BEDS is celebrating National Social Work Month by interviewing staff who work directly with the people we serve. Our first conversation is with Rapid Rehousing Case Manager Ben Pershey.
Thanks for sitting down with us Ben. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started in social work?
I had good friends who I respected immensely using their education and talents to support some of the most vulnerable in our society, and I wanted to do the same. I supported people with intellectual disabilities in Los Angeles County workplaces for six years through Best Buddies and FVO Solutions. When I moved to the Chicagoland area in 2010, I started working as a case manager for Permanent Supportive Housing residents with Housing Opportunities for Women.
I graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from California State University-Dominguez Hills, and I'm a certified trainer in Therapeutic Assault Prevention.
And tell us a little about who you help.
I work with a diverse group of clients who are experiencing homelessness for the first time. No two cases are the same, but these are people who've had incomes and lost them and/or had a sudden expense that's upended their budget. Healthcare is an increasingly common example, but it can be anything. For these folks, it doesn't take much before they can't make rent. And once they reach that point, things happen really quickly.
How does your program respond in these situations?
We talk about how the best way to end homelessness is to prevent it from ever happening, which is true. As soon as someone's homeless, the more risks they face, and the more difficult and expensive rehousing them becomes. Our Prevention and Diversion services and staff are amazing at this, but reaching every household is impossible. Rapid Rehousing or RRH is the next line of defense. It's about getting people who have just lost their homes back into housing as quickly as possible.
Sometimes people will criticize human services for doing too much for the people they serve, saying that they—the beneficiaries—should do more. Are we doing too much here?
*Chuckles* It sounds counterintuitive, but Rapid Rehousing requires clients to do a lot. I help them make plans to get back into housing, but they have to put them in action. They find affordable housing, set financial goals, figure out how to meet them, and convince property managers they'll be stable residents. That can mean finding a job, a better job, and/or applying for benefits, which can be a job in itself. We do provide some financial aid, but it's only there to get them over the initial hump of moving and the first few months. After that, they take on more responsibility.
The rehousing piece of Rapid Rehousing happens over 30 days, and it demands a healthy, aggressive work ethic. I'm just there to help.
What comes next?
Well, the plans I mentioned before have longer-term goals like household maintenance, ongoing budgeting, regular healthcare, and family reunification, which are directed toward clients' independence. I help with that or direct them to people who can. But, ultimately, leases are in the clients' names, so they hold the ultimate responsibility for maintaining housing.