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Ostrander frequently stands outside emergency shelters at 5:30 a.m. to hand out his cards. He and colleague Doreen Marie Donovan use all sorts of methods to slowly build connections with clients.
Donovan sends birthday cards. She meets people for coffee. She has taken clients for a ride in a car — a “normalizing activity” many of them haven’t done in years, she said.
Most of what the case workers do is reliably show up, become a confidant, provide peace of mind so clients can start to open up and see hope. “When you went to your first day of school, were you scared?” Donovan said. “It’s hard to do new things and you need mom there at the bus stop.”
Usually, clients come in to meet their case workers and if they don’t show, that’s that. The Top 51 workers are much more insistent.
Zach Johnson, a Top 51 case worker at the Salvation Army, said, “For us, if our appointment doesn’t show up at 3 [p.m.], we go looking for them until 5 [p.m.].”
Catholic Charities Housing First program manager Chris Michels said, “A lot of the clientele feel like they’re invisible, [that] ‘if I don’t show up here people won’t care.’ It’s empowering to them to have someone care.”
With their smaller caseloads, the workers have the flexibility to spend a lot of time with individual clients — or to give the clients space.
“We’re just spending time with them. It’s like what makes any relationship good — to take the time,” Johnson said. He cited a recent success: a client who wasn’t having coherent conversations with anyone. Johnson worked with him. The man who is now preparing to file for disability benefits. “To me, that’s monumental,” Johnson said.
Lisk had plenty to say about Ostrander and how he has helped. “If I have any trouble, I go through him and things get taken care of real fast,” Lisk said.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747