“I’ve always worked with people,” said Charlene Mitchell, Compass’s new director of emergency services. “You get such a reward when you help people get to where they want to go. Not everyone has a support system, and we can help them build a foundation.”
Charlene started off as relief staff in 2016 when she came to Compass from Catholic Community Services. She would pick up shifts in the emergency shelters as they were available. She was so effective she applied for and got a position at Blaine Center Men’s Shelter as a counselor – a shelter operations worker – and after a few more months was promoted to housing navigator.
“I was a full-time counselor for a few months at Blaine Center until I was promoted to a housing navigator,” she said. “I was the only navigator at Blaine Center doing case management work and there were 60 men in the program. Even though I was swamped, I was getting 10-13 placements into permanent housing every month.”
A housing navigator helps with milieu management as well as builds relationships with the guests to assess what their barriers are to permanent housing and how we can walk side by side with them to move forward.
“As a housing navigator, you are their case manager,” she said. “What are their needs? What are the barriers, behavioral issues, and how can you build a relationship with everyone? Building and developing relationships is the best way to get them into housing. Because unfortunately, there are a lot of systems working against them.”
Charlene saw the day-in, and day-out work of the frontline, and when she moved into management, she brought that experience with her. At one point she was overseeing both Jan and Peter’s Place (JPP) and Blaine Center.
“At JPP when COVID hit we had to make some pretty big adjustments,” she said. “But we kept up the quality. We were great at permanently housing women dealing with barriers. At JPP we sometimes had an older population, and they don’t have the resources they need. They need that extra support.”
Oftentimes guests would be placed at JPP who should have been placed in assisted living facilities or perhaps nursing homes, but JPP fills a gap that other shelters don’t. That’s what Charlene is all about – caring for people no matter what.
It was her heart, on-the-ground experience, and dedication that made her the perfect choice to become the Interim Director of Emergency Services when an opening occurred. After a few months in that position, she was promoted to Director and joined the Executive Leadership Team permanently.
Now Charlene oversees Compass’s entire emergency services department which is comprised of three 24/7 enhanced non-congregate emergency shelters, a Day Center, Hygiene Center, and the Client Service Office (CSO).
“There are two hamster wheels that I run in,” she said laughing. “I’m on the Executive Leadership Team and I’m emergency services. I get to help open opportunities and do all the leadership things and I have to make sure that on the emergency services side all of our policies and procedures are being followed, make sure the staff is supported, all of that.”
She has a guiding principle of seeing people as people no matter their circumstances and she carries that in her work every day.
“All of our guests are people, they are not less than us,” she said. “There is no one way into homelessness. It could have started at a young age, early low-wage jobs, or trauma. We need to understand where someone is coming from and then get them the resources they need to get stable and get better. If we treat people less than others, we will never get over these problems. Through this work, I’ve built relationships that go beyond the time I have with them here at Compass. That sense of helping someone get to where they want to go is so rewarding.”