Renee Hudson-Small has been the assistant director of Housing and Homeless Services, a division of Catholic Social Services (CSS), for just two years but she has worked in CSS for more than 25. Prior to making the move to Housing and Homeless Services, Hudson-Small worked with Family Service Centers in the community-based services division, as well Youth Services, the residential program for at-risk youth.
Why did you decide to come to Housing and Homeless Services?
I did community-based services for about 15 years and had kind of worked a little bit in the housing and homeless, starting with the recovery program Mercy Hospice and did that for about two years, and really enjoyed doing that. It really is where the pavement meets the road. Where people are really at the bottom of where they can be and want to do better and just need someone to be there and say, “Yes, you can.” And be there even when they fall down. We’re still there to lift you back up and figure out what the next plan is.
Can you talk about what you do with Housing and Homeless Services?
I oversee the eight programs that we have. They’re housed at seven sites and they range from emergency shelters to safe havens. We also provide lunch programs and showers to some sites. And we have a drug and alcohol recovery program.
How many people do you serve through Housing and Homeless Services?
Our capacity is about 170 residents for all the programs, total. And that’s not including the day service program that provide lunch and dinner for the men or the day service program that provides lunch for the ladies. Then we have a men’s shower program and a women’s shower program. So we can have two to three thousand people come through just those two programs in a month.
Do you interact directly with people?
Yes, we do. For instance, we have a recovery house where we house women and women with children. And we provide case management services to them, basically to help the ladies move into permanent housing. That’s really the hope of all the homeless programs, to move the residents into permanent housing and to provide those supports to get them to that place. We work directly with the residents at all of our facilities.
Is it a requirement for people who receive your services to be Catholic?
No, they’re just individuals who are homeless and seeking assistance.
Do you have any stories that have impacted you in regards to helping people through Housing and Homeless Services?
Wow, that’s probably every day! The other day, I was at one of the residences, the safe haven for young ladies who are 18 to 24. They come directly from off the streets, so we’re trying to empower them to first believe in themselves, to help them move toward having their own housing. One of the ladies came into the secretary’s office and she was dressed up. She said, “How do I look?” The secretary said, “You look great, but what are you dressed for?” She said, “I have an interview.” The secretary was thrilled and she told her, “You look wonderful, you’re dressed ready to go.” Then she started giving her a mock interview. The young lady goes out, comes back and she’s so excited. She got the job! The secretary had told her that if she works hard, she could become a supervisor. That got her so excited.
Can you talk about a success story that has really stuck with you? Someone who has come from being completely down on their luck to creating a bright future thanks to your services?
We have an alumni dinner and one of the ladies came in and told her story to the other residents. She was an older lady, I’d say in her 60s, and she was telling the ladies how she’d been on drugs for so many years, for most of her adult life, until she came to our facility and saw the encouragement that she could get sober. Our goal is to get them to our next phase, which is called transitional housing, and then to permanent housing. So she had gone into a transitional house and then she had finally gotten housing. She said to the ladies, “I have been addicted for most of my life. At 60, this is the first time I’m holding a pair of keys to my house. Not to someone else’s, not living on the street. My house.” She was really tearful and very proud of herself that she stuck with it and can now finally say after all these years that she has something of her own.
-Text and images by Jonathan Ginsburg