Profile: Chris Hernandez, Chandler Blvd. Tiny Home Village case manager
July 8, 2021
Chris Hernandez is part of the staff who provide social services at Chandler Village, a transitional housing community made up of 40 Pallet shelters in Los Angeles, California.
Chris Hernandez freely admits he likes to talk. He puts people at ease and effortlessly connects with others. It's a crucial skill in his role as one of two Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission case managers at Chandler Blvd. Tiny Home Village in Los Angeles, California.
"As a young kid, I was always very verbal with people. I was always near people," Chris said. "I've worked in hospice. I've worked with quadriplegic, paraplegic people. I've worked with people with cancer. I was a nursing assistant. I worked in a nursing home. I just love being around people and helping people. And I think I'm good at it."
Chris is part of the staff who provide social services at Chandler Village, a transitional housing community made up of 40 Pallet shelters. A safe place to sleep with a locking door and on-site case management is an essential component to Pallet shelter villages, which are designed to be a stepping stone into permanent housing.
Someone experiencing homelessness on the streets would typically have regular appointments with their case manager at an office. This location may be far away from where they live. But at Chandler Village, Chris is just a few steps away.
Day in and day out, people living at Chandler Village see Chris. He builds trust with them at their pace. His constant presence reassures folks that he's not going anywhere.
"When somebody comes in, I'll just say, how are you doing? I'll be your case manager. Is there anything that you need right now? Is there anything I can help you with? We're actually serving breakfast or lunch. Would you be interested in any of that?," Chris explained. "Honestly, it just comes natural to talk to these guys. You can tell a lot of them were hesitant at first. Even the smallest things, it brightens up their day."
Chris is there to listen and guide residents through the steps they need to rebuild their lives. One of the first tasks is to help them secure documentation such as a birth certificate or social security card. Chris recounts helping someone get a new Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card after their previous card was stolen several months before moving into Chandler Village. The card allows people to access Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to buy food.
"For us, it's simple. For them, it's their life. He was a little hesitant with me. We started talking daily. I helped him get his card. They actually sent the replacement card," Chris said. "I sat with him. We called to see his balance. It was over $800. And he was so, so happy with just that one card. For him, it was just everything in the world."
Residents at the village are also connected with a housing navigator and mental health services if needed. They can apply for benefits such as Medi-Cal, no-cost, or low-cost health insurance. Navigating the various systems can be complex so having a guiding hand is helpful.
Life at Chandler Village isn't all about working towards the next step. Finding joy is also vital. Residents play games, celebrate holidays, and recently assisted artist Sara Rose with a mural. She designed it for the site in partnership with Muralism, a nonprofit organization dedicated to showing how people with special needs can do productive, valued and beautiful work in their communities. Chris says many people staying there already knew one another from living in the same area on the street, so the new location is an extension of relationships already built.
Before working at Chandler Village, Chris was an intake coordinator at a substance use treatment facility. He describes the work he's doing now as amazing. He began working there when it opened in February 2021. He’s invested in folks moving onto permanent housing and a few have. He’s just as excited as the resident when everything comes together, “it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Chris is happy to be a part of a solution to the growing homelessness crisis. He wants the community to have faith in the work they're doing. As much as he's helped others, he's also learning.
"Never judge anybody by who they are and how they live because that could be me one day," Chris said. "I've just learned how to appreciate the little things. Even a toothbrush, or having a place to go to the bathroom, or even a roof over my head, a lot of these guys, they didn't have that. Cause they lived in tents. And a lot of stories these guys would tell us, it breaks my heart. So, I do appreciate everything that I do have."
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