We are pleased to introduce the newest member of our senior leadership team, Amber Michel, who is Director of Housing Services.
What is Housing Services?
At Guild, Housing Services (formerly called Integrated Services) supports clients with mental health, substance use, and housing needs through Supportive Housing, Housing Case Management and Homeless Outreach programs.
“Housing Services covers a continuum of care, from first interactions with an individual out in the community who is experiencing homelessness, to housing and then ongoing services,” Amber said. “Our Housing Services teams provide our clients with all that, while helping them reach their goals, manage their mental health and maintain stable housing. It becomes the foundation for the rest of their wellness journey.”
Within Housing Services, Amber described what she does as “systemic work.” That means trying to find opportunities to partner with other agencies, to partner with funders and to identify systemic barriers to the organization’s success. “My teams are great at what they do,” she said. “As a leader, the best way I can support them is to ensure they have what they need to do their job and clear barriers for them in whatever way I can.”
A Wealth of Experience
“I’ve been in mental health and in the nonprofit world for a long time,” Amber said. Earlier in her career, Amber oversaw residential facilities. “That gave me an understanding of what it can do for someone who is really struggling with their mental health to have a stable, supportive housing environment,” she said.
For the last five years, first at People Incorporated, then at Fairview, Amber led efforts in improving patient access to care, sometimes called patient navigation. This work helps people navigate the complex landscape of services and helps them to identify what care is best suited for their needs. “Mental health care and substance-use care is extremely difficult for people to navigate. Our goal is to make it easier for people to access services, regardless of where they are or what barriers they may be experiencing,” Amber explained.
The Need Has Never Been Greater
When Guild launched Housing Services with a mission to provide everything from housing to health to employment support, few agencies approached client care from a whole-person perspective. Today, connecting people to services that address needs in every area of their life has become the norm.
“Homelessness and mental health issues often occur together.” Amber said. “There’s been a very conscious push across the healthcare system to have mental health services, substance-use services and primary care medical services fully integrated because it’s the best thing for, for patients and clients and their outcomes.”
Although both issues are important, Amber feels strongly about the importance of housing as the foundation for meeting all other health needs. “Stable housing is life changing. People are able to get jobs, reconnect with family, and build social networks,” she said.
Challenging Times Call for New Approaches
Just three months into her tenure, Amber is still learning the landscape and getting to know her team. But she’s keenly aware of the biggest challenges facing Housing Services.
“One of the most difficult areas for Housing Services is funding – particularly how our services are funded,” she explained. “Unlike the other parts of the organization, Housing Services is almost entirely government-grant funded. That makes it hard to do long-term planning because you don’t know if a grant will continue from one year to the next.”
Hiring is equally challenging these days, not just for Guild, but for agencies everywhere, as was discussed in a recent Star Tribune article. “It’s really hard to attract people and pay them well, because the work is really hard,” Amber said. “We have a huge focus on recruitment and retention. And we’re doing a lot of staff engagement and leader development, especially for new leaders. They’re talented and they deserve that kind of investment in their professional development.”
A Glimmer of Hope?
Despite the difficulty with funding for housing, Amber sees some reasons to hope for a better future. “The conversation around housing and affordable housing in the U.S. is in a place that I’ve never seen before,” she said. “The social awareness of housing as a human right is getting attention now in a unique way. I think there’s a lot of community and social support that we can draw on to push for needed change.”
A recent addition to Medicaid coverage in Minnesota is another cause for optimism. “As of July, 2020, and for the first time ever, Medicaid in Minnesota covers services to support people obtaining and staying in stable housing.” That’s historical,” she said. “It’s a tiny amount, however. It’s not enough to financially sustain the services we provide. But it’s a start!”