An interview with Community Advocacy Officer Aaron Abbott: By Sam Soliz, Marketing Manager
CATA recognizes the need to work collaboratively with the community to address the region’s homeless epidemic. This effort aligns with CATA’s mission, vision, values and strategic goals, which call for innovative solutions in partnership with the communities they serve and the re-imagination of regional mobility challenges.
Additionally, CATA is aware that homelessness is a challenge that the organization and community faces on a daily basis. And, while studies show that homelessness has decreased nationally and in Michigan in recent years, Ingham County’s data tells a different story: Homelessness has not declined since 2014 – ’15.
Together, CATA representatives, City of Lansing Director of Human Relations and Community Services Kim Coleman, and Executive Director of Advent House Ministries Susan Cancro discussed opportunities to work to better understand the needs of homeless citizens, available resources and how to administer assistance most effectively.
CATA contracted with Advent House Ministries to onboard a trained and experienced street outreach specialist to support its Community Advocacy Office at the downtown CTC. Aaron Abbott compassionately and empathetically focuses on the needs of individuals and families who are disconnected from shelter and housing, as well as those who frequent locations associated with CATA. Abbott works to build trust with those whose paths intersect with CATA's to accurately assess their needs and connect them with appropriate community resources.
Q: What drew you to this position in particular?
A: Being able to make a difference. When I was going to Lansing Community College, I used to visit the CTC all the time and catch the bus, so being able to come back and help make a change was a no brainer.
Q: What does a day in the life of a community outreach coordinator look like?
A: It changes day-to-day because you just never know what will happen each day. People come to me for conversation so they can talk and get some assistance or to be heard. Some days I see a lot more people who need bus passes. I've helped in a lot of different ways. There are people in a lot of different situations, so each day can be completely different. I can connect with them and work with a lot of different agencies, and a lot of agencies refer people to me.
Q: What is the most difficult part of your position? The easiest part?
A: The most difficult part is building trust with clients. Sometimes they will trust you and want to build a relationship and want help, but more times than not they don't actually want the help. They are going to tell you what you want to hear so they can get the services. The easiest part is knowing that I'm making a difference and helping others who can't help themselves.
Q: Do you often work with area youth? If so, how and to what extent?
A: Yes, when school was in session the students came to the CTC so I was able to bond with most of them by handing out snacks. I'm always able to check with them on their grades and make sure they are on the right path.
Q: What do you want Lansing to know about the people you serve and/or the resources you have available through this program?
A: Lansing should know that the population that we serve are humans and deserve the same respect we give each other. Their life circumstances may have led them to their current situation, but they are still like us. We all need food, water, shelter, warmth and care. We are successful at the Advent House because we do our best to provide these needs to our population.
Q: In the next five years, what do you see as the greatest challenge that the Lansing community will face, specifically for those who may use this program?
A: Our clients can currently afford housing. But with Lansing building more apartment complexes, it is taking away from our clients being placed with affordable living. This will cause them to be placed back out on the streets.
Q: What do you believe are some solutions to address the challenges facing the population you serve?
A: Getting people access to the resources that they need. Also, strong communication with other organizations with resources for what may be needed.
Q: Share an important lesson you have learned through conversations with Lansing community members.
A: When it comes to our clients, they just want support; someone who they can talk to and is willing to help them take the next step. Sometimes all they need is that extra push from us and just knowing what to do and how to do it and even just where to go. When it comes to our community, they just want to help in any way possible such as donating clothes, food and volunteering at the shelter. People just want to try and make as big a difference in the city as possible.
Q: What is the most memorable experience you have had as a community outreach coordinator?
A: I wish I could point out one, but I've had so many. It can just be a conversation with a person or even just making a person's day by giving them a bus pass, so they can get where they need to.
Q: How can members of the general Lansing community help those in need?
A: Volunteering their time at a local shelter such as Advent House. Checking a local shelter’s website to see what items are needed.
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to share?
A: On weekends, Advent House offers a Weekend Day for the homeless, impoverished or anyone else who would like to stop in. The shelter is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. We offer hot lunches from noon until 1 p.m. and dinner from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Families with children are welcome to stop in, while being supervised by a parent. At the shelter we do our best to provide a safe and peaceful location for our clients to be able to relax and know that they are surrounded by people who care for them.
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