Author Archives: Shelly


With the recent death of Maya Angelou, I came across one of her many lovely quotes.

door with quoteSo many of us work with individuals and families who don’t have that safe place. Who are questioned all the time. By us. Don’t get me wrong – that’s part of our jobs. To ask some of those hard, often uncomfortable questions that get to the root of why this person or this family ended up at my agency, sitting in my office, requesting some assistance. But another part of my job is to recognize that this person or this family probably aches for home. For a comfortable, stable place in a world in which they don’t need to sit in my office and be asked a lot of questions.

May you rest in peace, Dr. Angelou. Thank you for putting to words what many of us forget.

And in Missouri Politics…

In case you were wondering and haven’t been appalled enough lately, the MO Legislature really did override Governor Nixon’s veto of SB 509. The Missouri Budget Project is calling this a massive tax scheme that will starve education, health, infrastructure, and other critical services of nearly $800 million a year when it is fully implemented.  You can read more here:

A somewhat less scathing review was issued by the Coalition for Missouri’s Future. “The bill is overly complex and riddled with special-interest loopholes. It disproportionately benefits the wealthy at the expense of lower-income and middle-class taxpayers. And, it jeopardizes state funding for critical public services and infrastructure including schools, health and social services, and investments in technology”.

It seems that if there’s a silver lining, it might be that Missourians are coming together to rally for Medicaid Expansion before the session ends. The disruptive antics of some clerrgy who were calling for a renewed emphasis on human dignity were removed from the Senate chamber and arrested. (Don’t worry – they were released on site.)

And finally. In case anyone wants to get really fired up, an actual comment to the article above: “…these ministers have apparently forgotten about teaching people to catch fish rather than giving them fish. They need to be pushing education and training as a way out of the darkness. Giving more fish away simply won’t cut it!”


Making a House a Home

When an individual or family we’re working with moves into permanent housing, we’re often at a loss as to what our role is at that point. And sometimes, we’re surprised if people don’t take care of their new place the way we think they should.


That sense of belonging, of ownership and pride that we want for our clients doesn’t just automatically come when they get the keys to their own place.   It’s often something that is developed as they’re able to make it their own. It seems that for most of us, creating a home is less about the building itself and more about the emotional connection and sense of comfort we’re able to create behind the doors.  Last week I attended a case management workshop and came away with a list of simple ideas for case workers and advocates to help their clients begin to make a house a home.

  • Give them a plant
  • Buy a baking sheet and bake cookies together
  • Give them a calendar
  • Go grocery shopping together at their local grocery store and make a big pot of something that can then be divided into individual portions
  • Give them some picture frames
  • Provide them with activities to address boredom (books, magazines, or a library card; art supplies, etc.)
  • Give them fun refrigerator magnets and dry erase markers
  • Encourage them to introduce themselves to their neighbors

Most of these ideas are low cost yet they can make a big impact. What else do you do to help individuals and families make a house their home?

FYI – the workshop I attended was “Working to Achieve Excellence in Housing-Based Case Management” and was put on by Iain De Jong with OrgCode Consulting



More work to do

We took our youngest to urgent care over the weekend. It was Super Bowl Sunday. Her fever wouldn’t come down. After hearing her symptoms, the nurse told me we should really get her in, if at all possible. It was barely a second thought for me. I almost didn’t cringe at the thought of potentially meeting our high deductible so early in the year. We have health insurance.

Then, my husband and I both missed work days this week to stay home with her. That wasn’t a second thought at all. That was shuffling meetings, getting some work done while she napped. I have sick time; he has dependent leave.

Then, on what surely must have been the coldest night in Kansas City history, our furnace stopped blowing. That was a call to the service company, finding out they weren’t doing any house calls until the following day, and then a free visit from our neighbor who, fortunately for us, is a HVAC genius. We have social supports.

I get phone calls on a regular basis from people, who, if any of the above things had happened, would send their world into a tailspin. People who are desperately trying to figure out who can help them keep their utilities on. People who have no idea where they’re going to sleep tomorrow night after their time at the emergency shelter is officially up. People who are working hard but still falling behind.

I am keenly aware of how fortunate my family is to have health insurance. We’re not going to have to skip meals or figure out which utility bill can go without being paid because we took Mary to urgent care. We are lucky to have jobs with benefits. Neither of us went without pay or got fired because we chose to take care of a sick baby instead of report to the office. We are thankful to have supports all around us: family, friends, and in this case, a neighbor.

I would like my girls to know a society in which we don’t think of poverty as a character failing or a lack of motivation, but rather, a shortage of money. I would like them to take it for granted that anyone who works can make a living wage. I want them to be bewildered when we try to explain homelessness to them. Last month marked the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty. We have some more work to do.

Using the Strengths Assessment

paperworkIf you’re like most case workers and advocates, you feel there is already too much paperwork. So while this information might not exactly lighten the load, hopefully it will help you make sense of this tool and use it most effectively (and efficiently!).

This particular strengths assessment includes nine different life domains, which are listed in the center column. They are: Daily Living Situation, Financial, Vocational/Educational, Family/Relationships, Health, Social Support/Leisure, Recovery, and Spirituality/Cultural. The three columns are Current Status, Aspirations, and Resources.

Strengths Assessment

Assessment is often completed in your second meeting with a new client. This gives you a chance to let him know that at the next meeting you’d like to hear his story and get to know what he would like to work towards. It may be helpful to think of this assessment simply as a conversational tool to get to know your client in a holistic way instead of simply knowing about his problem situation.

While it may seem most natural to begin your meeting by asking something along the lines of, “So tell me about what’s going on now”, this actually creates a challenge for you to try to keep the rest of the meeting strengths focused since your client is starting with her problem situation. Instead, try to begin with the middle column of the assessment and ask a question about what she wants. “What would you like your life to look like?” is a broad, open-ended question that will often help get the conversation started, and as she thinks and talks about what she’d like her life to look like, she ends up talking about the current problem situation, as well as resources that are in place. Your job is to listen and learn and get to know her. As much as possible, try not to worry about filling in all those boxes. Instead, jot down notes (always ask permission to do this at the beginning of your meeting), then transfer the relevant pieces to the assessment after she leaves. You’ll find that she has talked about the most important pieces and if there are blanks, you can ask those questions at your next meeting.

At the end of the assessment, ask your client to identify the top four things that he wants to work on. These become his goals and get transferred to the next tool: Personal Goal Plan