In December, Step Up in Salinas officially opened its doors. Once fully occupied, the former motel will end homelessness permanently for over 100 people. Step Up’s property management and onsite supportive services teams are collaborating to support new members settling in. The supportive services team offers life skills, case management and linkage to services while the property team addresses tenant requests regarding their units. The supportive services team is led by Program Manager Julius Mills-Denti who oversees both administrative and programmatic responsibilities onsite. His team currently includes three service coordinators. One more service coordinator will be added by early February. The Step Up property manager and assistant property manager live onsite.
Step Up in Salinas is an interim rental housing development that is being converted to Permanent Supportive Housing units through Project Homekey and City of Salinas funds in Monterey County, California. Project Homekey is a program that administers $600 million in state and federal emergency funds to buy hotels and establish permanent supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness and who are at risk of COVID-19. The property consists of 101 apartment units and 2 manager’s unit. The first tenants began moving in on December 17th. As of mid-January, 67 individuals have moved into 55 units, including 10 couples. The other 45 units are still in phase 2 of renovation and construction is ongoing.
Property Manager Pete Camacho and Assistant Property Manager Isabel Urquizo now live onsite in the manager’s units. They are responsible for ensuring every tenant’s room is set up, managing maintenance and repairs, accommodating tenant requests, and responding to emergency concerns regarding all things property. They are getting to know everyone and setting up work flow for on and off hours. The property team is also helping with coordination related to the ongoing renovation that continues onsite.
Program Manager Julius and two Service Coordinators Areli Rios and Tony Licker currently form the services team responsible for providing case management and life skills. Their team provides linkage to services to help members get their basic needs met once moved in. While getting to know everyone, they have been helping people with things like documentation, social security paperwork, transportation to the doctor, sharing information on who’s hiring, working on resumes and filling in applications. The role of the services team is to build relationships with the tenants that will help them recover, stabilize and feel a sense of belonging in the community onsite.
We interviewed Program Manager Julius Mills-Denti to better understand how Step Up teams approach providing supportive services during the move in process:
How’s it going as you get to know new members?
We’re working on learning everyone’s names and seeking out casual impromptu connection. I’ve memorized all the room numbers so that it’s easier to know where everyone is. I’m constantly walking around the building and just trying to be present and visible. I want to have more organic interactions rather than “case management” oriented. It’s important to pay attention to the unseen because a lot of things exist in the gray area.
How does Housing First figure in the services?
Housing First as an approach means that our interactions are less fixed and more open ended. It’s important to understand that change happens on the nuances of our interactions with people. We look for ways to create a listening space that allows people to reflect. For example, we are using motivational interviewing and values identification as a means for connection and goal development. Out of a list of 83 values like family, compassion, respect and responsibility, we ask members to select 5 important values for them. We talk about what matters. This becomes important as a tool to navigate property management because if someone is having a visitor at 3am with no masks, we can initiate communication with them about how this visitation may or may not fit with these values. We can talk about discrepancies between actions and values, instead of having a punitive conversation.
What does member support look like as people move in?
There is a man here who has been in and out of the hospital for mental health reasons. He feels a lack of connection, anxiety and the line between living and dying is very thin for him. For him, it’s less about job resumes and more about just how we connect with each other. We take social distancing walks. I think his level of stability is a direct result of our engagement with him and just asking the right questions. It can be a daily struggle to stay housed. Our service Coordinator Areli has been assisting members in meeting their immediate needs, which also builds trust. Pete and Isabel not only respond to property concerns, but they do so in a flexible, patient and compassionate manner.
What’s exciting about this job?
Every day is different than the one before. It’s the opposite of a job with regimentation and structure. The secret sauce is in the interactions. Success is really based on your interpersonal skills. You don’t need to default to rules, procedures and protocols. It’s more about meeting people where they are. It’s a privilege to work with people in this capacity. I’ve talked to members who are 60 or 70 years old who’ve told me they’ve never had an interaction like that. It’s a unique job and you hear a lot of stories that really make you think.
Read more about Step Up in Salinas here.