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.
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.