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Career Story: Housing Coordinator For A State Mental Health Authority

Housing Coordinator For A State Mental Health Authority

Job Title: Housing Coordinator

Type of Company: I work for a state mental health authority.

Education: BA, Sociology, Brandeis University •• MPP, George Washington University

Previous Experience: I worked for two years as a housing advocate (or a housing search worker) for a contractor for the Department of Mental Health before starting work on my graduate degree. While still in grad school, I interned for the US Interagency Council on Homelessness and the National Housing Trust.

Job Tasks: Much of my job involves passing information from one party to another, following up to make sure things get done, performing some analysis and research for my supervisors and providing technical assistance to a wide range of people. I write some documents which contribute to how programs will be run, or how contracts will be bid. It is very important to understand the differences between different types of housing, particularly how they are funded, and also how different systems (housing, mental health, social security, etc) interact with each other.

Most days I spend part of my time at my desk, writing emails and making calls. I also attend many meetings throughout the region we serve, dwelling mostly on issues that pertain to the homeless, new housing resources and work groups. In addition, I often tour our housing programs with our inspectors, checking for improvements or violations. I also spend a part of my day investigating new resources, based on notices I receive, or doing research on the internet. Some of this information I distribute to other parties who I think would benefit from it.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is having a lot of flexibility in my schedule, being able to pursue projects which I personally find interesting, and sometimes having the opportunity to improve the housing situations for some of the people my department serves.

The worst part of the job is often being assigned to aimless projects whose goals are unclear, or to projects of dubious value. I do not supervise staff or control any contracts, so it's hard for me to implement changes.

Job Tips: Be sure to get some direct service experience before you take an administrative position. Often, administrators do not understand the fine details of situations "on the ground" and their lack of understanding can make for bad policy. In addition, be passionate about "helping people" in the broadest sense of the phrase. This is not a position that yields immediate (or even notable) results. Change takes time. Patience, and not becoming too frustrated, are important. Also, strong communication skills are incredibly important. You will be interacting with many people in local and state government; private landlords; housing authorities; non-profit and for-profit housing developers; people in desperate situations; people with a lot more knowledge than you and others who know very little about housing. Confidence is important, but not over-confidence. This is a position where your ability to perform improves with time, where it takes at least 2 years to become "proficient."

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