When people walk into Oak City Cares in Raleigh, a safe place to stay is usually just one of many things on their list of needs. Alliance Community Liaison Dave Mullin is one of the people there to connect them with organizations and resources that can help.
Oak City Cares is a hub designed to provide, under one roof, connections to coordinated services for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and help them create a path to stable housing and renewed hope. “It’s a collaborative, integrated healthcare model that everything in healthcare these days is aspiring to be,” Mullin said.
The facility, which is unique in North Carolina, was created by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh in partnership with Wake County, the City of Raleigh and the Raleigh-Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness.
Mullin, who also manages the Wake Network of Care, a comprehensive directory of services, organizations, and supports throughout Wake County, has worked with Oak City Cares three days a week since it opened its doors in April 2019. He serves as a “front-door” to services, working to connect guests with the help and resources they need to plan their exit from homelessness.
Sixteen different providers are represented at Oak City Cares, offering medical assistance, behavioral health care, veterans’ services, outreach, employment services, coordination of care and support. Guests can access showers and laundry, a hospitality area with coffee, computers, and cell phone charging stations. Meals are also offered on weekends. While COVID-19 drastically curtailed services inside the building, the center is slowing reopening to guests now that restrictions have been loosening.
Mullin said he typically meets for about an hour with guests who are referred to him and builds a relationship with them. “We talk about the various things going on in their life, and probably 85% of that is around housing.” He works to connect them with a shelter or, if possible with family and friends or other available natural supports in their lives. (Before the pandemic his work was all onsite, but he is currently meeting virtually with people because of restrictions.)
Housing is usually just the most immediate of many needs people are facing when they arrive. “I try to assess as we’re talking what it is that they’re looking for, and I try to meet that either onsite or if necessary, tell them what agency is going to be able to help them in the community,” he said. “If they need clothing, if they need food, if they need a bus pass, if they need prescription payment assistance, if they need domestic violence resources, whatever the particular issue is, I look at the person as a whole person,” and not just someone who needs a place to sleep, he said.
Mullin, who has two master’s degrees in clinical pastoral counseling and patient counseling and has worked for many years in the mental health field, said his experience is very helpful when guest is in crisis and may need help de-escalating.
“I’ve worked with homeless people for a long time and what I’ve found is that the biggest reason people are homeless is because of loss,” he said. “You know, they’ve lost a relationship, they’ve lost their health, they’ve lost their home, they’ve lost their job, they’ve lost sobriety, they’ve lost mental health, whatever the loss is, that’s a precipitating factor in someone becoming homeless.”
Most people facing homelessness have also experienced “a pretty traumatic life along the way,” he said. “So whenever someone comes and sits in a chair with me, I want to give them respect, I want to listen to them. I want to treat them with dignity and care, I want them to feel like they matter. Because the biggest complaint I’ve ever heard throughout my years has been that homeless people feel invisible. No one cares about them, no one thinks about them, no one looks at them, they feel like they are nothing. I want to give them the sense that they are someone, and they’re important to me.”
Mullin said his most important goal is to instill hope in people. “I’m not going to be able to fix their lifelong issues, and I’m not going to be able to put them into a nice apartment that day. I’m going to sit there and work with them on a plan for housing, whatever the need is, I’m going to hopefully be able to get them connected with some other things that will enhance their life. My goal with each and every person is to have that person leave feeling a little bit better and with something in hand to show that our time together was valuable and they are valuable.”