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Hope amidst homelessness and the COVID-19 pandemic

Hennepin County, Americorps staff share their experiences serving seniors at hotel sites

June 2020

Hennepin County and Americorps members are working together to serve seniors experiencing homeless who are at high risk for COVID-19.

Staff are onsite seven days a week at three hotel sites across Hennepin County to support the overall health and well-being of hotel guests. The sites were set up to help seniors avoid exposure to COVID-19 and to connect them to more permanent housing.

Americorps is helping meet the demands of this operation, said Stacy McClendon, a Hennepin County employee who is supervising the Americorps members. Roughly 40 Americorps members of all educational backgrounds are working at the hotel sites.

Connection is key to serving the community

McClendon explained that people don’t need to be an expert in providing human services to serve their community. The biggest part of the job is showing up with compassion and willingness to help.

“We were looking for people who had energy and a breadth of life experience. You don’t have to be a social worker to be able to relate and be kind and compassionate to people staying at the hotels,” said McClendon.

Americorps member Jasper Corey-Slatau doesn’t have experience working with people experiencing homelessness, but has found it rewarding to connect with the hotel guests.

“I was kind of intimated at first because I haven’t had a lot of formal interaction with people from this background. The biggest thing was realizing that they are really nice people that have a lot going on, whether it’s hobbies or work,” Corey-Slatau said.

“There is someone here who is a writer who would bring us pages to read. I went into another room and saw a keyboard and music stuff and it looked a lot like my room,” he said.

Work benefits hotel guests, staff and community

The Americorps members are involved in day-to-day tasks, such as cleaning, serving meals, and getting essential supplies for hotel guests.

While these things are important to support the seniors’ daily health, Corey-Slatau has found a deeper meaning in this work.

“It’s not just helping these people here. This kind of service comes full circle and will help everyone in society if it’s done correctly,” he said.

Site supervisor Monique Drier-Sutton works with the Americorps members on a day-to-day basis. Her goal is to assign them to work that will give them experience, while helping fill the gaps in daily needs.

“I believe strongly in anything that can give experiential experiences to people. We are trying to tap into their creative energy and be able to use that on site,” Drier-Sutton said.

For Americorps member Matea Acero, the work she’s doing today will give her valuable experience in her future career as a dental hygienist.

“I’ve always wanted to work with people experiencing homelessness and am planning to work in a public health capacity of dental hygiene,” she said.

Lessons learned from this experience

McClendon also said that the county can learn lessons from this experience and apply those learnings to how it does business.

“One of the things about this work is that it’s constantly changing…we have been nimble as an organization to respond to needs,” she said. “For our larger work, those are lessons we can take back.”

She is thankful people have been readily available to prioritize the work and learn.

“The staff are willing to do whatever is necessary to support the health of the community. It’s been heartening to see how selfless people really are,” McClendon said.