims to stay in or return to violent relationships.
Nichole learned a lot in her role as Family Advocate and was able to provide critical on-site services for the tenants that she served. This experience helped her take yet another step with Anawim Housing. In September she transitioned into her new role as Program Manager overseeing our Tenant Based Rental Assistance program.
"I am getting to see the housing side more clearly, not just the supportive services," says Nichole, "and I'm surprised at just how difficult it is to find it. Income, background, mental health, and lack of outside support are all barriers to finding and maintaining housing."
The Tenant Based Rental Assistance program provides rental assistance and support with security and utility deposits for no more than two years. The goal is helping households get back on their feet, strive for stabilization, and take over their own rent. Nichole meets with individuals in the program every month to help them set and achieve their goals. "I'm not just helping them find housing, I'm helping them find a home," she says.
Nichole is finishing her Master of Arts in Counselling at Northwestern University. In her spare time, she loves to sing, bake, and try new recipes.
From the Front Desk
Feb 4, 2020
Spotlight: Erin Larson, Administrative Assistant
Erin Larson is often the first point of contact when a community member calls or visits Anawim Housing. As our Administrative Assistant, she greets each visitor with kindness, answers hundreds of questions, and ensures our operations are running as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
Every day Erin witnesses the joys and the impact of Anawim Housing. She also sees - up close - the challenges and the barriers that the people we serve face.
She has learned a lot in her almost one year on the job. "We control what we can," she says when talking about making our front desk and waiting room welcoming and comfortable. She diffuses essential oils at her desk to promote a clean and calm environment. "Anything can be triggering, so we try not to have glaring lights, loud noises, or odd smells."
Many people who come to Anawim Housing are coming on their worst day. They are making a last-ditch effort to secure affordable housing. They heard about the programs Anawim provides for people experiencing homelessness, and they show up for more information.
"When someone calls, I have to ask some hard and uncomfortable questions about their criminal history, eviction history, and how much money they make. I ask these so we can make sure they get directed to the right place and the right person," says Erin.
It can be difficult to navigate the complex system of services and referrals. Often, community members get directed from one agency to the next in search of assistance. Erin works to provide accurate and up-to-date information the first time she speaks with someone. She listens attentively and asks questions so she can understand each person's unique story and situation.
Many days, Erin witnesses joy-filled, celebratory moments - individuals arriving to sign a lease and move into their new home. She welcomes participants who gather for peer support programming on Friday and greets supporters who drop off donations.
The most important lesson she has learned this year is how to listen well. "I have learned that listening does not require a response. People share their stories, and they just want someone to hear them," says Erin. She has learned to listen without judgement, without contributing, and without fixing it. It is enough to let people talk without jumping in. "My favorite part of this job is meeting people and hearing their stories," she says.
Erin is returning to school this year to receive her Masters in Mental Health Therapy. She has a cat named Audrey. In 2020, she made a goal to see more live music.