Alumni Feature

ben noll

I moved right after graduation to take on a volunteer position planning activities for residents at a medical facility serving homeless men and women and living in community with other volunteers.  That introduced me to AmeriCorps and my next adventure, working at a conflict resolution center in Montgomery County, Md., just outside of D.C.  This was all well and good and laid an awesome foundation for what I am currently doing, which is the real update…

Two years ago I began working for Friendship Place, a non-profit committed to ending homelessness in the District, as a case manager with their permanent supportive housing (PSH) program.  The program utilizes the Housing First model, a nationally-recognized best practice for ending homelessness that places no barriers to housing, such as receiving mental health treatment or completing a drug or alcohol program, and seeks to serve those with the highest need first.  My work involved providing services in the community to a case load of 17 of the most vulnerable formerly homeless men and women who received a housing voucher to cover their rent.  We worked together to identify housing opportunities in apartment buildings throughout the city and then met in their homes monthly to work towards their goals; anything from day-to-day maintenance to accessing public benefits to connecting to mental health services or substance abuse treatment to employment and beyond.

I speak in the past tense because last month I transitioned away from the PSH program into our expanding rapid re-housing and homelessness prevention program, Veterans First.  Funded through a grant from the VA, this program is part of a national plan to end homelessness among veterans by 2015.  Veterans First is an intensive 90-day program utilizing the Critical Time Intervention (CTI) model to work with individual men and women as well as families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless to quickly resolve their housing crisis and to develop and enact a plan to return to stability.  In addition to working with a small case load of individuals and families served through the program, I am also now supervising a team of six case managers providing guidance in the field and in the office.

Practically speaking, my degree opened doors because many of the grants we work under require employees to have a background in Psychology, Sociology, or Social Work!  But much more so, I am grateful for the way both the Theater and Sociology/Social Work departments at Goshen challenged my worldview.  I learned the importance of collaboration through my work in theater, which has been invaluable in working together with my clients to develop and implement plans that truly meet their goals.  Sociology taught me to think outside the box and question “conventional wisdom” to search for answers in unlikely places.  So much of the failed homeless policy of the past has been based on approaches that valued “common sense” that turned out not to work for so many people.  The way that my professors and fellow students at Goshen College pushed me to seek out the unexpected solutions primed me to be ready to jump into a non-profit agency that is dedicated to innovative solutions to bring an end to homelessness as we know it and to develop programs that serve the whole person.

– Ben Cattell Noll ’09