Peer Advocates Transition Residents from Homelessness

The Peer Advocate Program at the Skid Row Housing Trust helps new residents transition from homelessness into housing.

Skipping visits with his case manager and refusing to answer the door for wellness checks had left one new resident at Skid Row Housing Trust at risk of losing his housing. So, his case manager called in one of the program’s peer advocates to find out what was going on.

As a fellow resident, the peer advocate was able to gain the new resident’s trust. The advocate learned the man felt unsafe in the neighborhood and worried he would lose his housing if he left his room. The peer advocate explained the role of the case manager and that she was there to help him stay in housing. The peer advocate started walking the man around the neighborhood to make him more comfortable. The advocate soon learned the man had an untreated mental health condition and had relapsed and begun drinking again. Together, the peer advocate and case manager were able to help the man retain his housing.

“The resident was able to express feelings to the peer advocate that he was not comfortable talking to his case manager about,” explained Jason Michael, who manages the peer advocate program at Skid Row Housing Trust.

New Residents Stay Housed

Skid Row Housing Trust launched the peer advocate program in 2011 to help new residents during the critical first 90 days of transitioning from homelessness into housing. The Trust provides almost 1,800 individual units of permanent supportive housing in downtown Los Angeles to people who have experienced homelessness, chronic health conditions, substance use disorders, or mental illness. The advocates are residents who have been successful.

“They’ve shown the ability to thrive and help other people,” Michael explained.

The peer advocates begin meeting with new residents before they move in and as they enter housing. The peer advocates walk the residents through the process of staying housed, connect them with recovery or other support groups, and check in regularly during the first month in housing. Having gone through the process, the advocates are able to help answer questions and clear up any misconceptions about the rules.

“The advocates can say, ‘I know the ropes—let me teach you,’” Michael explained. When possible, peer advocates are matched to residents with whom they have a common background. This helps to overcome cultural barriers that may exist between residents and caseworkers, who may come from different neighborhoods or have had very different life experiences, Michael explained. It may also make it easier for residents who do not trust authority figures.

“It changes the dynamics,” he said. “They will say to the peer advocate that [they] have been using crack regularly, but they might not to a case worker.”

Extra Support to Case Managers

Case managers and peer advocates work very closely to make sure no one falls through the cracks, Michael said. He explained that a case manager, on average, works with about 40 residents and cannot meet with each one daily. But the peer advocates can drop in regularly and are on site if a crisis occurs.

“They have been really important in catching people who need extra support,” Michael said. This extra support has been particularly critical for people with substance use disorders or mental illnesses.

The organization hopes to continue to grow the peer advocate program. One goal moving forward is to develop advocates with expertise in health and wellness, community outreach, support for veterans, women’s health, and other areas that may benefit residents.

Learn more about peer support and social inclusion.

Access more behavioral health and homelessness resources.

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Bridget M. Kuehn
Last Updated: 04/19/2016