“It really makes me think about my own life and my possessions.”
There are many things about her job that cause Melissa Jameson to evaluate her personal life and her priorities. As Community Connections (Revelstoke) Society’s Housing Outreach Worker since January 2009, Melissa knows all too well how delicate the balance can be between having a home or not. A small change in a person’s economic fortunes can tip that balance into homelessness.
“Homelessness is a much bigger issue in Revelstoke than most people realize,” said Melissa. “There are many people who are part of the hidden homeless, people who live in their vehicles or couch surf. I’ve met people who’ve lived in woodsheds, garages, or in homes where there was no running water. And, there are also many people who are at risk of homelessness, especially since the recession hit. Revelstoke has a very limited pool of affordable housing, so if someone does lose their home, there are few options.”
The lack of affordable housing makes Melissa’s job difficult. “A room in a house rents for $500 or $600 a month, which doesn’t leave much left over if you’re on income assistance. Some of my clients have brain injuries which lead to misunderstandings with landlords if the client won’t share that information. Other clients have been blacklisted because of previous run-ins with landlords. I listen to a landlord’s concerns and recognize that these are valid. I also ask for their input on solutions. Sometimes, I step in as a mediator – one client was always late paying his rent, but it turned out his paydays didn’t match when the rent was due. It was simply a case of changing the date the landlord gets paid.”
Melissa brings a unique set of skills to her work. Before starting with Community Connections, she was a print journalist and she also holds a masters degree in professional communication specializing in inter-cultural communication. “I know how to listen – which is so important – and I also know what questions to ask.”
Melissa will often run into clients after they are housed. “This means we continue our relationship and, if something doesn’t work out, they still feel a connection with me. I spend Friday mornings at the local food bank and chat with people who come in. It’s a good way to interact with clients on another level.”
Melissa is often struck by the sense of community that exists among Revelstoke’s homeless population. “It’s amazing. They’re totally in need and still they think of others. They’ll give me tips on who else needs help. It really makes me think about my own life and my possessions.”