This morning, I sat down with Jaime Ortega, a Senior Case Manager with Hands On Hartford’s Housing Services Program to find out a little about him and the work he does here. Since Jaime was young, he has had an interest both in social justice issues and in the arts. When he got his bachelor’s degree, he majored in film, but when it came time to think about a career, he wanted to do more hands on work helping people, and chose to get a master’s degree in social work. He has now been with Hands On Hartford for over 10 years and in that time has clearly made a huge difference in the lives of the folks we serve.
Jaime explained that his role as a senior case manager is to provide intensive one-on-one support to help individuals find and maintain safe and affordable housing. He sees his work as falling into three phases. The first phase is the “getting to know you” phase: finding out what a client’s past housing issues have been, what their housing goals are and what other issues or barriers in their life they might want to address. Phase two is finding housing that will meet a client’s needs in terms of location, cost, size and so on and helping the client to settle into life off the street. Phase three is ongoing. Jaime meets regularly with all his clients to help them stay stably housed, to teach them life skills and to work with them to achieve other goals around medical care, job training and employment and reconnecting with family.
In talking with Jaime, it became clear how challenging it can be for someone who has never lived on their own, to be successful once they do find housing. From learning to prepare meals, shopping on a budget, making medical appointments to dealing with landlords and utility companies, it’s all new, and part of Jaime’s job is to teach and act as a liaison to make the transition go smoothly. It’s also amazing to see what’s possible for folks once they do have housing. Once the burden of trying to survive day-to-day on the street is lifted, folks can start reconnecting and re-engaging with medical professionals, and thinking about life goals.
When I asked Jaime what he liked the best about his work, he said he deeply appreciates being able to connect with people on a human level, developing a level of trust and connection that makes this very intense one-on-one working relationship possible. And he loves to witness the moment when a client is handed the keys to a new apartment, and watch the way a life is changed knowing that he contributed to it.
When he is not working or at home with his family, Jaime spends time on a screening committee for Connecticut’s 30th annual LGBT Film Festival, which takes place in June. And if we play our cards right, we’ll put Jaime’s interest and background in film to good use making videos about Hands On Hartford to share with our friends.