First Person: Working With San Diego's Homeless Population
February 6, 2017 1:32 p.m.
Paul DeLessio, director of coordinated services, St. Vincent de Paul Village
Related Story: First Person: Working With San Diego's Homeless Population
Many people try to avoid the homeless people they see each day while others spend their lives working to help the people who find themselves on the bottom of society. At Project homeless connect a resource fair for homeless and vegans we spoke to a social worker was been working with the homeless for the last 16 years. As part of our first-person series he told us about his work and why he does it.
My name is Paul and I work at father Joe's villages, which is outreach assessment center for homeless men and women. At the end of every single day, we close the day center at 4:00 and we have to clean up. We have for hundred or more people come through every single day getting their mail, taking showers, doing their laundry, getting case management. So it gets really messy at the end of the day. The clients and the staff all clean. We get to interact with the clients on a one to one places where we are not providing them services just being in the moment with the clients. A lot of the times, I tuck my badge and because when you are cleaning you do not want it swinging around in the clients may not even know you are staff member so they will talk to you and you get to know the individual on a personal level. Getting to know somebody that struggles really helps you work with people lot better and helps you understand the barriers that people are facing every day. The social worker you are always working on change. That can be difficult to after day after day when you're always working on change because change is difficult. Our clients especially it is difficult trying to deal with alcohol and drug issues are trying to get off the street. So when you can spend time with somebody and get to know their story on a personal level, it is very valuable and it really reminds us why we are in this profession.
Seeing people get a job, found housing, is rewarding and in case we going. When I come in contact with them after I left and to see them enjoying things that we take for granted everyday life events -- I've had one client was joy in life was to go get some fast food at the end of the day and come home to his own apartment and turn the TV on and watch a baseball game while eating a burger and fries and to be able to see that joy that that gave him that most people take for granted, is what keeps me going. Although this is just basic thing's that we do every single day that you don't get to do when you're homeless. What gets me down is definitely not the clients working with the clients every day it's seeing the lack of resources, walking downtown and seeing people stay on the streets while they sit on a wait list to get into emergency housing. Seeing the willingness of the client to change your lives but the lack of resources for those clients.
During the work that I do has definitely made me more grateful for my family. A major cause of homelessness is lack of social support. My family we were in no way rich. I grew up on a small island back in new England, but my family gave me every opportunity to do anything that I wanted to do in life. I originally got into social work through the U.S. Navy. So I was serving aboard a helicopter carrier in Somalia. We were the first ship to get there and Somalia was in total anarchy. There was no food, no water, no power but everybody had a weapon. You saw families that were trying to live a normal life in the struggles that they were having finding the resources or even the ability to live a normal life, raise her children, work at a job, anything ago we went in and built resources for people and we did it in a very blind way. We would build a water plant and it was in the wrong place because it was in one things territory so they would blow it up. I realized that to help people you had to get to know them and get to know their needs and that they knew the solutions for their own problems and help them get those things. When I got out of the Navy and back to San Diego, I met my wife and she really motive made it -- motivated me to go to school and get my Masters degree and work at father Joe villages to make permanent changes in people's lives on people's time with their own ideas and their own motivation. There is a great misconception about homeless individuals. I see it every day when people come and volunteer at the village. They might have a perception of what a homeless person is and the first person that they me at the village on the street they say this person is an exception to all of these other homeless people that are out here. The second person they meet is an exception and the third person is an exception and then they find out that a lot of the people out there are very exceptional people. There is no stereotype. This is what caused your homelessness. Everybody has a unique story and everybody has accomplished many things in their lives and fallen on hard times. The one thing that I would like for people to take home and realize about people that are currently homeless is that you are seeing the symptoms of both the socio-economic issues that got the people there and you are seeing the symptoms of somebody living on the street and having to deal with the conditions day in and day out of being outside. What really impacted me when I was younger working as a case manager with homeless individuals was that we would get their transcript from high school. We would get their high school diplomas another thing so they could use those to apply for work. Some of them had pictures on them. The at pictures of them when they were children. So if you looked at these kids, you would never say this person and equate negative trace to them. If you could see them as a child and see them as a person that was in the Navy, see them as that athlete in high school, all of these things, which you don't realize it at this person is still with ER. If you can see that, you would see how all of us are a common thread in all of us can be homeless and how all of us need to support each other through that.
That was Paul DeLessio . That first person feature was produced by Brooke Ruth.