Meet Simpson’s New Shelter ManagerPosted on December 10th, 2015
When you meet Robert Hofmann, one of the first things he will tell you is how privileged he feels to have a job that enables him to connect with and get to know people from different life paths. Robert has been involved with Simpson Housing Services for eleven years and recently became the shelter manager.
“I started as an overnight volunteer in 2004 and then became an intern before joining the paid staff,” says Robert. “I’ve always been aware there were homeless folks that are part of our community and wanted to be more connected with those who are in the shadows. I wanted to be in a place where I could interact with them.”
Robert and the shelter staff spend the bulk of their day building and strengthening one-on-one relationships with the guests Simpson serves. “We are very relationship focused here,” says Robert. “As a smaller shelter, we have the luxury to really get to know folks and find out where they’re at. I believe the best way to support people is to be invested in them, build trust, and match them with resources to help them find stability and not fall through the cracks.”
People begin their journey with the shelter through the Monday night bed lottery done in coordination with two shelters: St. Stephen’s Human Services and Our Savior’s Community Services in South Minneapolis. “We do a random draw and provide 28-day stays to anyone who wants to come,” says Robert. On average 70 to 100 people show up each Monday night. In total, Simpson can provide 44 beds for men and 22 for women. “We usually have three times as many people that come as beds available,” says Robert. We have a conversation the first night someone is here,” he says. “We’ll get the basics of their situation and then begin working on finding resources to get them stable and into housing.”
Some guests arriving at the shelter are more resistant than others about talking with staff. “Many have trauma from being routed around big systems,” says Robert. If someone does want help staff can talk with them about resources to help them move into housing. “We’ve got folks who may be homeless for the first time and need a quick hand up before they get into the cycle of living on the streets,” says Robert. Some may have a job but may not have the literacy or skills to look for an apartment on their own. Some have spent their whole adult lives in homelessness; perhaps they are disabled or unable to work and have complicated needs to address.
Simpson’s philosophy is to address housing first before working on other issues. “We believe housing is a human right and we want to resolve homelessness regardless of what is going on in someone’s overall situation.” Robert says someone is much more likely to work on other issues in their life if they have a home base, someplace they feel safe and can close their door at night and have some privacy; a place to be at home. “We believe everyone deserves to have a quality of life that doesn’t involve sleeping in a church basement.”
While the shelter officially opens at 5 p.m. each evening, staff is available in the afternoons to meet with clients outside of shelter hours. Once the shelter opens staff get everyone checked in and distribute beds. Dinner is served at 7 p.m. “By the time we can sit down and do advocacy with our guests it’s later in the evening,” says Robert. The shelter also invites former guests to come back and have dinner. “We serve more people than actually sleep here, over 100 per night. We want people to feel they can remain a part of this community, that they have friends here,” says Robert. “It helps us keep in touch so if someone’s having problems or struggling, we know about it before they actually end up homeless.” Robert finds that guests often tell other folks what they’ve been able to do. “Community is really one of the biggest things people have going for them especially when they’re in circumstances like these, where they’re marginalized,” says Robert.
About half the guests at Simpson are working or actively looking for employment. They rise early and catch the bus to a job where they work all day and return to the shelter at night. Others go to drop in centers around town or the library.
While Robert is new to his leadership role at Simpson Housing, he credits former shelter manager Brian Bozeman for his mentorship. “I learned how to relate to folks from Brian,” says Robert. “Being able to meet people where they’re at is something you have to learn and I learned a lot from Brian. The way he guided everyone here at the shelter and recognized their strengths is something I’m trying to emulate. We worked together for 11 years and sometimes when I’ve faced a tough decision I’ve asked myself, ‘What would Brian do?’ He was a really great mentor.”
Robert believes people who are experiencing homelessness are part of our community, not a separate community from the people that live in the neighborhood. He also recognizes the importance of having a diverse staff. “It’s important for our guests to know they can come here and our staff will understand what they’re dealing with,” says Robert. “We’ve got an awesome team of staff and volunteers. People can come here and know they will make a difference.”
Working with Simpson Housing is part of Robert’s identity. “I’ve been here a long time,” he says, “and I’m proud to be a part of this organization when I’m on the clock and when I’m off. If you see me on the street I’ll be rockin’ my Simpson hooded sweatshirt, even on weekends. I’ve got the Simpson bumper sticker on my car and people do ask me about it.”