Results from The ATLESH Project

Without a road to recovery, struggling individuals tend to remain mired in maladaptive behavior that strains public systems.

As an instructor preparing inmates to test for their high school equivalency diplomas, I noticed that recidivistic men were the prevalent students. Earning a GED was a chance to return to civil society. Several took it. During tangents about due process or while waiting for a guard to guide us back to our cement-separated lives, our conversations often returned to the conditions of imprisonment at the Muscogee County Jail in Columbus, Georgia.

Many complained of overcrowded dorms and backlogged courts. Their discontent did not surprise me.

Among the general population, incarceration rates are three times higher today than they were in 1980 (Pettit & Gutierrez, 2018). The calamity of mass incarceration has variegated causes, one of which is recidivism. Within three years of release, over two-thirds of prisoners are arrested again; within five years, approximately three-quarters of released inmates return to a life of confinement (Durose, Cooper, & Snyder, 2014). This unfortunate state of affairs inspired the establishment of SafeHouse Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit founded in 2009 to reduce recidivism in the Columbus area.

A decade later, SafeHouse Ministries continues to provide spiritual guidance, parenting classes, twelve-step support, and educational instruction to incarcerated men and women. In addition to services behind the barbwire, the ministry has evolved into an umbrella organization with two transitional living facilities, an outpatient substance abuse program, and a day service for homeless individuals.

This evolution meets two important challenges. The first is homelessness. On any single night in 2018, around 552,830 people slept without a home (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2019). Georgia accounts for only 1.72% of the homeless population in the United States, yet nearly 49% of individuals experiencing homelessness in the Peach State are unsheltered (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2019). In response, SafeHouse Ministries offers the Grace House for men, Trinity for women and children, and the day shelter—the SafeHouse—for anyone without a place to go, seven days a week, from seven in the morning until two-thirty in the afternoon.

The second critical need is rehabilitation from substance abuse. Nearly 19.7 million Americans over the age of 12 suffered from a substance use disorder in 2017 (Bose, Hedden, Lipari, & Park-Lee, 2018). During that year, the same year that SafeHouse Ministries established its intensive outpatient substance abuse program, Tomorrow’s Hope, over 192 deaths from drug-related overdoses occurred every day (Scholl, Seth, Kariisa, Wilson, & Baldwin, 2019). Now approved by the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles and listed in the Transitional Housing for Offender Reentry (THOR) Directory, courts from around Georgia have begun to send drug offenders and addicts to Tomorrow’s Hope as a condition of probation.

The present study sought to provide leadership with actionable insights to promote the burgeoning of SafeHouse Ministries. A description of major categories that emerged in interviews with current clients and recommendations on how to improve services follow. Adoption of these insights might improve the position of the organization as a leader in faith-based remedies to recidivism and relapse.

Method


A qualitative design relying on principles of grounded theory (Corbin & Strauss, 1990; Glaser & Strauss, 1967) guided The ATLESH Project. Participants were recruited at the end of therapy groups or during leisure activities. Semi-structured interviews focused on positive and negative experiences at SafeHouse, inquired about previous episodes of homelessness and active addiction, and elicited feedback on how the SafeHouse met, or failed to meet, the client’s needs in a difficult moment. Follow-up questions probed interesting digressions. The Executive Director and Chief Operating Office of SafeHouse Ministries approved the protocol of this project.

Corbin and Strauss (1990) advise using explicit procedures to ensure a qualitative design is valid, credible, and reliable. The present project employed a reflexive journal (Fassinger, 2005) to document the questions, doubts, and assumptions that arose during data collection and analysis. Through this journal, it became apparent that time constraints eliminated certain features of grounded theory from the present study. For example, while previous interviews determined some follow-up questions and steered participant solicitation, the constant comparison method was largely informal (i.e., data were not coded until all interviews were completed). I discuss these limitations in another post. A project repository housing deidentified transcripts, the reflexive journal, coding notes, and other open materials served as an audit trail (Morrow & Smith, 2000).

In terms of reflexivity, qualitative researchers should locate their social positions in relation to participants to demonstrate potential biases (Charmaz, 2017). I served as a substance abuse counselor-in-training for the duration of this project. One responsibility entailed writing weekly reports to the Georgia Department of Community Supervision for clients who were court-ordered to treatment. Four of these clients chose to participate. It is possible their responses were more favorable to Tomorrow’s Hope, the division of the ministry in which I work. It should be noted that I am in recovery, have been homeless, and attended a residential drug rehabilitation program.

After reading an Informed Consent form, nine participants gave verbal consent and sat for interviews that lasted no more than 25 minutes. Happy Scribe, an Internet-based software application, aided in the transcription of recorded interviews which were promptly deleted to maintain confidentiality. Maximum variation sampling (Creswell, 2007) requires the purposeful selection of participants with the most divergent backgrounds. Most respondents were White and two were Black. Six males, of which four were current residents of Grace House, and three female residents of Trinity were recruited. Ages ranged from late 20s to early 60s. Participants varied in their level of program completion and use of services. For instance, one client was in aftercare at Tomorrow’s Hope and another had recently been released from prison. Interviews were conducted until new data did not contradict previous responses (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). All data were coded and analyzed in a trial version of ATLAS.ti 8 for Windows 10.

Results & Recommendations


Seven major categories emerged from interviews with nine clients currently using services at the SafeHouse. The consistency of codes across interviews determined which categories were retained. Figure 1 shows how superordinate categories organized initial codes. In addition to research on other transitional living programs and sober living communities, informal observations from my employment with the ministry inspire some of the recommendations offered.

Figure 1. A visual network of the codes that comprise the seven major categories emerging from qualitative analysis. Conceptual similarity established the groupings. Two codes (Positive Review and Lifelines) were distinct enough to serve as categories. Aside from the largest category, Safe & Equitable Operations, the number of associated codes is not associated with the importance of a category. For instance, four codes comprise Community Member but most of these codes are poorly grounded and conceptually sparse. Produced with ATLAS.ti 8.

Figure 1. A visual network of the codes that comprise the seven major categories emerging from qualitative analysis. Conceptual similarity established the groupings. Two codes (Positive Review and Lifelines) were distinct enough to serve as categories. Aside from the largest category, Safe & Equitable Operations, the number of associated codes is not associated with the importance of a category. For instance, four codes comprise Community Member but most of these codes are poorly grounded and conceptually sparse. Produced with ATLAS.ti 8.

Safe & Equitable Operations


Operations at the SafeHouse must depend on clear rules, consistent enforcement, and professional standards. Clients identified an unsafe environment, rule socialization, waste, professionalism, unclear structure, a need for younger staff and better food.

Unsafe Environment

Certain locations or times are not conducive to recovery. Six of the nine participants reported witnessing drug deals, drug and alcohol consumption, physical altercations, and sexual harassment on the SafeHouse campus. The homeless clients on the first floor are less stable and several, if not most, are reported to be in the active stage of their addiction. Female clients are especially vulnerable to solicitation from drug dealers attempting to convert clients into customers:

Client 0049: The only thing I don’t like is a lot of stuff that goes on outside. But, like, the outsiders bring in the drugs or trying to come up to us knowing we’re in a program.

Interviewer: So the clients downstairs that are not part of Tomorrow’s Hope or Trinity.

Client 0049: Yeah.

One participant identified the SafeHouse manager as a firm enforcer of sobriety on campus. His duties may limit his ability to observe intoxication or make regular rounds around the building. It is recommended that the manager train other staff on the first floor in conflict resolution and assertiveness. Fewer drug deals and less inebriation may result if an hourly observation schedule is instituted in which staff walk around the campus, observe clients, and redirect problematic behavior.

Stealing and drug use occur at both transitional living facilities. Theft is difficult to address since, according to one participant, “some people use, ‘oh, I’m going to look through the clothes,’ to go through her stuff that’s in the kitchen.” The Trinity manager might set specific times and observe clients who wish to go through donations. Both locations could deliver sanctions if clients enter an apartment other than their own. At the Grace House, a client identified major transgressions that staff should prioritize, such as sneaking women into the facility and selling drugs to peers. He perceived that staff “mess with everyone,” even those that are “doing what they’re supposed to do.” Another described the Grace House as having a “chain gang atmosphere” which weakens the incentive to be civil. Bed bugs are issue at the Grace House, too. In addition to creating a clean community dissimilar from jail, managers should rank sanctionable offenses and respond accordingly.

Socialization of Rules

Clients struggle to adapt to rules. One woman harped on her peers in active addiction to dismiss her inability to find a job. In general, clients reported wanting more autonomy before they had earned it, citing peers who appear to be treated differently. Although deflection and defiance may be features of many client cognitions, one solution might be a chart or board in a common area showing the phase of each client. Both Grace and Trinity have four phases: one, get documentation; two, obtain income; three, save money; four, find permanent housing. A spectacle of this phase system during weekly house meetings might motivate clients to adjust quicker. It should be noted that one client welcomed a sanction she received for failing a drug test: “that helped me because that was my lesson learned.” Consequences need not feel good in the moment to be appreciated in hindsight.

Waste

Services can be more efficient, “particularly down in the dining room.” Staff should be cognizant of clients who eat bits of food, throw the rest away, and go back for seconds.

Professionalism

Staff vary in their degree of training and professionalism. All participants offered feedback on staff performance indicating the importance of ministry representatives. At Grace House, clients described the house managers as amateur correctional officers who “blurt your business.” This violation of confidentiality often accompanies “harsh,” authoritarian tones “for no apparent reason.” One explanation might be that SafeHouse hires recovering addicts with criminal backgrounds. Certain team members may be institutionalized:

“[…] they’ll come out with their chest sticking out [laughter] and uh, it’s just, manchildy” (Client 0042).

All three female participants respected the house manager at Trinity. They described her as “very supportive.” She serves as a “mentor” and presents as approachable. She also has been with SafeHouse Ministries since its inception. The discrepant opinions about the house managers are problematic because managers of transitional living facilities define the therapeutic value of these communities (Cahn, 1970). House policy becomes an extension of the manager’s personality (Baker, Sobell, & Sobell, 1976). Instead of replacing these house managers, it would be beneficial to offer training in communication and peer support.

While personality is important, some do not mix. One client described the Director of Tomorrow’s Hope as intruding “into people’s business too much.” Yet another recounted how the same Director rescued her from a drug-infested hotel, littered with “needles and bags,” at 6:00 AM. It surprised the client that the Director “showed up.” This action, while a violation of professional distance, affected the client tremendously. Another counselor is just as contentious. One woman described this counselor as displaying “favoritism” while another thought of her as a “real blessing.” In general, clients cherished when counselors help “break it down for us.” They identified the self-disclosure, I-statement usage, and unconditional positive regard as preferable qualities. Trained counselors who respect 42 C.F.R. Part 2 generate trust by maintaining confidentiality. It may benefit other staff to attend quarterly trainings held by Tomorrow’s Hope.

A final issue arose around a specific case manager. Her name continually arose during check-ins and informal conversations leading up to the present study. One client discussed her frustration with finding a job. The case manager presented as aloof and unapproachable. She was perceived as having too much power while offering too little support. Her part-time status may impair her ability to provide necessary services:

“Be here for us everyday for when we need you. Not twice twice a week, five minutes, to just holler at us. And it ain’t even been twice a week. I probably talked to her maybe 30 minutes in the whole three months I’ve been here” (Client 0047).

Overall, the SafeHouse team is “less judgmental” that other faith-based organizations. A homeless client raved about the Sunday Service, citing the variety of pastors as a major asset. Pastors exude positivity when they perform daily devotions. Thus, some staff are highly trained while others, who may hold positions of power, require more professional development. Reduction in recidivism rates is improved when programs hire, train, and supervise high-quality staff (Makarios, Lovins, Latessa, & Smith, 2016). Inconsistent professionalism suggests that SafeHouse would benefit from annual appraisals, regular trainings, and a revised supervision system. For instance, leadership could institute an annual bonus on a sliding scale contingent upon both supervisory ratings and client feedback; deficits in either would detract from the bonus.

Unclear Structure

Over half of the clients expressed frustration with the program structure. It is ambiguous as some rules are unenforced. The ambiguity may be one reason that clients struggle to adjust. At Grace House, one client reports that staff admonish him, “you better go to class or you’re gonna get—they’re always threatening to kick you out.” This empty threat deteriorates rapport. The rules appear fickle at best. Clients report chores being ignored and consequences balked at:

“[…] every time they say you want to shut the TV off and the computer room down if never did the dishes they eat off of, they haven’t done it yet” (Client 0043).

Other clients report being compelled to pick up the slack. Some rules seem arbitrary. One client reported an inability to wash clothes even when the machines were not being used. Rationales for rules should be offered and, when infractions occur, consistently enforced.

Clients report that classroom management in Tomorrow’s Hope can be, at times, poor. Side talking distracts from getting “down to the bottom of it.” It is important for facilitators to maintain an atmosphere of recovery. At Trinity, clients report a sense of being cheated when their peers, who actively use drugs, appear to receive no consequences:

“OK, well, whether you got a job or you don’t, but if you keep failing drug tests, you get patted on the back” (Client 0047).

The inconsistency of sanctions might be the culprit. During staff meetings, a common question is about sanctions. Staff struggle to remember the exact number of infractions, which likely translates into the client perception of inequity. One remedy might be having staff record sanctions in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) as they are decided. For example, the restrictions of most sanctions are stipulated during weekly staff meetings. If a member of the meeting recorded these sanctions promptly as a case note, then program structure might improve. Clients would be less inclined to boost performance in the short-term as a means to manipulate staff members. Most mental health professionals would agree: if it is not documented, it did not happen.

Younger Staff

One client mentioned that older staff “can’t move like a young person” when they are “getting food and getting furniture.” A mentorship program may be helpful. Staff could recruitment younger men and women from Grace House and Trinity. It would be most effective if these roles lasted over a finite period (i.e., rotating monthly). A possible incentive might be claims to special food or the ability to list oneself as a volunteer on a resume. The latter might be especially beneficial to clients with long periods of incarceration in their employment history.

Better food

The desire for more appetizing meals. Three of the participants described concerns over the food during lunch. One mentioned a lack of hairnets and another described the unruly atmosphere. Leadership might require staff to be ServSafe certified. Recently, Krispy Kreme began to donate bags of doughnuts to the SafeHouse. There may be other restaurants, especially buffets, willing to provide food donations which might improve perception of meals.

Therapeutic Product


Additional modalities and scheduling could strengthen the core curriculum of Tomorrow’s Hope. Clients identified individual counseling, irrational thinking, the curriculum, and active learning when discussing the substance abuse program.

Individual Counseling

Clients would benefit from one-on-one counseling on a frequent basis. Although two counselors typically work the same shift, few clients consistently receive individual sessions. Four of the nine clients saw this as a deficiency.

One, a homeless man who primarily used services on the first floor, digressed about his childhood during our interview. He spoke at length. The client reported an absence of staff on the first floor to talk about deeper issues. Staff should spend more time in conversation with homeless clients. Since volunteers at faith-based halfway houses for recently released offenders report immense intrinsic rewards (Denney & Tewksbury, 2013), the ministry might consider the recruitment of peer mentors to visit the SafeHouse intermittently.

The other clients were enrolled in Tomorrow’s Hope. One mentioned that some memories are too painful to share in a group setting. He identified frequent individual sessions at a previous drug rehab he had attended. Two others expressed a preference for processing their thoughts in dialogue with one counselor. Currently, the division of labor at Tomorrow’s Hope is suboptimal. Counselors would benefit from a schedule that rotated group work with individual counseling. For example, a counselor might facilitate groups on Mondays and Wednesdays while meeting with individuals from her caseload on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Dispel Irrationality

Staff can dismantle irrational beliefs that hinder progress of treatment goals, such as finding a job and saving money. Two clients mentioned excuses for not finding work, rationalizing the difficulty of the task. Staff might want to offer different rationales for finding work and saving money. For Columbus-based homeless clients, saving money is about finding a place to live in Muscogee County. For those court-ordered clients from other jurisdictions, is authoritarian articulation adequate? The do-it-because-I-said-so appeal is simple, but long-term prosocial behavior derives from intrinsic motivations. It would be wise to assemble a list of reasons, perhaps from Biblical scripture or using principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), that justify employment.

Curriculum

Improvements to the curriculum should focus primarily on emotional, social, and spiritual development. Three of the clients mentioned a preference for learning to cope with unmanageable emotions. One client complained about the Financial Peace lessons:

Client 0045: […] that money, uh, management thing.

Interviewer: Yeah?

Client 0045: You know what I’m sayin’? I ain’t gonna lie to you. Cause right now, like others was sayin’, “we’re in recovery.”

Interviewer: Mm hm.

Client 0045: You know what I’m sayin’? And I’m broke as a fool right now—I ain’t even got a dollar to put in that account.

Life skills are appropriate if they are immediately applicable. Some, such as saving for a 401k, are beyond the grasp of most clients. Many of the life skills that are accessible—such as exercise and healthy eating—are covered in the Whole Health Action Management material offered on Thursdays. It may be appropriate to devote Wednesday, a time slot devoted to life skills, to interpersonal process or CBT. Clients appeared to benefit from CBT. One mentioned how it taught her to “[b]reak it down, thought by thought, dig deeper for the main—the core of the problem.” It may be appropriate to offer CBT training to counselors at Tomorrow’s Hope. Affordable online options are available.

Even when material is well-received, clients may forget it. Sanchez-Craig and Walker (1981) found that men and women forget a significant portion of the coping skills and problem-solving techniques within one month of program graduation. SafeHouse clients are likely no different. One practical intervention would be to begin every week with a recall period in which clients describe what was learned in the week prior. Counselors could also have clients write a short paragraph after each lesson to describe the key takeaway points. These retrieval techniques improve long-term retention of material (Abel & Roediger, 2017; Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014).

Active Learning

Clients have a chance to practice skills or roleplay, such as in educational skits. Although only one of the nine clients remembered the skit during the interview, the consensus after each skit was favorable. “Everyone,” he said, “[t]hey just really got into it and it was good.” Counselors who offer alternatives to the read-and-discuss model of groups may impart important lessons, unify the group, and enhance memory.

Community Member


Clients learn to become productive, socialized members of the wider community capable of living stable lives. Participants identified a greater sense of self-efficacy, trouble with entering society, a need for legal assistance, and poor frustration tolerance.

Self-efficacy

SafeHouse programs increase clients’ sense of autonomy. Three reported learning coping skills. Clients report that at least some of the content taught at Tomorrow’s Hope is helpful. It is recommended that counselors continue to reassess the material. Are the early recovery skills from the Matrix accessible to this population? A client from the Grace House appreciated how staff “be on you tryin’ to, you know, keep you […] going.” Engaged clients are motivated to apply what they learn in the classroom when house managers are other staff serve as coaches.

Entering Society

Some services assist the client to return to the community from an institutional setting. For instance, the computer room was identified as a conduit for connecting to cultural experiences after a period of incarceration. Downstairs, clients learn important social skills, like patience. One client requested basic job training at the SafeHouse, something akin to a paid internship. One could envision a rotating job program in which clients earn work experience and a small payment in exchange for completing tasks as a contractor. These tasks might include restoration efforts around the church.

Frustration Tolerance

Clients report low frustration tolerance, an affective state cultivated by beliefs that one should be spared discomfort or offered access to undue privileges (Harrington, 2011). Indeed, a common slogan in twelve-step fellowships speak to the understanding that feelings are not facts, an idea that clients in early recovery struggle to adopt. A female participant expressed this sentiment succinctly:

“But everyone else around me is getting jobs, well, she got me this job or he got me this job. OK. Why can’t I get a job?! And I’ll work harder than a man. Why can’t I get it? (Client 0049)

Here, the underlying belief is that the world is to blame for her inability to find employment. Possible inventions for frustration intolerance include teaching clients to remain in uncomfortable situations until their anxiety has decreased, disputing irrational beliefs (e.g., such as when a client rejected walking around Columbus with the claim, “[…] if it was any further, I couldn’t do it”), or assigning behavioral tasks that provide contrary evidence to beliefs about emotional discomfort (Harrington, 2011). Counselors at Tomorrow’s Hope could offer these assignments during individual counseling as part of a client’s treatment plan.

Social Support


Group interventions should be expanded to enhance the role of social support and teach clients how to form functional, resilient, and reciprocal networks. Presently, the benefits of group dynamics are limited to morning devotion, therapy, and mandatory twelve-step meetings.

More Group Experiences

Eight participants recognized the sense of camaraderie developed during group experiences as a restorative condition. Charismatic, genuine group leaders facilitate powerful dynamics. Devotions unite the clients such that the “dayroom be actually kind of packed in the morning.” Even when pastors drop-in to “give us plants—that’s real positive.” One client confessed his excitement to return to Tomorrow’s Hope on Mondays because groups are perceived to be rewarding. Replication of these positive moments might be achieved through partnership with the Department of Counseling, Foundations, and Leadership at Columbus State University. Masters-level students in the clinical mental health counseling program could be recruited, perhaps via collaboration with professors, to offer impromptu groups in exchange for documented clinical hours or elective credits.

The garden initiative at the Grace House functions as a means for some clients to contribute as teammates. A community garden on the main SafeHouse campus may be helpful, too. Other team experiences might be “a kickball game against the Trinity.” A homeless client raved about the success of a church-sponsored barbecue. The establishment of a kickball-barbecue would not only unite the clients but might also serve as a moment of publicity. One can imagine a kickball-barbecue pitting SafeHouse against Valley Rescue Mission or Salvation Army being equally successful.

Peer-led activities might enhance the therapeutic impact at both transitional living facilities. Clients who participate in peer-support communities are less likely to relapse into substance abuse or homelessness (Boisvert, Martin, Grosek, & Clarie, 2008). SafeHouse could institute a senior peer system in which clients vote for a peer-leader each month from a panel of staff-nominated individuals. Nomination would be contingent upon phase level and general conduct. The senior peer would be responsible for facilitating nightly house meetings, weekend check-ins, and extracurricular events. For example, at the Trinity, volunteers host a game night on Fridays; the senior peer might do something similar. Staff could support this initiative by requiring participation, leading a monthly transition ceremony, and offering perks (e.g., extended curfew). Check-ins, Double Trouble in Recovery, and the twelve-step meeting on the first floor are other moments that foster a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood.

Family

There is a desire for an ability to connect to family, biological or logical. Beginning with the latter, clients report that their sense of brotherhood and sisterhood erodes when dynamics change or peers relapse. A senior peer system might buffer against this deterioration. When other clients use the services as designed, they become role models who “really […] motivate.”

In terms of biological family, one client complained that he was unable to see his kids. This was due to his inability to secure a weekend pass. For new clients, weekend visitations may be possible. It may be important to encourage clients to ask their family members to bring them to church as a means of visiting without a pass.

Empathy

Mutual empathy is one reason why group experiences are powerful. Examples include check-ins at Tomorrow’s Hope and the twelve-step meeting on the first floor of the SafeHouse. Clients learn to ask others for help:

“OK, this happened and this is what’s going on, this is how I’m feeling. This is like…this is what I need the feedback on” (Client 0044).

Some clients lacked social support in earlier chapters of their lives. One man never learned to “empty out [his] trash.” Check-ins at Tomorrow’s Hope frequently emerged in conversation as a method to motivate clients to “keep going in [their] recovery.” The availability of the experience in memory is one explanation. Check-ins occur daily, so the activity is easily recalled. However, if SafeHouse replicates this experience in other areas of the ministry, clients may benefit.

Additional Services


Partnerships with other organizations could bolster the SafeHouse’s mission while providing opportunities and referrals.

Additional Services

Many of the requests that emerged revolved around reducing barriers to reentry and increasing comfort. One participant observed that older clients lack computer literacy. A simple solution would be posting flyers about Columbus Technical College or the Goodwill Career Center around the SafeHouse to help clients become aware of free options. SafeHouse could offer an “incentive program” where clients could earn “points.” These points could be spent on raffles. Client self-esteem and motivation might increase if a volunteer of the month were commemorated on the first floor.

Comfort requests may be beyond the fiscal scope of the ministry; it cannot be all things to all people. One client wished for a complete remodeling of the SafeHouse, complete with a shower service. He mentioned a desire for more cookouts. On the first floor, the television hardly ever shows the news. The Ledger-Enquirer may be willing to donate a free newspaper.

Other comfort requests include hygiene kits with “razors and deodorant” and Deep Woods OFF. It would be interesting to consider how SafeHouse might collaborate with a sporting goods store, Tracker Supply, or even S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc. to receive donations of OFF. This harm reduction approach acknowledges that some clients are unwilling or unable to expedite the end to their homelessness. If framed appropriately, corporations may agree to this kind of donation as part of a public relations campaign.

Finally, the substance abuse program could attempt to follow-up with clients. In passing, I heard the Director of Tomorrow’s Hope mention that efforts are made to contact discharged clients. It is unclear how these attempts are documented. Outpatient clients whose counselors follow-up via telephone inventions are more likely to remain abstinent and less likely to be readmitted to an institutional setting (Horng & Chueh, 2004). Documentation of this task and its delegation to a counselor with less responsibility may ensure its completion.

Partnerships

SafeHouse offers a haven when homeless shelters are closed, encouraging the homeless population to congregate away from public spaces. The ministry could better promote the services at other locations (e.g., the shower program at Open Door) via flyers. In addition to the mentorships, paid internships, and student involvement previously mentioned, SafeHouse should develop reentry pipelines with employers. Some employers with high turnover, such as Alatrade, may be willing to give priority to clients of the SafeHouse if an agreement can be reached. The Executive Director mentioned a potential partnership with Abel Electric. There may be other organizations, such as landscaping, moving, or cleaning companies, willing to hire clients who perform these activities for a set period at the ministry (i.e., volunteer only). That is, companies may agree to show a hiring preference for clients who receive a favorable recommendation of an in-demand skill. In return, the companies might reserve employment slots for SafeHouse clients. A system like this might qualify for funding from the Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) program.

Lifelines


Five clients identified essential services that meet their basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, safety, and communication (i.e., computer room, free phone service). Among two residents at Grace House and Trinity, shelter was the first benefit that came to mind. The male participant reported that “while I’m in Tomorrow’s Hope, I have nowhere to go.” It could be that Grace House is viewed more favorably when clients have no other living arrangements available. Then again, this particular client may express gratitude more readily. Speaking on behalf of his peers who primarily use services on the first floor, a homeless client observed:

“Uh, they– a lot of them livin’ out on the streets and they can come somewhere and rest with the air on” (Client 0051).

“Nourishment” is important at all locations. The offers of sustenance remove a basic stressor from the lives of participants. At Grace House, the staff “make sure we eat”:

“I don’t care if you’re in the bed, sleep, somebody fixin’ to come in there and get you up, ‘it’s time to eat’” (Client 0045).

Opportunities to consume meals enable clients to pursue higher-order goals in the computer rooms, such as looking for work or communicating with loved ones via Facebook. Case managers assist clients with Social Security claims. For one client, the opportunity “to work and save money” is superior to local shelters, such as Valley Rescue Mission. Clients also enjoy the obtaining items from the clothing closet which, unlike other charities that charge a nominal price, are completely free. SafeHouse excels at providing these critical services.

Positive Review


The importance of the concerns raised ought to be interpreted in the context of overall positivity. The first response offered by four of the clients described SafeHouse as “nothing but positiveness.” Clients are grateful for the opportunity to reassemble a life worth living. The atmosphere of recovery at Tomorrow’s Hope is particularly cherished:

“I can’t wait to show up. I hate it when I got a doctor’s appointment and I’m not here” (Client 0042).

The “blessing” of SafeHouse inspired one client to request the organization’s expansion. He would love to see a similar effort in his hometown. Even the first floor is, for the “[m]ajority of the time […] positive.” These praises are important because a welcoming, nonjudgmental environment is a prerequisite for therapeutic growth (Rogers, 1961). It should be noted, though, that positive evaluations of clients do not predict length of stay and type of discharge (Orford, Hawker, & Nicholls, 1975). Recently released offenders and individuals with substance use disorder may benefit most from clear limits and consistency to counter the learned inclination to manipulate authority figures.

Motivation to change is paramount. Future studies of client evaluations could consider grouping the clients by their location on the stages of change model. Do evaluations differ significantly between clients at different stages (i.e., precontemplation vs. maintenance, etc.)?

Conclusion


The ATLESH Project attempted to satisfy two primary objectives. First, it highlights areas of improvement grounded in the experience of everyday clients. Second, it offers suggestions that might polish service delivery and, consequently, increase the reach of the ministry. Client perception is critical in the branding of the SafeHouse. If the organization is held in high esteem among clients and the wider community, then partnerships will expand, more individuals will benefit, and the ministry would be a competitive candidate for external funding.

Three limitations should be noted. First, as explained elsewhere, invoking grounded theory as a framework without strict adherence to the process resulted in an insufficiently rigorous design. The findings can be considered provisional and practical; however, they warrant further investigation. Second, my position as a counselor likely skewed the responses. An independent reviewer with limited client contact (e.g., Director of Development) would be more adept at collecting unbiased data. Finally, a reliance on client feedback alone results in an incomplete portrait of the ministry. A client who benefits tremendously from SafeHouse services may be incapable of expressing proportional gratitude. The present study does not, for example, situate the analysis in the context of statistics on discharge type, retention, and job acquisition. It also does not include a systematic analysis of observations.

Constant assessment unearths deficiencies and ensures progress. Future evaluations would benefit from interviews with staff, probation officers, and volunteers. Additionally, one might develop a questionnaire from the emerged categories and administer it to each client cohort. These findings would supplement monthly reports, augment marketing efforts, and increase donor confidence. SafeHouse Ministries is a critical infrastructure in the Columbus community. If program appraisals become a routine investment guiding the distribution of funds, then the organization would be one step closer to expanding its mission beyond the Chattahoochee Valley.

References


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Cory J. Cascalheira
Doctoral Candidate in Counseling Psychology

Research interests include identity, oppression, and resilience among marginalized populations, especially sexual minorities.

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