Josephine Spengler has been with St. Francis House for nearly 18 months and in that time, she helped find homes for dozens of people as a Rapid Rehousing Stabilization Case Manager and has been a pillar of support for residents in our Next Step Housing program as a Housing and Stabilization Case Manager. Josephine works to form trusting relationships with her clients, many of whom have difficulty opening up and accepting assistance. With her commitment and her ability to give personal perspective and realistic options for her clients, Josephine provides essential support to our residents so they can make a lasting transition out of homelessness and into stability.
How long have you been with St. Francis House and what do you do here?
On March 29th, 2021, I was hired as a Rapid Rehousing Stabilization Case Manager. My role was to house about 100 individuals, which we did by assisting with housing search, viewing units, and meeting with landlords.
After the clients were housed, I helped them with income referrals to outside services. A lot of them still needed vital documents like birth certificates. Then, we’d continue with to help them by searching for low-income housing because the rapid re-housing program is only for a year. We would put in as many applications as we could.
I got hired by residential services in April 2022 and now I am a Housing and Stabilization Case Manager here! I have about 25 clients in my case load. I do the same with them, stabilization services. The difference is here in residential services the clients are more accessible because they live here, and I’m accessible as well!
How do the clients and the service you provide differ between Rapid Rehousing and Residential Services?
The difference between rapid rehousing and residential services is the clients in rapid rehousing were actively experiencing homeless. That’s what made them eligible for the program and the financial assistance we had.
Here in residential services, stabilization really isn’t that different, but the clients are in permanent housing. Mental health, physical health, legal services, and social or recreational services; those don’t change. We’re trying to get both groups, whether they are housed or out in the community, back to being a productive member of our community and society.
What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy meeting with the clients, listening to their life stories, and literally just being there for them. Some of the clients just want to talk and want me just to listen. Some people don’t have family or friends. They really have nobody to talk to about anything or even just other human compassion or contact.
So even if I just sit down and say “Good morning! How are you doing?” and reiterate it, some people will start opening up.
I also like to meet with the clients because I can identify with them. I experienced homelessness and I’m in recovery so I know about the fear, anxiety, depression, and the sense of hopelessness that the clients can feel about themselves and their life.
I don’t give any false hope when speaking with the clients because, to me, that’s more damaging. If they ask a question and the answer is no, I say “No.” Otherwise, it can lower somebody’s self-esteem.
For example, we have a lot of clients who have a CORI, or a bad credit history. Somebody might come to me with a bad record, and they say, “Do you think maybe I can get into this housing?” I don’t say “Maybe, let’s work on that.” I know what their record is, and I know they will not get into it.
That way we can move on. I can say, “No, let’s move on from that and move forward to the next path,” because there are many paths we can take.
My goal is to provide what is needed for clients in order for them to move forward in their life. These residents need to know that they are deserving of good things. The more you tell them that the more they tend to believe “I’m worth it.” When they’re told “No! No! No!” or if people are judgmental because of their homelessness or their addiction or anything like that, they don’t feel like they’re worthy of anything.
You talked about how your lived experience informs your work, does it also help the clients have trust in you?
Yes. I tell them that I’m in recovery. Being in recovery and talking to somebody and listening to them, it helps me maintain recovery another day. I leave here every day with gratitude because I was in shelters for 10 years with my kids.
I’m grateful for my clients and I feel for them, and I know what it’s like. So, it works both ways. Those clients help me more than they will ever know.
The trust my clients have in me gives me so much gratitude. When I first started this position, it was “oh we have another case manager.” Now, somedays I can’t get anybody away from my door because they know that I’m available! They don’t have to come and see me but if that door’s open they know I’m here. It didn’t take long for me to have a line out that door and start scheduling appointments because I’m understanding and they like that I’m truthful about everything.
Is there anything you wish people knew about your role or your department?
I want people to know that being a Housing and Stabilization Case Manager is not easy. It’s not just about housing. It’s about trust, listening, caring, and being compassionate and non-judgmental. Some clients don’t want to talk because they have been let down so many times before that they won’t let their guard down. All I can do is let them know that I’m here for them for anything they need. My hope is that with my past experiences, some of these clients will begin to trust again.