Manager of Emergency Services and Outreach Mario Avila joined BEDS staff in 2017. Based in our Worth office, Mario Avila oversees our South Suburban emergency overnight shelters, daytime support center, and street outreach. He works closely with clients who are struggling with substance abuse, which can cause homelessness, be caused by homelessness, and be made worse by homelessness. We wanted to feature a conversation with him as part of National Social Work Month.
Thank you for sitting down with us, Mario. Tell us more about how you got started at BEDS.
I was involved for two years as a volunteer at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Worth on Friday nights from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. I started to see case managers come in and engage with clients. I had jokingly asked one of the case managers if BEDS was looking for a substance abuse counselor. I sent in my resume and a couple of interviews later, I started working for BEDS.
What does your job at BEDS entail?
I am a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. I can use screening tools to assess placement into treatment facilities or outpatient counseling. I can already see what level of treatment people need. I know my clients so I know where they are at as far as health. I do a lot of frontline work. I do a lot of client engagement and a lot of intake. My role is to ensure client safety and to make sure the clients are receiving the best care and that they are queued up for housing.
We are experiencing unprecedented times with the COVID-19 pandemic. Tell us about what you have been doing to respond to the crisis.
It's a 24/7 operation now. I'm working two shifts a week at shelter from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Right now, we're trying our best and doing the best we can to respond to the pandemic. At our consolidated shelter site, we cleared out showers and got them up and running for clients. We brought in games for clients to play and we are implementing art therapy. We scrambled to get ready. We made a lot of decisions to reduce risk.
Tell us about how the stress of the pandemic affects our clients, particularly those who are struggling with substance abuse issues.
Some are going through withdrawal. I'm checking in on those individuals to make sure they are ok. And then you have those clients who are just itching to get their hands on something. But if they leave, they are not coming back to shelter. We just can't afford that with the COVID-19 pandemic. For some of our clients who have mental illness, they don't grasp the gravity of the situation. The majority of the shelter population is usually in crisis, not as severe as it is now, but they have been in and out of crisis and that's all they've known. So to them, this is just another crisis that will pass.
What do you find most rewarding about your work at BEDS?
Housing and getting somebody motivated to treatment. Success stories are always great. I see a lot of death but the good stories help to make up for that stuff.