Safe Places to Live
Zori Rodriguez has seen many changes during the year she has been executive director of SAVE Inc., the organization that serves the housing needs of individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS.
One of the biggest shifts she has seen is the growing number of residents benefiting from voucher programs, which help SAVE Inc. provide housing assistance to people outside of the SAVE-managed properties.
“In the months ahead, SAVE Inc. will add additional housing vouchers to the homeless programs to help those living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS find and maintain safe and stable housing,” Rodriguez said.
“Since 2008, SAVE Inc. has expanded its services by 30 percent, reaching roughly 125 additional clients and their children or elderly dependents,” she said. “We’ve grown to provide housing resources for people with and at risk of HIV and AIDS to almost 700 individuals and families a month. We might house some of them on our properties but the majority of them are on voucher programs, where they wind up paying no more than 30 percent of their income for their rent.”
Rodriguez said the voucher programs also help people live in homes of their choice.
“We have people in 15 counties on both sides of the state line. I sat in on an intake of a girl who was 18 years old. She had been diagnosed four months ago and kicked out of her home, which is appalling, and she was there with her boyfriend, and all she kept saying was ‘Can you help me find a place in Grandview because I want to finish high school.’ So it really is of their choosing.”
The need for SAVE’s services is still great. “Several months ago, we had one opening in one program and we had 53 referrals for one opening, so we couldn’t house 52 people. And these are case managers who send the referrals to us. These case managers are giving us the list of their folks who have the most need and have all the documentation ready and all that they have before they can move into a new place. And yet we couldn’t say yes to 52 people.”
SAVE Inc. has 75 properties in the midtown area of Kansas City for their residents who are not using the voucher programs. “I think that the people that live on our properties, from what I see, like having that sense of community, that people watch out for each other, welcome each other,” she said.
“Some of the folks we get on our properties have been homeless for an extensive amount of time. I was talking to someone yesterday who had been homeless for 10 years before she came to us. She wanted a place where she felt she might get more support and that her landlord might be a little more understanding. Because if you’ve been homeless for a long time, you don’t think about how to pay your bills, or the utilities or those kinds of things, so they might want somebody who is just a little bit more understanding.”
Rodriguez said, “We require that all of our clients, everyone that we serve, have a case manager. They can have a case manager at a community health center, they can have a Ryan White case manager, but they have to have case management services. Because what we know is that, while housing is incredibly essential for people’s stability and for their health, if they don’t have that support around them for other things, then things will fall apart on them. If somebody calls us and says they want help, we’ll say, where do you live, this is where you can get a case manager, you can do it pretty quickly, and ask them to send us a referral.”
Before starting as SAVE’s executive director, Rodriguez was the health disparities manager for the American Academy of Family Physicians, where she helped the group better serve underserved populations. She has a master’s degree in community psychology and bachelor’s degrees in psychology and Spanish, and she’s also a licensed clinical social worker.
Rodriguez has lived in the Kansas City area for 10 years and before that, she was in Denver. She was raised in northeastern Ohio. She said with a laugh: “It was a mono-lingual household -- Spanish. My parents were immigrants. My father has a fifth-grade education; my mother has a seventh-grade education. They didn’t have a chance for much more. I know what it’s like. I do understand the need for just the opportunity to improve.”
Rodriguez said her knowledge of Spanish has helped a great deal in her job at SAVE. “I know that we have a growing number of Latinos and actually mono-lingual Spanish speakers, because I’ve been called to help.”
Rodriguez said that about a year before she joined SAVE Inc., the mission was changed to include the words “at risk” in addition to those living with HIV and AIDS, and that allowed them to serve more people.
“I think that gave some more leeway to the prevention piece of it,” she said. “Because housing really is prevention. If you have a safe place to live, and you don’t have to engage in risky behaviors to have a night’s stay in a place or have other issues going on around you, you’re more likely to better take care of yourself and your family.”
Throughout the changes, SAVE maintains its core principles.
Rodriguez said that she discovered one of these principles even before interviewing for her position, when she researched the organization by investigating the website and talking to other people.
“The fact that the words ‘with dignity’ are in the mission… [I thought> ‘I need to check these people out.’ Because it was important for them to make sure that people are treated with dignity, so much so that they put it in the mission statement. And I tell you, it’s amazing. I have never heard a staff member talk to anyone, a vendor, a landlord who is being ridiculous, anything, anyone with anything less than dignity or respect. And I walk through and I can hear most of the conversations over here and I never hear anything less than that. And it makes me feel good about being here.”
Rodriguez said that recently, a master’s student in social work conducted an independent and confidential client satisfaction survey for SAVE. “We were pleasantly surprised by the results,” she said. “The survey of 303 respondents (a 55 percent response rate, which is pretty good) showed that 96 percent of clients felt comfortable asking for additional help or services from SAVE Inc. and 98 percent felt satisfied with the services they currently receive from SAVE Inc. And almost all respondents (98.3 percent) strongly agreed/agreed with the statement ‘I am treated with dignity and respect by staff at SAVE, Inc.’ It made me smile!”
SAVE, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2011, has launched a new online monthly newsletter called SAVE INK.
“We had a print newsletter, although it hadn’t been very active for a while,” she said. “We really wanted people who know about us to know what we’re doing, and know how they can help us.”
The online newsletter will feature resident stories, information about staff, or items the organization is looking for in terms of donations. Rodriguez said that many of their residents are starting over again and need everything from furniture to toiletries and toothbrushes.
“We’re looking for two sponsors per month who can have their logo, their information and their link on it.”
“We don’t want our donors and our people who know us to only hear from us when we’re asking for money,” Rodriguez said. “We want people to know what we’re doing and how their contribution, their attention, their volunteering is helping the people we serve.”
The newsletter, Rodriguez said, will continue the dialogue with supporters. “People need to remember that this is still an issue. Sometimes it’s easy to forget for a lot of folks. And I like it. It’s important to me to know that their good will is being utilized, is being appreciated. That we continue to fight the fight.”
SAVE Inc. is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization. To learn more about SAVE Inc., visit www.saveinckc.org.
Corroboree Moves to the Park
SAVE Inc.’s 17th annual Corroboree fundraiser, which will be Sept. 10, will feature a change of venue. This year’s Corroboree will be in the City Market Park in Kansas City instead of the zoo, where it’s been in the past.
“That’s the big change,” said Zori Rodriguez, SAVE’s executive director. “I think most everything else is the same in many ways. After 16 years, you kind of get a zap in your arm or a little refresher. We did a survey two years in a row. … A change in venue was one of things that most people said. … ‘The zoo is kind of out there,’ and ‘you get there and you’re stuck’ -- these kinds of things.”
Rodriguez said the more central location would make it easier for people north of the river or outside the city metro area to participate.
Dirty Dorothy will be emceeingwith two bands. In addition to the great food, drink and silent auction, she said, there will be a new live auction this year.
Corroboree in the Park
6:30-10:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10.
For tickets or information, visit www.corroboreekc.com.