Manhattan Emergency Shelter workers fill many roles

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Jeni Mitchell, client services director at Manhattan Emergency Shelter, assists the homeless of Manhattan to find permanent housing. (Austin Fuller | The Collegian)

Jeni Mitchell, director of client services for Manhattan Emergency Shelter Inc., said she never expects a routine day working at the shelter.

“There’s never a down moment, really,” Mitchell said. “It can be very unpredictable. You never know what you’re walking into in the morning. It’s not the typical, ‘I’m going to open my email. I’m going to return some some phone calls.’ You’re working with people and their needs have to come first.”

Mitchell said she has worked at the shelter for about eight years. Through these years, she has worked with many clients at the shelter to help them find solutions to their housing needs.

“I’ve seen things that just make me feel challenged, but there are times where it can be very rewarding,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell and other workers at the shelter work a variety of jobs to help the shelter’s clients, she said. Besides being a case worker, Mitchell also enforces the rules of the shelter for those staying there and supervises the night staff, as well as works with the rehousing program.

“We all kind of wear different hats,” Dene Kaster, grants and finance officer of the shelter, said.

Everyone fills many roles in the shelter, Kaster said. Just as Mitchell does more than assist clients as a case worker, Kaster not only manages the grants and finances, but also helps take care of the immediate needs of clients.

“I fill in as necessary,” Amy Odgers, volunteer and donations coordinator for the shelter, said.

Not only does Odgers schedule volunteers at the shelter, she said she also manages the donations that come in and serves as a greeter at the front desk.

Though everyone does their part to help, Mitchell said she and another case worker split duties when meeting with clients. Mitchell is in charge of handling male clients and clients with disabilities.

“Our main purpose is to house those in need and connect them with services that they might qualify for,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes people don’t know what they qualify for.”

It is important to the shelter to help people learn what their needs are and how to come up with permanent solutions to them, Mitchell said. Clients can qualify for a variety of programs, including veterans’ programs or benefits regarding mental illnesses.

“We’re not here to just to house them,” Mitchell said. “We’re here to help them as well.”

Mitchell said she helps residents at the shelter obtain employment and permanent solutions to their housing needs. Her and the shelter’s main goal is to get the residents out of the shelter and in their own homes within 45 days of checking in, but the actual duration of the process depends on the client’s circumstances, she said.

Generally, if the person is able, Mitchell said the shelter tries to help the person find a job and start to save up money while staying at the shelter.

“(Mitchell) is a really good mentor,” Odgers said. “The residents learn a lot from her.”

According to Mitchell, the shelter works with all people even if they have disabilities or families to take care of. The only people not accepted are registered sex offenders. Mitchell can help the residents obtain the services they need due to the number of contacts she has, Odgers said.

“I’m not the huggy-feely type,” Mitchell said. “I’m more of the let’s-get-things-done type.”

Mitchell said the toughest part of her job is making hard decisions for the good of the shelter. This can be difficult for her, especially if children or clients with disabilities are involved.

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