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Meet Our Housing Specialist Team

The Housing Specialist team at Susan’s Place works day in and day out to move women from the shelter to independence. But that’s only a small part of their stories.

What does the phrase โ€˜end homelessnessโ€™ really mean?

Yes, it means creating and instating better policies that help people find homes, and keep them. Also, it means providing access to high-quality health care, so that people can stabilize their health and regain their independence.

However, these are all necessary steps towards one ultimate goal. Because to truly end a personโ€™s episode of homelessness, they must, of course, find a home.

For 200 women in the Bronx, that process begins at Susanโ€™s Place.

Susanโ€™s Place

Susanโ€™s Place is Care For the Homelessโ€™ (CFH) transitional shelter for medically frail and mentally ill women. The facility shelters 200 women and provides a wide range of support and counseling services tailored to the needs of each woman. In addition, the on-site CFH health center helps eliminate the barriers to care faced by many homeless individuals.

Every element works as a link in the chain. One that works to pull residents from the shelter to independent living.

The housing specialist team is an especially essential link in that chain. And while their name may indicate the focus of their responsibilities, their actual work involves much more.

What is a Housing Specialistโ€™s Job?

A housing specialistโ€™s job is first and foremost, to move their client out of shelter. However, that process is much more varied and complex than it appears.

Every residentโ€™s situation is different. They all have diverse needs and there is no one-size-fits-all model for permanent housing. So, housing specialists must consistently adapt to each situation to be successful.

For instance, one client may be ready to live on their own. While another may need to live at a scattered site or in supportive housing.

Supportive housing definition housing specialist.
Scattered site definition housing specialist.

โ€œOne thing I always ask the staff to focus on is the question: โ€˜What is the impediment to housing?โ€™,โ€ said CFH Director of Shelter Services, Simone Thompson.

Setting the Client Up for Success

Impediments to housing can take many forms. For example, one client might not have proper identification. Another may need a psychiatric evaluation. Itโ€™s the job of the housing specialist to ensure that these obstacles are handled with detail and care.

However, itโ€™s rarely just one impediment that obstructs the path to housing. Housing specialists must also compile applications that are complete with eviction histories, credit reports and hospitalization records.

Housing providers require interviews prior to granting vacant apartments and rooms. Many even necessitate multiple interviews. So, housing specialists must ensure that their clients are as prepared as possible for these meetings.

โ€œI make sure my clients have all their documents,โ€ said CFH Housing Specialist, Ada Ahmad.  โ€œIโ€™m very detail oriented and I always let my client know what I need. I tell them, โ€˜Iโ€™m going to work with you, but you have to work with me because weโ€™re becoming a team.โ€™โ€

โ€œSometimes I take my clients myself to their housing interviews, so theyโ€™re not late,โ€ added CFH Housing Specialist, Annette Bernabe. โ€œMaking sure that everything is in place ensures that we put them in a position to succeed.โ€

Because the smallest detail can mean the difference between finding housing and staying in shelter.


A housing specialistโ€™s success is also dependent on their relationships with various independent and government organizations. Unfortunately, homeless individuals are often discriminated against during the housing process.

However, these resilient women always find that attention to detail and persistence are the best counters.

โ€œThey have to give [housing providers] as few reasons as possible to turn their clients away,โ€ said Thompson.

What Makes It Worth It

These challenges are by no means without their rewards, though.

โ€œYouโ€™re making a difference in somebody elseโ€™s life,โ€ said Ahmad. โ€œMy clients cry when they finally get housing. We get pleasure out of what we do because this could happen to anyone.โ€

CFH Community Housing Liaison, Sharon Bowie specifically recounted the story of an older woman who had been having a particularly rough time.

โ€œShe had been at Susanโ€™s Place for 4 years after being at another facility for more than 7 years before,โ€ said Bowie. โ€œAnd she had grand mal seizures the entire time she was here.โ€

After one of those seizures, the Susanโ€™s Place staff had her taken to Columbia Presbyterian. The woman spent 3-weeks there and was taken to an assisted living residence for rehab.

โ€œA neurologist actually did a workup on her,โ€ Bowie recounted. โ€œHe let her know that she was qualified for a new procedure that would help with her seizures. They implanted something in her upper chest and gave her a metal wristband. So, whenever she felt a seizure coming on, she would swipe the band. Now itโ€™s been over 5 years without a seizure.โ€

Soon after her treatment, the woman left the nursing home. Sheโ€™s now living independently and looking to rebuild her relationship with her sons.

โ€œBut, she still remembers Susanโ€™s Place,โ€ said Bowie.

See Another Susan's Place Success Story

Building a Community

The housing specialist team was also excited to speak about the women who have left Susanโ€™s Place, but still come back to visit and speak with current residents.

โ€œWe have a few clients that come back,โ€ said Thompson. โ€œThey let [current residents] know that yes, it is frustrating, but be patient. [The housing specialist team] is going to help you get there.โ€

Returning residents also make efforts to return for the many workshops the team hosts.

โ€œItโ€™s great when we can have a speaker come who was a resident here,โ€ said Bernabe. โ€œThey empower other women. I remember I had a client that didnโ€™t want to share a living space. I had someone speak about her similar experience. So, when she left, a few women came up to me and said they were now willing to share.โ€

โ€œShe also said,โ€ continued Bernabe. โ€œโ€˜Ladies, donโ€™t buy plants and put them next to you! Youโ€™re not staying here!โ€™ It was great because people need to hear that.โ€


The housing specialist team has a job that is as difficult as it is delicate. However, they push through one bureaucratic road block after another and find housing for the women they serve.

Housing Specialists at CFH
Annette Bernabe, Sharon Bowie and Ada Ahmad. Not pictured: Allison Robinson.

Susanโ€™s Place opened its doors in 2008 and has housed an average of 100 women a year since then. Last year, the team successfully housed 118 women. That is the definition of โ€˜ending homelessness.โ€™

Their efforts are vital to both CFH and especially, to the women of Susanโ€™s Place. We thank them for their incredible work and encourage you to do the same.