New worker training leading to better care for homeless population

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New training aimed at delivering better help to the homeless population is seeing immediate results, leaders say.

This comes as the city of Albuquerque announced a leading nonprofit in addressing homelessness, Heading Home, has signed on to run the shelter at the Gateway Center.

Heading Home’s new training is critical to helping our homeless population, the nonprofit said.

The training focuses on recognizing the trauma nearly all homeless people have experienced, as well as building relationships and avoiding using restraints.

Dallas Grassbaugh, a case manager with Heading Home, knows better than most the trauma many people without homes have faced. 

She said she was a human trafficking victim for eight years, starting when she was a teenager.

“It was dehumanizing. I was less than a person. I was sold multiple times,” Grassbaugh said. “I’m able to use my experience now to help others.”

She said she’s motivated to prevent others from becoming a victim.

“The homeless population is one of our most vulnerable populations, and traffickers target vulnerable populations,” she said.

Grassbaugh and dozens of other workers who help the homeless are getting a new three-day training course from Heading Home.

“I’m thrilled,” CEO Steve Decker said. “This is vital.”

He said it’s critical to earn trust with those they serve, and this training provides a new way of interacting.

“We focus heavily on building healthy relationships and recognizing that until someone feels safe, they’re not going to come to you for help,” he said.

One focus is to avoid anyone from getting restrained while still keeping everyone safe.

No federal, state or local entity requires training like this. The nonprofit had to do this on its own, and leaders said they’ve already seen results in less than three months.

“Countless fights have been broken up. We’ve had individuals who historically have been asked to leave the shelter, and instead they become a vital part of helping other guests acclimate to the shelter. It makes such an impact,” Decker said.

Heading Home runs three shelters in Albuquerque, soon to be four at the shelter at the Gateway Center. Now, its workers, including two of the employees who’ve been doing this work for more than 20 years, are better prepared than ever before.

“This training gives you a full view of all the different ways that you can work with people based on their individual experience,” said Susan Wells, a supervisor at an Albuquerque confidential family shelter.

“Helping us develop other tools to help us as the staff to overcome some of those barriers that we might face,” said Brian Thompson, a supervisor at an Albuquerque confidential family shelter.

These workers said this training should be happening all over the country for anyone who spends time helping those who are homeless.

Heading Home reps said they’re growing so fast, they’re going to keep doing this training monthly for new employees, for city employees and for anyone else who wants it. It’s free, and anyone who wants to make a difference can sign up.

The nonprofit also has many job openings.