Along with six undergraduate college students, we participated in the Missouri State University Bear Breaks Immersion Trip over spring break, 2018. We traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, where we partnered with the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency (ACSS) to help clients who have been displaced. ACSS requires clients to complete a 3-week Workforce Development program that assists clients in their job search, from obtaining clothes for work to solving housing problems, transportation issues, and other barriers that keep the clients from being self-sufficient.
Building bonds with clients
We worked with ACSS all week, so we bonded with these clients as we quickly identified their barriers. Many clients needed to set up an email address before they could even apply for jobs. We take for granted how difficult it is to operate a self-sufficient life without having a cell phone or email addresses. While there, we walked clients through the job application process, created and saved their résumés in their Google drive, and presented two workshops on “Positivity/Mental Health and How to Prepare for an Interview”.
Our interactions with clients about positivity and mental health increased our awareness: Access to affordable mental health care is yet another barrier for individuals who are homeless. Mental illness is prevalent in this population and can result in difficulty getting and keeping a job. It is challenging to be truly self-sufficient while working to overcome a mental illness without professional help. Sadly, the populations who need mental health services the most often have the least access to those services. The societal barriers to accessible counseling only add to the problem and perpetuate homelessness.
In addition to mental health issues, we learned more about our clients during this week and the reasons they were homeless. Some of the reasons were circumstances out of their control, and some were due to poor personal decisions; but all in all, they are individuals with dreams and passions of their own. This experience challenged us to break barriers of our own preconceived thoughts of those who are homeless.
Preconceived thoughts versus reality of homelessness
Here are some common preconceptions of displaced individuals versus reality:
- Lazy versus discouraged from being displaced due to home forfeiture
- Addicted to drugs versus being a victim of domestic abuse
- Ex-convict versus someone suffering from mental-health issues
Many of the clients suffer from low self-esteem and hopelessness caused by discouraging experiences. The clients responded well to positive talk and encouragement to discuss their strengths and contributions to prior jobs and life experiences. From working with the clients, we learned they were down, but not out.
Characteristics of job seekers
- Optimistic about overcoming barriers
Our last day involved a job fair. Seeing our clients at the job fair all dressed professionally with their résumés was more rewarding than I ever thought possible. They looked so proud and motivated to take the next step. We were there at the Job Fair the entire time; the clients were required to check in and go to a “holding room.” During this time, ACSS staff gave a last-minute pep talk and advice about the job fair.
After the clients entered the job fair, we stayed to observe and help several clients who needed encouragement on what to say and ask employers or how to introduce themselves with their elevator pitch. The outcome: Many of the clients came away from the job fair with scheduled interviews, and some even had received job offers.
Written by Margie Stewart and Lindsey Bell, Career Resource Specialist and Graduate Assistant of Missouri State University Career Center