No Place Like HomeStart
HomeStart, Inc. is a non-profit organization working to end homelessness in the Greater Boston area. The agency’s first priority for every client is a stable housing situation. They then work with each client’s individual needs to provide services and support to make sure they are able to remain housed. By offering assistance in both English and Spanish, many homeless and formerly homeless individuals and families can depend on HomeStart in their search to obtain housing and their continued journey to maintain it. Elsa Lizarralde, 32, Bilingual Stabilization Advocate, works with the agency’s formerly homeless clients. Providing much needed access to other social services, help with budgeting and crisis management, Elsa is able to help clients begin to realize other dreams and goals within the stable environment of their own homes. Learn more in this week’s The LatinConnect about the work of HomeStart, Inc. within the community and how their helping hands are changing thousands of lives.
Bilingual Stabilization Advocate
Where is your hometown?
Massasoit Community College
Human Service Practice (2004)
Bilingual Stabilization Advocate
Brockton Area Multi-Services, Inc.
El Centro del Cardenal
Young Parents Program Coordinator
Catholic Charities of Brockton
Family Support Advocate
What is HomeStart, Inc.?
HomeStart, Inc. is a nonprofit working to end homelessness in the greater Boston area. We help homeless individuals and families to obtain and maintain permanent housing. We also help clients who are threatened with eviction for nonpayment of rent to keep their housing and avoid shelters.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Each day as a Stabilization Advocate is different from the next! My ultimate task is to help our clients who were once homeless to maintain their housing. This can consist of so many things: I go on home visits to make sure our clients are paying their bills and rent on time. But I’m also visiting them just to see how they’re doing. We work on budgeting their expenses in order to create savings. I may also help clients clear erroneous credit reports, apply for food stamps and receive other discounted services. I often attend various appointments with lawyers and at immigration offices with our clients and serve as their advocate. I’m able to both translate for my clients and inform them of regulations and laws of which they would not otherwise be aware. Sometimes, I’m just there to listen to them.
Tell us how Homestart affects the Latino community
I am just one of four bilingual advocates which HomeStart employs to serve the Spanish-speaking communities of Greater Boston. Because of this service, HomeStart is able to help homeless and formerly-homeless Latinos to connect to valuable resources from other agencies which may not target the Latino community directly. HomeStart’s Latino clients also learn how to best advocate for themselves in the wider English-speaking community.
Most notable milestones
Since working at HomeStart, I have learned more about all the available resources there are and I have started to create a network with other agencies that serve Latinos. I also consider it a milestone to have developed such open and candid relationships with my clients. They tell me everything!
HomeStart was recently selected for not one, but two grants from the United Way. This generous donation is a part of United Way’s latest efforts to bring a greater accountability to the use of their donors’ dollars by partnering with new agencies that create actual, quantifiable results in the improvement of the community.
In a recent interview with WBUR’s Business and Technology Reporter, Curt Nickisch, Jeff Hayward, the senior vice-president of the Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley United Way chapter, pointed out that one of HomeStart’s greatest achievements is their ability to keep 85% of their formerly homeless clients in housing for up to two years. Hayward continued by stating, “For that one measure alone, we think [HomeStart] outperforms almost every other agency in our portfolio. HomeStart is one of those diamonds in the rough.”
What’s the niche?
My outgoing voicemail in the office is defintiely unique. I make my greeting in English and then in Spanish and before I’m out of breath I manage to laugh– people love it. They always comment on my laugh when they leave their message.
A lot of agencies place people in housing. What makes HomeStart different is that we help our clients keep their housing too.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Being a full-time, single parent and holding down a full-time job is definitely challenging. I’m just trying to keep it all together. Also, keeping organized and on top of all the paperwork is not exactly my favorite thing to do.
Our biggest challenge is the lack of affordable housing. It is not rare for a homeless individual to spend years searching for an affordable place to live in spite of their greatest of efforts.
What’s in store for the future?
I’m a Reiki Master and I’m going to open up an empowerment center. This center will help people start the healing process through energy healing (Reiki) and positive thinking. I would like to offer services where it is really needed and where people who are really trying to find themselves would choose to come.
HomeStart is at the forefront of a new housing philosophy coined Housing First. This new program helps homeless disabled individuals who are living on the streets – under bridges and by-passes, in alleys and in parks – obtain permanent housing first and then support them in obtaining the living skills, financial benefits, and health and mental health treatment they need to successfully stay in housing and prevent recurrent homelessness.
Housing First is a fast-growing approach in the fight to end homelessness. The underlying principle is that once a person is stabilized in housing progress can be made in achieving other goals. In addition, the expectation is that costs associated with street living, such as hospital emergency room visits, will decrease once a person is stabilized in housing.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
In the social services field it’s really easy to get overwhelmed and it can be hard to see progress. I combat this by staying positive in everything I do.
Guiding principle in life
When things seem to be too difficult to manage, I surrender my troubles to a higher force.
Yardstick of success
The ability to relate to people no matter what their circumstance may be.
Goal yet to be achieved
Acquiring the resources to open my own healing center.
Best practical advice
Before you give advice, always put yourself in another’s shoes.
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture
God never gives you anything you can’t handle.
My former supervisor, Janice. When she hired me, she did so because she saw herself in me. Janice used to give me the most challenging client cases. I initially resented them, but then I discovered how much I could learn from them. Because of Janice, I was given the opportunity to learn positive parenting.
What motivated you to get started? Did your background/upbringing contribute to this?
I believe that in our culture it’s seen as a weakness to have experienced trauma and that speaking openly about such experiences is discouraged. I have had my share of life lessons and instead of shutting down, I have luckily learned to speak up and stand.
What do you like best about what you do?
I love meeting people and spending time with clients in their homes. I also love using public transportation.
What do you like least about what you do?
Filling out paperwork and not having my own computer at work.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What was your first job?
What is your biggest pastime outside of work? Favorite hobby?
Dancing. All kinds.
Name a person you are most interested in meeting?
Iyanla Vanzant. She is one of the life coaches on the show, “Starting Over.” She is inspirational. I feel like I was given a chance to grow and learned a lot by watching that show when I was staying home with my baby.
Leader in business you are most interested in meeting?
Sean Combs. I just think that he is an amazing entrepreneur. As the son of a single mom, Sean Combs is also a great role model for my son.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I’m a single mom.
- I’m a Reiki Master.
- I’m an educational consultant and a childbirth educator.
Three characteristics that describe you
Three greatest passions
- Seeing the good in people when no one else does.
- Helping people.
- Loving life.
What is your favorite book? favorite show? favorite movie? favorite song? (Choose at least one)
My favorite book is “Return to Love” by Marianne Williamson.
My favorite movie is “Bruce Almighty.”
My favorite song is anything by Mary J. Blige.
Besides the work you do with HomeStart, what is your favorite cause?
If you had one wish for the world, what would it be?
That everyone could learn to respect the earth.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
Anyone who is interested in energy healing and anyone who provides social services to low-income clients.
Interview by Alexander Grant
Introduction by Sara Ortega
Edited by Valerie Enriquez