The final fortnight of the internship has arrived, kicking off with a meeting with my supervisor where I admitted, “looking back over the last two months, I’m not really sure if I’ve done anything useful for you.” That got a laugh, and she assuaged me that in putting together my last project over these two weeks, that I would understand my works use better. I’ve learned a ton, I don’t have any doubt of that, but between all the flow charts and strategic plans and weekly memos, I feel as if I’m leaving Wake County Housing with more questions than answers. Two months is too short a time, though, to really implement anything significant, and certainly too short a time for a change process to even begin to work for the organization. Not to mention the learning curve at the beginning of the summer.
One of the reasons I’m wary of the value of my contribution is I can’t really put into words what I’ve done. Not that I don’t have words, that’s never a problem, but that my descriptions don’t really translate what I’m working on to others, or even to myself. I’m not sure if you all, as readers, really get what I’ve been doing for Housing. So, now that we’re approaching the end, let’s try to sum up what this whole summer has been about.
Wake County Housing has a pot of money, some of which is raised from taxes, but most of it is received through federal HUD grants. This pot is used in the form of vouchers (similar to Section 8) to house those who are vulnerable to homelessness, and almost all of these recipients have some other handicap: they have a mental health condition, or substance abuse (or both, called dual-diagnosis), and/or they may have AIDS/HIV, and/or are probably chronically homeless (which has a specific HUD definition). These individuals are evaluated by a non-government agency to need additional assistance to not only get housed but maintain that housing. So, Wake County provides a housing voucher and the individual is connected to a “provider” who supports the tenant in maintaining their home. This model of homelessness assistance is called “supported housing” but also follows the “housing first” model that I mentioned way back in June. The provider can be thought of as a case manager, for those familiar with social work, but their title is not always case manager. You see, we’re beginning to get into the weeds already, and words mean one thing, but also don’t mean that thing. Oh yeah, this whole voucher program is called the Wake County Rental Assistance Housing Program or RAHP.
But my job specifically these last two weeks, and hopefully I’ve been building to this all summer, is looking at RAHP internally, the division of responsibilities, the paperwork processes, and trying to figure out how to modify that division and those processes to make everything work smoother and more efficiently. From an initial view, RAHP seems essentially a glorified accounting process, where we’re distributing vouchers, payments, contracts, leases, etc. But our rental assistance team members have to not only be familiar with county, state, and federal processes and regulations, but also must communicate with tenants, providers, and landlords. Our employees function as mediators, accountants, case managers for housing issues, and customer service representatives. They’re juggling all of these official and unofficial responsibilities, while trying to serve one of the most vulnerable populations in our society. And here I am, trying to untangle all of their tasks and bureaucracy so we can reorganize to help us serve that population better, reach more of those people. Just attempting to understand all of the layers has taken most of the summer, and if I had 10,000 words I may be able to relate that investigation. I don’t know if it would keep your attention though. And anyway, the clock is ticking down for me to wrap this experience up, and put all of the work of this summer into some sensible order. I’ll let you know how successful I am in that summer summary.