Staff Spotlight: Family Supportive Housing Clinician

In this staff spotlight, we interview Tiana. She is a clinician who works primarily with the Family Supportive Housing Program. This program provides permanent supportive housing to families at risk of homelessness where a head of household is living with mental illness.

When Impact launched the Family Supportive Housing, you were the employee whose job shifted to serving the families in that program. What was it like being involved in the lead-up to those families moving in?
Before the families moved in, I knew the ages of the children and a general idea of what the individual families would need. There are a lot of resources in Evanston and the North Shore area, so I did a lot of research into those and created a resource list.

When you first started working at Impact, you were only providing counseling and therapy to adults. How is your day-to-day workflow different now that you’re working with families?
I get a lot of phone calls from moms, and a lot of emails of school social workers. A lot of transportation questions.

Single adults will call when they’re in crisis. But with families call about a lot of day-to-day stressors—some of them are big things and some of them are issues like transportation, or a piece of paper that came in the mail that they need more clarity on.

I also do a lot of work around the behavioral needs of the kids. Many of the kids have challenges, and it’s been hard to reassure them that after so many years of instability, they really are in a permanent spot now. Yesterday I attended an Individualized Education Plan–IEP–eligibility meeting yesterday for a child of one of our participants.

Now that the Family Supportive Housing Program is operating at capacity (with plans to expand in the near future), what can you tell us about the families served by that program?
We have parents varying from their late teens through their 40s, and children from a few months to 18 years old. A couple of the families have been homeless for several years or have just been sort of unstable—having to move around a lot. Many families have histories with domestic violence.

For families that have a history of unstable housing, behavioral challenges among the children are common. Some of the kids have high level needs, so it’s been a challenge to keep them connected. The children are connected to different resources in the community, whether that’s counseling or just activities to participate in after school.

Some of the adults in the family are looking for work. Others are still working on gaining stability for their mental and physical health before they can find employment. I’m working with all of them on budgeting—stretching their income and benefits to last throughout the month.

And as always, engagement fluctuates. Sometimes it’s multiple meetings per week, and sometimes I don’t hear from them for several weeks. Hopefully, that’s because everything is going well, but sometimes it’s because there’s a crisis happening, and they have trouble finding the capacity to reach out.

A lot of them feel really grateful for the program. The stability is huge. We have a kid in our program—he’s a teenager and he has literally been in a different school every year. But now he’s in one place long term. And that is also so important for the mom. She worked so hard and so long just keeping it together for her family. Now she can focus on her own physical and mental health. That’s a big thing—they’ve been working so hard to maintain the needs of the family, they have not focused on their own health and wellbeing.

How do you think the greater Evanston community can better support families like the ones at Impact—that may be at risk of homelessness, or dealing with trauma, and have adult family members that might be struggling with their mental health?
Agencies like this, and programs like this are the most help.

I can’t stress the transportation needs enough—these families really do struggle getting their children to and from school and extracurricular activities.

Also, access to extracurricular activities—it’s time right now to sign up for summer camps and figure out what kinds of activities are out there for kids during the summer. There’s limited availability and it’s very expensive—some places offer scholarships but it’s usually only for half off the cost, and that is still too expensive for the folks in our housing. But these kids still need somewhere to go during the summer.

What do you think the participants you work with would want people to know about them?
These parents really just need encouragement. There have been moments where they have so much anxiety or depression—questioning whether they’re doing the right things for their kids and their families. And then managing depressive symptoms and self-esteem. Sometimes when things happen with their kids, it’s so hard—they wanted to break the cycle and provide better opportunities for their kids.

All these participants are working through their past experiences and overcoming a lot of obstacles. It takes a lot of strength to be so vulnerable and open with all the trauma they have experienced, and to keep moving forward.

They’re doing really well. Everyone is connected. A lot of the families are African American, and it’s so important that I get to connect with them on that level, too—I don’t take that for granted. It’s really been an honor to work with these families.

Tiana Smith Headshot