by Eric Ginsburg
By the beginning of next month, the Interactive Resource Center in Greensboro will almost double its staff size thanks to two significant developments for the homeless center.
It’s surprising, even for Michelle Kennedy, how quickly a 22,000-square-foot warehouse fills up.
Kennedy, the relatively new executive director of the Interactive Resource Center, was running slightly late for meetings last week, jammed between discussions with staff about how to reconfigure the building to add more office space and meeting with someone about fixing the wireless signal so it reached the planned work areas. It’s a busy time; the Greensboro resource center for people experiencing homelessness recently tripled its hot-water capacity to respond to demand, and additional showers for male and female guests are planned. But more significant changes will be in place in less than a month.
The biggest shake-up comes as the Interactive Resource Center receives funds for a four-person outreach team. It is the first time that a Greensboro entity has received money through the federal Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness, or PATH, initiative. The $204,0000 a year will allow the center to dramatically expand its unstructured outreach efforts, coming in contact with those who need the most assistance, Kennedy said.
“Until now we’ve mostly been brick and mortar,” she said.
The PATH funds — which pass from the federal level to the state and then the local Sandhills Center for mental health services before reaching the Interactive Resource Center — are designed to use a street-outreach model to reach homeless people with significant mental-health issues and possibly substance-abuse problems as well, Kennedy said. The four-person team will provide case management and support for navigating available services, and consist of a case manager, benefit specialist, peer-support specialist and a team leader who plays an administrative role, she said.
An existing staff member is shifting to the peer-support specialist role, which calls for someone with a mental-health diagnosis of their own and the ability to relate through lived experience. A part-time employee will come on full time to replace her in the existing role, and the Interactive Resource Center is currently hiring for the other three positions, Kennedy said.
The PATH funding, which technically kicked in at the end of May, requires a $68,000 match, which Kennedy said the center was able to reach with existing programs such as hygiene outreach kits, designation of staff time and benefits payment. The matching funds and the program itself will not detract or pull from existing services the center provides, she said, which range from a bike program to shower access.
The resource center has an existing relationship with the Congregational Social Work Educational Initiative — a joint bachelors and masters in social work program at UNCG and North Carolina A&T University — and will use those yearlong students to supplement the PATH team.
“Those students will add a layer of street outreach,” Kennedy said, adding that the 10 to 15 students they work with on a year-long basis are each at the center two days a week, meaning an average of five additional people on any given day to help with intake or counseling.
There are annual benchmarks for the $204,000 in federal funding, but assuming they are met, there is no expiration date on the program, Kennedy said.
The Interactive Resource Center is about to undergo another major change at the same time, having been designated as the coordinated intake site for a network of shelter and homelessness-related organizations. The idea is to turn the center into a one-stop shop for those in need, so that people don’t need to fill out similar paperwork repeatedly at different organizations and can more easily be directed to appropriate resources, Kennedy said.
Using the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Homeless Management Information System, the Interactive Resource Center will be able to provide more streamlined access to services for its clients and improve communication between Greensboro groups involved in Partners Ending Homelessness, Kennedy said. The change will also free up shelter staff who are overwhelmed with intake work and ultimately save the Interactive Resource Center in staff time as well, she said.
The resource center received an anonymous $45,000 donation to fund the coordinated intake specialist position to manage the organization’s new responsibilities, and they are currently hiring for the position. Over the next year, Kennedy said they would work diligently to secure future funding for the position and try to expand it to a three-person team to truly handle the workload appropriately.
But even without the full team, the five new positions will dramatically increase the size of the center, which is currently a full-time staff of seven. Kennedy realizes that the changes mean the center is professionalizing, but said they will be careful to maintain the culture fostered since 2008. As part of that, the Interactive Resource Center will engage its full staff, partners and its guests — the center’s term for clients — in the hiring process.
That community-driven, grassroots approach is part of the core of the center’s identity, she said; lived experiences and professional skills will continue to be equally important. But aside from the shift in scope, the PATH funds demarcate an even more notable milestone in the organization’s timeline — the moment that the Interactive Resource Center’s long-term finances started to look very stable.
Find more information about the job openings at the Interactive Resource Center at gsodaycenter.org.