Anna Hardin has a tough job. She leads a team of talented case managers and thousands of volunteers so that CARITAS can provide a bridge to stability for Richmond’s homeless population. Anna is also a mom–she just welcomed her second child in 2017! Her quiet confidence and willingness to solve problems is a true gift to CARITAS and the people we serve. She talks with clients, mentors new social workers, and guides programmatic change effectively and with enthusiasm. As CARITAS makes plans to open the CARITAS Center, her role is ever more vital, not just here at CARITAS, but throughout Richmond’s Continuum of Care.
We sat down with Anna to talk about what motivates her and what the future holds….
So, why do you help the homeless?
I always have. I know what we do is important. There are so many people who aren’t necessarily experiencing homelessness, but they may be one check away from a housing crisis. Its a very real situation here in Richmond. We can help.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job at CARITAS?
Working with my team, watching them grow and seeing them help others. The work we do in the community makes a big difference and that’s not always the case when you work behind the scenes like we do. It makes you really grateful for what you have.
What’s the most challenging part of your work here?
Success can be few and far between sometimes. There are so many things that play into helping a client. Mental health is hard. Addiction is hard. When we’re trying to fix a housing crisis, it requires a lot more pieces than just getting them into a house. When they’re with us in the shelter, we’re addressing a lot of things.
We partner with a lot of organizations in Richmond…
A big part of of my job is getting to know the community. A really unique thing about our region is that we’re all working toward the same goal and doing it well. (Learn more about the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care). A lot of people in our network have been working in the system for a long time. What always impresses me is that sometimes we disagree, but we do things in the interest of the client. The system is going through a change right now, but we are all working to do what is best for our clients.
Tell us about the new Housing Crisis line…
Instead of calling a number to be placed in a shelter, clients are now calling a number to see if there is a way to avoid being in a shelter all together. The focus of the change is that shelter should not be the answer. What can we do to keep you from having to go into shelter? Whether it’s working out a family relationship, getting transportation to a housing option, or financial resources, there may be a solution that can be used right away. Shelter is really for those who are the most vulnerable. After we’ve exhausted every other option, only then are you placed in one of the city’s shelters. CARITAS often shelters the most vulnerable.
Once someone is in the shelter, how do we help them?
The goal of shelter is to be short-term. For some people, there are no other options. For some people, they need a bridge to get back on their feet. A lot of times they have mental health or addiction issues and because of those, they’ve burned bridges. They still need help. Once they’re here, our priority is to develop a plan to get them to permanent housing. It’s a step before that final piece is in place. We’ll stay with them until they’re ready.
We work closely with volunteers in our Shelter. What role do they play in helping clients?
Because were a nonprofit, we couldn’t do what we do without support. It takes a village and our village is our volunteers. They play such an important part of what we do. They also help role models for children in the shelter and women see other women who are working professionals. Being around positive people can change your outlook on life.
How will the CARITAS Shelter model change when the CARITAS Center opens in 2019?
Right now, we’re a mobile shelter that moves from congregation to congregation. This puts a lot of limits on clients as far as curfew times, which hurts their employability. Also, it keeps them in a state of crisis because they exist not knowing where they are going to be next week, which brings on anxiety. When we are a permanent shelter, they’ll always have a place where they know they’ll be every week. They’ll also be able to accept jobs where they work hours they weren’t able to work before. The new shelter will also be on the bus line and they’ll be able to work around the regular bus schedule more easily. Also, because the shelter will be located alongside the rest of the CARITAS programs, it’ll provide an incentive for clients to connect to recovery and other services.
The Healing Place for Women will be an exciting new addition to our services once the center opens. We shelter most of Richmond’s females who are experiencing homelessness. How will the new service help them?
It will be so much much easier to get mental health and substance use support for women. Right now, if you want to get substance use help and you’re a female in Richmond, there are very few beds available. You have to wait. That doesn’t work. You have to get them the day they are ready. Because we’ll have on-site availability, we’ll be able to reach a lot of women who are ready for recovery before it’s too late.