Graduates of Interfaith Homeless Outreach Council program reflect on their fresh start
Celebrating IHOC’s Winter Hospitality Network graduation in May: IHOC Executive Director Ruth Morgenroth, Michael (IHOC graduate and Camden Coalition patient), our Program Manager for Innovation Operations Bill Nice, Miguel (IHOC alum and Camden Coalition graduate), Myron (IHOC graduate and Camden Coalition patient), IHOC Case Manager Sonya Jacobs, and our Social Work Manager for Innovation Operations Mary Pelak (L to R).
Spring is a time of rebirth, renewal and hope. It’s a time when students leave high school or college, and leave behind one phase of their life to embark on the next.
But students aren’t the only people graduating each spring. Every May, participants of the Interfaith Homeless Outreach Council’s Winter Hospitality Network graduate from their winter shelter program and move on to their next chapter with a fresh start. Two current patients in the Camden Coalition’s care management program completed the shelter program this May.
Now in its 28th year, the Interfaith Homeless Outreach Council — or IHOC — has transformed countless lives through its two programs: the Homeless Hospitality Network, which serves up to 12 men in an intensive, 30-week program housed in various congregations; and the John Dambly Transitional House, a transitional housing program located in Lawnside, NJ. Over the last six years, the Camden Coalition has worked closely with IHOC to help our patients break the cycle of homelessness, stabilize, and move onto other things, including securing permanent housing in our Housing First program.
Much of our success in getting people off the streets wouldn’t be possible without the support of IHOC’s case manager, Sonya Jacobs. A small business owner, Sonya is also IHOC’s only full-time employee, providing case management services to approximately 20 people each year. Now in her 20th year with IHOC, she shared her thoughts on what makes the relationship between IHOC and the Camden Coalition work. “IHOC and the Coalition have similar philosophies about working with those in need,” she said. “I have someone else to bounce off ideas with, a partner to help reinforce the message.”
IHOC believes that having a small group of participants promotes “quality over quantity” and helps build strong relationships. They also believe collaboration is the key to success. These philosophies are central to the Coalition’s engagement with participants as well. Sonya added that the collaboration with the Coalition helps IHOC meet its mission ”coordinating people-power and resources to provide effective outreach to homeless people in our county.”
Andre, a participant in our Housing First program and a member of the Camden Coalition’s Community Advisory Committee, joined IHOC’s Homeless Hospitality Network in 2016. He said IHOC helped him get off the streets and kept him safe until he moved into his own apartment with his wife Cisily in December 2016.
“I was praying for an opportunity to get myself together, and this gave me hope and stability,” he said. “The loving and caring wasn’t something I was getting from the streets. I had to make the decision to allow the help, to help.” More than two years later, Andre and Cisily are still in housing and enjoying their new life together. He says that the collaboration between IHOC and the Camden Coalition has been key to his success. “It saved me from self-destruction. It gave me a vision to do better… a new way to look at things.”
Miguel, one of the first people who participated in programs in both IHOC and the Camden Coalition, said that consistent, affirming communication between the providers and participants made all the difference. The “most important part was communication — positive communication,” he said. Like Andre, Miguel also lived on the streets struggling with his own issues. Enrolled in the Camden Coalition’s care management program in April 2013, Miguel would often avoid our attempts at engagement. It wasn’t until doctors told him that he would die if he continued his lifestyle that Miguel decided to take action. That’s when the Camden Coalition connected him to IHOC. “I knew I had to change, and I was surrounded by all the right people,” he said.
Miguel graduated from IHOC’s Winter Hospitality Network in May 2014 and participates in our Housing First program. Since then, he’s remained connected to IHOC’s alumni network and serves as a Hospitality Network overnight chaperone each winter. “I wanted to give back,” said Miguel, who is also a member of the Camden Coalition’s Community Advisory Committee. “The guys are from the streets, like me. I wanted them to know how much their lives mean. It was an experience I will never forget.”
To learn more about the Interfaith Homeless Outreach Council, visit http://www.interfaithhomelessoutreachcouncilsj.org/.