In my past six weeks at VSH, overall I have not noticed any glaring problems or issues in terms of leadership, operations, or culture that has a major impact on the effectiveness of the organization. It is a small nonprofit with relatively few departments and staff members, so each person’s role is clearly defined; thus there is very little stepping on toes or unclear hierarchy. The main aspect that could be improved is actually the hiring of additional staff, such as a grant-writer, the addition of which would free up more of Chris’ time to focus on things like donor relations.
Over the past few weeks, I have conducted interviews with residents of VSH properties on their lives, both before and after entering the VSH program. They have told me complaints that they have with the property, so actually the main areas I see for improvement are outside of the administrative headquarters.
Operationally speaking, it’s difficult for them to tell whether this is an apartment complex or a supportive program. In many aspects, the residents have freedom – they have their own studio apartments, cook for themselves, can come and go freely, etc. Yet they must also sign in and out, cannot have overnight guests, and are often summoned to the office via PA system. Several have expressed that they wished it would be one way or the other, and not advertised as an independent living situation when in reality they often feel micromanaged and in some senses disrespected. This could be addressed by better messaging from the outside about the exact rules that accompany living in VSH, stressing that it is permanent supportive housing, not just permanent housing.
In terms of leadership, there have also been complaints about the staff at the property not necessarily always seeing the residents as competent adults, because they have experienced homelessness in the past. Essentially, the staff members are sometimes perceived as exercising their authority without regard to the residents’ independence and time. One resident told me, “if you’re not a helper, this is not the place for you. You have to be that way to work here.” Clearly, this was prompted by experiences with staff members who do not come across as primarily working to help. Another resident mentioned being informed of workers coming to her apartment the morning of, instead of several days notice; as someone with PTSD and paranoia, she hates the idea of someone in her space without her being there, and she had a doctor’s appointment during the scheduled time. If she had been notified, she said she would have moved her appointment to accommodate the workers’ visit and been able to feel more comfortable in her apartment after they left. This should really be addressed, because the residents should be the first priority of the staff. They should be treated with consideration and with respect for their time. If the property were to create some way for residents to lodge complaints, especially anonymously, this could really help residents feel heard and for changes to be made that improve their experience at the property.