Thao Costis – Case Management

Tony’s first stop in Houston on Valentine’s Day was at SEARCH Homeless Services.  He spoke with their executive director, Thao Costis, about the transformation they went through, aligning themselves with the regional plan, stopping services others were better at, and focused entirely on case management.  Thao takes us on a tour where we speak with their scattered site program, 1115 waiver program to house high users of emergency services, mental health jail diversion program, employment services team, rapid rehousing team, training department, and more.  They are very serious about being customer centric as a path to effective results.  This includes training in Stages of Change and Motivational Interviewing.  Finally, Thao talks about their funding sources and how Houston’s non-profits got on board with specializing in their strengths.  Tony even gets a little choked up near the end!


Tony Rodriguez:  I’m Tony.

Thao Costis:  Hi, Tony. I’m Thao.

Tony Rodriguez:  Thao, nice to meet you. I’m from San Diego. I’m homeless there currently. I’ve been on the streets for about four years. What do you do here?

Thao Costis:  So what do we do here? What SEARCH tries to do is engage people who are on the streets or find themselves in shelter, and then we help them move into housing.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh.

Thao Costis:  Get back to work and find a way to kind of get their health, their stability improved.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah.

Thao Costis:  And independent.

Tony Rodriguez:  Is this the only place in Houston that does this? Or are there other places that also do this kind of work?

Thao Costis:  So, SEARCH is relatively unique in the sense that our focus is purely around case management. People want to give food and when they think homeless, they think food and they think shelter.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, yeah.

Thao Costis:  And our approach has evolved beyond that. We started with a day shelter, a place where we offered food, laundry, showers. But mostly, it was about a connection to people–

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, it’s important.

Thao Costis:  Who need connection again. And I think that that’s the message that actually I’m trying to convey to people is that it’s about a relationship that individuals need in order to–

Tony Rodriguez:  It’s true.

Thao Costis:  Kind of reflect on what do they want for themselves.

Tony Rodriguez:  It’s true. It’s true because a lot of time with homeless, their safety net of people around them is gone.

Thao Costis:  Exactly.

Tony Rodriguez:  There’s nothing to– they can rely on.

Thao Costis:  Yeah. So we become that safety net. So what we have here is our team of case managers.

Tony Rodriguez:  Wow. There’s a lot here.

Thao Costis:  There’s a lot here.

Tony Rodriguez:  And they work in the other room too, huh.

Thao Costis:  Right. And this is really just the– a small group of us.

Tony Rodriguez:  Wow.

Thao Costis:  So this portion are our front line folks. So the outreach, mobile outreach, of course, so they’re not really here. <laughs> They’re out on the street.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, I was reading about that. That’s cool, I like that.

Thao Costis:  And that– [ph?] Yeah. So we work with the Police Department and with other agencies out in the community so that we can divvy up. Because Houston is so big that it’s hard for us to cover all of it. So a lot of times, the community, individuals would call us and say, “You know, I met this gentleman or his person who’s out in the street who’s panhandling,” or, you know, whatever they’re doing, and they are concerned about that person. So then we, our team, will actually go out and try to connect with them. And then we have folks that are trying to help people get disability income.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, that’s– Yeah. That’s a good thing.

Thao Costis:  Just dedicated to that. So Lila is on that team.

Tony Rodriguez:  I see.

Thao Costis:  And so they have expertise in knowing what Social Security and the system needs in order for somebody to get qualified. Because, you know, it’s so hard to get that.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. Yes. It’s difficult, yeah.

Thao Costis:  And then the rest of this team here are all of our case managers that are working in housing.

Tony Rodriguez:  Wow.

Thao Costis:  Some of our team members are working with people who are living in individual apartments.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, I see.

Thao Costis:  Scattered site in throughout the community. And then we have some team members who work with people who are living in clusters within housing complexes. Right. So, so Carrie, actually–

Carrie:  Good morning.

Tony Rodriguez:  Hi, Carrie. <laughs>

Thao Costis:  Carrie, this is Tony.

Carrie:  How are you?

Tony Rodriguez:  Nice to meet you.

Carrie:  Hi.

Thao Costis:  Oh, thank you.

Carrie:  Pleased to meet you, Tony.

Tony Rodriguez:  My pleasure.

Carrie:  So I’m the team lead for our Scattered Site program. We have a number of clients that are housed within the Houston area, so we have apartments throughout the community.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, I see. Mm-hmm.

Carrie:  As opposed to like a congregate site where people are all housed together. So on my team I have a number of case managers that support people to be living as independently as possible within the community.

Thao Costis:  We’re focusing on the chronically homeless. And we’re still as a community, Houston is trying to end chronic homelessness by the end of this year. So we’ve put over 3000 people in housing as a community. Veterans, we’ve placed over 4000 homeless veterans in housing.

Tony Rodriguez:  Wow. Chronic homeless is a year or more?

Thao Costis:  A year or more.

Tony Rodriguez:  With basically a disability or?

Thao Costis:  With a disability.

Tony Rodriguez:  What disability would you have to have for that?

Carrie:  Mental health, physical health, substance use.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yes, okay.

Thao Costis:  Yeah. Addiction is considered a disability.

Tony Rodriguez:  Disability, okay. In working as a navigator, what challenges do you face and how does it work out for you?

Carrie:  The challenges that we’re facing right now include connecting with clients, because clients may go MIA.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, yeah. <laughs>

Carrie:  For whatever purposes, so–

Tony Rodriguez:  That’s me.


Carrie:  Connecting–

Tony Rodriguez:  You can’t find me. <laughs>

Carrie:  And then getting a lot of the documentation.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, yeah.

Carrie:  To, like, for identification.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yes.

Carrie:  The documentation for chronic homelessness, because we need to prove that for– to HUD. And then the next step or kind of barrier is getting a housing voucher or finding apartments and if they [ph?] take clients that would have criminal backgrounds, may not have income, they may have evictions.

Tony Rodriguez:  So how do you when you’re faced with a client who has, say, an eviction or doesn’t have the documentation of being homeless for the length that they need to be, how do you overcome that?

Carrie:  So we are allowed a certain percentage of our clients to be self-certified.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, okay.

Carrie:  So they, clients can say, “Yes, I’ve been homeless.” And then we do a lot of advocacy for our clients with property managers. We may go out and meet the property manager one-on-one. We may bring the client with us. We just–

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, that helps to have back up kind of. <laughs>

Carrie:  Mm-hmm, yeah.

Thao Costis:  So the advocacy piece, it is so difficult because we’ve got, this is a relatively new, I mean, in the sense of the volume, of people that we’re putting into housing. And so we’re needing more and more properties to partner with us to allow people to live there. So as a community, we’ve worked on trying to find and create databases. You know, the County and the housing authorities have talked together about how can we put in the kind of information that allows us to know the types of landlords that are more willing to accept people with criminal records or, you know, whatever the condition or that they accept housing vouchers from the Housing Authorities. But then, we’re actually having to do it one by one, each of our case managers, right.

Carrie:  Mm-hmm. So the best resource are other people who have navigated and have worked with the property managers.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, I see.

Carrie:  So they say, “Hey, this property manager has worked really well with us. They may have a unit opening up.” So it’s connecting with the other frontline staff.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yes. Are there incentives for the landlords to do this? I know in California there’s–

Thao Costis:  Yeah. So that, that is the partnership that we have been able to create here in Houston. To be able to have so many people move into housing is a combination of HUD resources, HUD containment care dollars that we’re applying for. So Carrie’s team is being funded by HUD homeless service funds. And then we get the Housing Authority to pay for the rent. And now we’re trying to find medical and health partners to create an integrated care model. And that’s something that we have with other teams, but we haven’t yet been able to create with our Scattered Site. Thanks, Carrie.

Carrie:  Oh, thank you.

Tony Rodriguez:  All right. Thank you, Carrie. Thank you.

Carrie:  Thank you. Nice meeting you.

Tony Rodriguez:  My pleasure and thank you.

Thao Costis:  So, so yeah. I wanted you to meet also Laura here. Laura.

Tony Rodriguez:  Hi, Laura.

Laura:  Hi.

Thao Costis:  You saw me coming. <laughs>

Tony Rodriguez:  It’s my pleasure.

Laura:  It’s a pleasure to meet you.

Tony Rodriguez:  And nice to meet you. I’m going to stand kind of close because I have the mic.


Thao Costis:  Yeah, yeah.

Laura:  So I’m the team lead for our 1115 waiver program. So it’s a Medicaid waiver. We provide permanent supportive housing, the case management surrounding it, for high users of emergency room services.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, yes. Yeah.

Laura:  So our goal is to maintain housing but also to reduce ER usage. So we have, we’re an integrated care model. We partner with Healthcare for the Homeless. And so we have a nurse, a community health care worker, and then case management on site.

Tony Rodriguez:  We have that same problem in San Diego. They’re the highest users of– they use the most money. <laughs> Yeah. A small percentage of the homeless, though.

Thao Costis:  Ten percent.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, ten. Yeah.

Thao Costis:  Yeah.

Laura:  Yeah. And we’ve noticed that a lot of it can just be like uncontrolled diabetes and unable to store your medication and learning how to take it.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. Yeah, it’s a shame. Living on the street exacerbates those problems, I think. <laughs>

Laura:  Yes, exactly. It does. It really does. And access to health care consistently is a really big concern, so.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. Yeah, I know when I’ve had to get health care it’s emergency room, because I don’t have a doctor, so.

Laura:  Yeah.

Tony Rodriguez:  So I understand, you know, why those costs are soaring. Well, thank you so much. <laughs>

Laura:  Yeah. No, thank you for everything that you’re doing.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, okay. All right. <laughs>

Thao Costis:  Yeah. Here I’m going to have you meet Brian here.

Tony Rodriguez:  Hi, Brian.

Thao Costis:  <laughs> I’ve never put you on this side yet.

Tony Rodriguez:  Nice to meet you.

Thao Costis:  Brian, this is Tony.

Brian:  So we’re actually working on a relatively new program that’s only been around a couple years. It’s a pilot here in Harris County for a mental health jail diversion program. It’s actually funded by the State Legislature and a local judge is over it. We work with the folks that have kind of the regular, long-term homelessness. You’ve probably heard it from others here.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah.

Brian:  And serious mental illness but then also a recent history with multiple jail bookings. And the idea is, you know, I mean, you’ve probably heard about the cost of emergency services for homeless folks.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. And jails too, yeah.

Brian:  And jails, judges, police officers. And that’s all even more expensive. So we’re looking at instead of recycling them in and out of the system for, you know, trespassing, public intox and stuff like that, get them some housing and get them some services. You know, work with them and maybe find a job that’s okay with a criminal history and kind of get them back <inaudible>.

Tony Rodriguez:  Wow. That’s quite a service. <laughs>

Thao Costis:  Yeah, yeah.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah.

Brian:  So it’s a little different than some of the other stuff. Our population tends to, you know, skew a little bit younger, and we do a little bit more kind of skills modeling for them.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. I see.

Brian:  But they do really have kind of this amazing resiliency, the way they bounce back.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. How is your success rate? Pretty good or?

Brian:  Yeah. We’ve, actually, the judge’s office is running data on it every year.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, okay.

Brian:  <inaudible>

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah.

Brian:  More than I would.

Tony Rodriguez:  So what exactly do you do every day?

Brian:  I’m a case manager. So I’m actually working with folks that we got housed in that program a couple days a week on site. I am under supervision to get my clinical licensure, so I’m doing like one-on-one therapy.

Tony Rodriguez:  I see.

Brian:  I’m handling the groups out there. And I also spend a couple days a week actually downtown at a homeless shelter screening just folks that are on the street for the program, so kind of sharing what it is, what it might look like if they joined. Kind of really getting them in to see kind of that possible future for themselves where they maybe hadn’t been able to before. So we kind of really get them engaged.

Tony Rodriguez:  What a wonderful job. <laughs>

Brian:  <inaudible>

Thao Costis:  Yeah. Oh, that’s great.

Tony Rodriguez:  Thanks.

Thao Costis:  Thank you.

Brian:  Thank you so much.

Thao Costis:  So, so yeah, so we have these day desks too that are not specifically assigned to staff for the rest of the team members that are working in the other sites. So Laura is actually in one of the nine other sites.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, boy.

Thao Costis:  Apartment complexes where we have staff stationed there and then sometimes they’ll come here and work from here.

Thao Costis:  Yeah, that was in 1989, when homelessness really was just beginning to show up in a big way with our communities. And, and so there was no– there were no day shelters or no places for people to go. It was just overnight shelters and mainly two or three overnight shelters. And people would have to leave early in the morning because the shelters would have to prepare for the next night. And so over the years, we really just got to know the people who were some of the hardest to serve among our population.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah.

Thao Costis:  And, and so we also became more clear about what you said, it’s like what next? You know, food is great, but what else, right?

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah.

Thao Costis:  And so, we made a conscious decision six years ago to stop our immediate basic services and really focus on the long-term case management.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. And that’s important. Yeah, it is.

Thao Costis:  Yeah. In that relationship building. So, so what we have here is our employment services team. And, and so the new thing in Houston that, you know, again, we’re following the federal kind of model in trying to help families also in homelessness, not just veterans and chronically homeless, but families as well. And so we have rapid rehousing team working in tandem with our employment because–

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, that’s good.

Thao Costis:  People need to get employed.

Tony Rodriguez:  Sure. Once that ends, they’d better have a job. <laughs>

Thao Costis:  Exactly. Yeah. So we have four members of the rapid rehousing team that’s right now they’re focused on families.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. I noticed, yeah, the children over there. <laughs>

Thao Costis:  Yes, yes. And we’d like to expand it to include single individuals as well. Because we do find that, you know, there’s a lot of people who are ready for mainstream. They’re not disabled. But they need that financial boost in order to get there.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, there’s different approaches too, depending upon what they need, yeah.

Thao Costis:  Right, right.

Tony Rodriguez:  But you got it all covered, it seems. <laughs>

Thao Costis:  Well, you know, we’re learning. We’re learning a lot. And it’s we learn the hard way too sometimes. And so, like, for instance, one of the things we’ve learned with our families is that we get these very big families with a single parent, and so it’s very hard to get a job that pays enough to pay the rent for a two, three bedroom apartment.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, that’s true.

Thao Costis:  And so how do we help them, you know? And so really, it’s just kind of it’s now, uh, are they really more as a voucher candidate, a housing voucher candidate than, you know, able to do it themselves.

Morgan:  Well, let’s go back to where there’s [ph?] you feel like you can’t work. What barriers, other barriers, are you encountering that you feel as if it would make it difficult for you to hold a part-time, even a full-time job?

Tony Rodriguez:  Full-time, it would just be a physical, probably.

Morgan:  And what kind of experience do you have? What have are you interested in doing? [ph?]

Tony Rodriguez:  I was a waiter most of my life, but I’ve done other things. Construction, tuna fishing stuff like that, yeah, so.

Morgan:  Okay. Well, very diverse.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, yeah. <laughs>

Morgan:  Lots of different things.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. And a long time at each one of those jobs. I’m pretty steady. I don’t like change, really. <laughs>

Morgan:  Okay. So a good thing about the Income Now program is that we can help you– I can help you as your case manager.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. <laughs>

Morgan:  Create a resume and kind of hone in as to what avenue you’re interested in working in. So you have a lot of different backgrounds it seems like.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, it’s true.

Morgan:  Which are all totally different. So we could create a few different resumes.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, I see.

Morgan:  I have a few job connections with employers that can help you find employment relatively quickly.

Tony Rodriguez:  Tell me more about what you do on a daily basis.

Morgan:  Well, I spoke to you a little bit about the Income Now program. So my job in particular is an employment case manager, so I work hand-in-hand with people like you that come in and they either have questions as to what their eligible for disability-wise or employment. So some people come in and they just really are unsure as to where they want to work or if they can work and so my job in particular, me personally, is I try to help my clients figure out where their interests are. And I do my best to make connections in Houston employment-wise and try to get people placed for work.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, that’s good. Yeah, yeah.

Morgan:  So, but I assist with resumes. I create resumes. Cover letters. I help some of the clients, I teach them how to use the computers because some people don’t know how to use computers. And we go over interviewing skills and pretty much whatever my people need help with in order to find and maintain employment, that’s what I do.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. I bet you’re really good at it. You’re really easy to talk to. <laughs> Thanks a lot. Thank you.

Morgan:  Any time. It was nice meeting you.

Tony Rodriguez:  All right. Okay.

Thao Costis:  So how do you go about earning money or– currently?

Tony Rodriguez:  Well, like I said, it’s going in dumpsters and finding things, you know. I mean, it’s not really the cans that you find, you don’t make that much money with cans. It’s what I find, what people throw out that I could resell, you know.

Thao Costis:  Ah, maybe sell.

Tony Rodriguez:  There’s all kinds of things. Jewelry, phones, electronics. I mean, it’s amazing what people throw away.

Thao Costis:  Right.

Tony Rodriguez:  So that’s how I make my money. And then I have food stamps, so that helps with the food. It’s $190 dollars a month. So that’s my only income there. And Dennis paid for a storage for me, so I don’t have to worry about my things. That’s a big help.

Thao Costis:  So we’ve only been in this building since the end of June of 2016. So at our old building, we had a big dining room, a big waiting area and kitchen and kind of the full service kind of food model, showers and laundry. But when we moved over here, we converted it to really just a welcome center. And it’s a place where people come. Mostly they have appointments with one of our case managers or employment counselor. Or they are here for the first time newly homeless, don’t quite know what to do.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. That’s important.

Thao Costis:  So we try to help guide them to the right direction. So Ola works with people who are newly homeless to try to guide them. So you picked up this little help card. Yeah, so this–

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, help card. That caught my attention. <laughs>

Thao Costis:  Yeah, good.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah.

Thao Costis:  So it gives you, you know, the listing of the various shelters and health centers and things like that that you can go to or call for assistance. But again, it’s such a long, complex list, it’s like where do you start?

Tony Rodriguez:  Where do you start, yeah.

Thao Costis:  So.

Ola:  They help them to other places that where they can’t get on the Metro bus and we make them tickets for that.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, I see.

Ola:  And to take them to the VA or Starbucks or to other services also.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, I see. Wow.

Ola:  Yeah. It comes out of here. [ph?]

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, that’s wonderful.

Ola:  Yeah, so we have all the information aside that you show. [ph?]

Thao Costis:  So who do you see here mostly, Ola, when you come? Who are you– What kind of situations?

Ola:  Well, we really get, like, the people that are under the bridge who wants to get, you know, back on their medications and, you know, this type of living under the bridge housing. We also see people who are, like, freshly out of prison.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, yeah.

Ola:  And they don’t have any ID. Some of them need medication and they, you know, they’re just, like, stuck in the streets and trying to get, you know, get their selves situated. Yeah, so we have a mixture and we have also some that has mental illness factors. Yeah, so, we try to help everybody.

Ola:  Yes. We’d send them down to coordinate access and then they get their assessment to see where they get placed as far as–

Thao Costis:  Just west of us less than a mile away is the Beacon, which is where some of our staff are stationed there as well to do assessments for housing match. And then three of our navigators are stationed over there.

Tony Rodriguez:  That’s close enough. It’s pretty close to everything. It’s central.

Thao Costis:  Yeah, yeah, so that– that’s what we really try to do in Houston these last few years was really reduce the amount of movement that people have to go through. It’s like I don’t know, you know, how you have to do, but you have to walk from place to place trying to get a meal and trying to get a shower and get a job or whatever it is. And what we wanted to do was to stop or reduce that and try to concentrate it into a smaller area where we can be more intentional, you know, and be able to help you more efficiently and focus more on the long-term impact and not just keep people just surviving.

Tony Rodriguez:  It’s amazing. You’re all on the same page from the Mayor on down, you guys are all right there on the same page.

Thao Costis:  Yeah, yeah.

Tony Rodriguez:  So it’s nice to see that. And you’re excited.

Thao Costis:  It is.

Tony Rodriguez:  Excited about it, you know.

Thao Costis:  It is.

Thao Costis:  We’re a faith– a multi-faith organization and, and so, you know, so we bring together a lot of different churches from different congregations, different faiths. We have the Bahá’ís. We have the, you know, the Catholics and others. And when we built this building, we wanted to have the spiritual component be a big part of it because many people find strength in God. And, and while we don’t want to push it on people, we want them to be able to find it or be able to access it. So and I think that that’s something that especially in the South–

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh, yeah. <laughs>

Thao Costis:  We have a lot of church people, volunteers who go out and want to, you know, offer their spiritual support and food.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, that’s true.

Thao Costis:  And sometimes it gets a little mixed up and people wonder, “Okay, do I have to pray before I eat?” <laughs> You know.

Tony Rodriguez:  Right. I remember one time somebody gave me a sandwich and they said, “Jesus made this sandwich for you.” And I was looking at it and I go, “Ah, should I eat it?”


Thao Costis:  So, you know, so we have to find a balance there where people have choice and people can still find the source of strength that is important to them.

Thao Costis:  So in this field for 20 years, and, you know, most of our work was really about meeting basic needs.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. Daily things.

Thao Costis:  Or it was filling in little gaps here and there. And then we grew programs almost a new one every other year. But it was still not enough traction until our community really came together five years ago and said, “Okay, we have to rethink this. We can learn from what other communities have done.” Just like you’re trying to do with us, we learn from people in New York and Seattle and others that Housing First is really a good concept.

Tony Rodriguez:  It is.

Thao Costis:  Yes. And again, you know, in the South, we have a very– we’re pretty judgmental.


Thao Costis:  You know? It’s like you got to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, right?

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, yeah.

Thao Costis:  Well, it’s like if you don’t have any bootstraps, how are you going to do it?

Tony Rodriguez:  <laughs>

Thao Costis:  With us, we had to shift our public’s mindset, our donors and our volunteers, to accept that, you know what? We’ve got to help those people out there that are stuck first and foremost. And we’ve got to get them into housing without judgment. You know, we can’t expect that they’re going to be able to be clean and sober before we move in.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, that takes a lot longer.

Thao Costis:  Right. Or that they’re going to be able to pay the rent right away. Because how can you get a job when you’re out in the street? And, and we’re not going to claim, you know, for the easy ones too.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Thao Costis:  See? Right?

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah.

Thao Costis:  So it’s easier to help somebody who just recently became homeless than somebody who’s been on this corner for the last ten years. So, and people didn’t feel like they have the capability or the capacity for it. But, but we were able to get our community together to agree, “Okay, this is how we need to work and this is how– the principle is no judgment. Get them into housing. Don’t say no. Say yes.” And, and that’s how we were able to get traction.

Tony Rodriguez:  It makes sense. I’m surprised that it wasn’t being done before, you know, because it makes sense.

Thao Costis:  It does make sense.

Tony Rodriguez:  <laughs>

Thao Costis:  But again, it goes against–

Tony Rodriguez:  The old ways.

Thao Costis:  The norm.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, yeah. Exactly.

Thao Costis:  You know, normal thinking, especially when people who haven’t lived it, you know, it’s easier to say,
Well, you should. You know, you should get off the street. I don’t understand why you don’t want to.” You know, people don’t get that.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. And a part of it, I read it in your book here that you go out into the community and ask what they need.

Thao Costis:  Right, right.

Tony Rodriguez:  And that’s, that’s helpful.

Thao Costis:  So one of the things that SEARCH really focuses on is building the skills of our case managers and our staff to be able to connect with individuals and help them to make change, positive change, guide them in making positive change. So it’s really about how do you draw out– how do you build trust with somebody and how do you–?

Tony Rodriguez:  It’s hard to teach. You have to almost have it.

Thao Costis:  Well, that’s the other thing that we’ve learned is that, so we have learned how to hire the type of people–

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, exactly.

Thao Costis:  That naturally have empathy and compassion and they’re not going to be the ones to say, “Okay, here’s how I’m going to tell you how to do this.” You know, it’s different. And then you would say, “Well, thanks, but no thanks.”

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. You’re right about that.

Thao Costis:  Right.

Tony Rodriguez:  And obviously, you’re hiring good people. <laughs>

Thao Costis:  Well, thank you.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, yeah.

Thao Costis:  But yeah, so it’s about, okay, Tony, what is it that you want? How do you want to– how do you see, you know, your next few years? And, and so, you know, hopefully your conversation with Morgan put a little plant in your head.

Tony Rodriguez:  It did. <laughs>

Thao Costis:  About huh, you know what? I can work. I don’t have to do all of it. I can do this to work towards that.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah.

Thao Costis:  So that’s what we try to focus on is what is it that Tony wants and how do we help Tony recognize that and shoot to aim for that goal for himself. It’s not about me, it’s about you. Yeah. So anyway, so we do a lot of that kind of training, evidence-based practices, to ensure that we can get movement for you.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, yeah. Because you–

Thao Costis:  Cathy Crouch is our Executive V.P.

Tony Rodriguez:  Oh.

Thao Costis:  And she is the mastermind behind our training and evidence-based work and really getting us, you know, to be, oh, professional and effective.

Cathy Crouch:  We started using evidence-based practices I would say 20 years ago. And the reason we started was because what we found was we had a relationship with clients back then, and it wasn’t just us, it was, like, all the organizations, it was pretty paternalistic. You do this or we’re not going to– And what we found was we just weren’t being effective. And so we wanted a model that helped us build really strong relationships with clients where they could feel like they could trust us and tell us anything and that it was fine. And so we started using a model that was client-centered and a lot of organizations say they’re client-centered, but we’re using it in a very specific way, the way that I think Carl Rogers intended. And then what we started doing was looking at this model about how people change. So how I make changes in my life, how you make changes, how all of us make changes. And we really got serious about using that model so that I would have a very different conversation with you if you’re not thinking about change. Or if you were thinking about change, I– we talk very differently. And so that’s the model we use. That’s the approach we use. So we really want to try and be respectful of the reasons you want to make change and the ideas you’ve had about the kinds of change you want to make, as opposed to my ideas about what’s best for you.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, I’m a little familiar with that.

Cathy Crouch:  Yeah, I bet you are. Yeah.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. You have to have somebody that believes in you and you have to be able to see it yourself and–

Cathy Crouch:  Yes, exactly.

Tony Rodriguez:  <inaudible> kind of a thing. Where would we learn more about the type of training that you–?

Cathy Crouch:  So there are two kinds of training that we focus on. One is commonly known as Stages of Change. And the other one is a client-centered approach called Motivational Interviewing. And we’ve been offering that training here probably for nine years maybe. And there are people all over the world who are approved trainers. And all of our staff go through that two-day training here and we invite other agencies, particularly agencies who are working with people who are homeless, but it doesn’t just have to be the– So whenever we offer a training, we open it up to others in the community. We do charge a little bit of money, but it’s pretty reasonable. Yeah. And then we have ongoing trainings, like we’ll do, so I’m getting ready to do a training next week. And then we’ll do a year-long Brown Bag once a month video training series. So we really show people examples of how to use these approaches. And a lot of our staff get coaching if they have a little money in their budgets. And then we have some monthly booster groups. And so they get quite a bit of training on trying to be consistent in how they speak with people and not fall into old habits of telling people what to do and, “You need to do this. You should do this.”

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. Yeah, that’s important. I was speaking with Morgan a few minutes ago and she– I was instantly, I felt comfortable, you know.

Cathy Crouch:  Oh.

Tony Rodriguez:  I felt like she cared.

Cathy Crouch:  Yeah.

Tony Rodriguez:  And she used terms of, like, well, I am your– here for you, and, you know, and various things she did it was just, you know, really welcoming.

Thao Costis:  Yeah.

Cathy Crouch:  Yeah. So you guys don’t have this kind of rain very much, huh?

Tony Rodriguez:  No. Never tornadoes.


Cathy Crouch:  Hey, it was good to meet you.

Tony Rodriguez:  My pleasure, really. Thank you so much.

Cathy Crouch:  All right. Have fun on the rest of your trip.

Tony Rodriguez:  Okay. Thank you.

Cathy Crouch:  Okay. All right.

Tony Rodriguez:  Okay.

Thao Costis:  Yeah. As far as our funding, we have about 60 percent of our funding comes from government grants, and then we raise the rest. We’re at about $11 million budget right now. And so the government dollars, HUD Continuum of Care money is a large part of it. And then we do get some state funds. But our state funds, you know, the State of Texas has not been– they’re not really ones to give money to social services. It’s just been in the last few years that they have started to put some through housing for homeless and Texas Workforce, so employment services, is new and Department of State Health Services is also relatively new, but we haven’t really been able to tap that as consistently as we’d like. And then, and that’s pretty much it. So we were able to raise some funds for this building mostly through private, but some of it was through state dollars. So I was saying, the other thing I was saying was we have a school. A House of Tiny Treasures that we call it.

Tony Rodriguez:  <laughs>

Thao Costis:  And because, you know, what we recognize is that we have to end homelessness for the adults, the single adults. But then for the families, how are people going to get to work if they have no child care?

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, that’s right. That’s a big thing.

Thao Costis:  So when you have little children, you become very hampered because if you don’t have a family network, you don’t have a network. So you depend on whoever to trust that person will take care of your child while you’re working. And it doesn’t work consistently and so they end up not being able to work. So the House of Tiny Treasures is a way for some of our parents to be able to go back to school and go back to work, but mostly it is about the children. We do not want these children to repeat the cycle of their parents and we focus on the two to five-year-olds, so that we can develop them and have them learn how to self-regulate so that they can when they go to school, they can sit still or they can do– they can be like every other child who’s had a nice, you know, upbringing with family support that has worked for them.

Tony Rodriguez:  That’s so amazing what you do. It’s just, it’s amazing. <laughs>

Thao Costis:  Oh, thank you. Actually, about 10 years ago, we were about to go broke. <laughs> Because SEARCH was one of these human services agencies, grassroots, that couldn’t say no to helping people. We wanted to be able to do everything. So we kept growing and adding services. And it got to the point where financially, we couldn’t support everything that we wanted to do, so we had to trim back and get clear about who are we? What is our best capability? What is our core competency? And that’s how we got to focus on our case management and the capability of our staff to be able to fully engage people. So the things that we stopped doing, one was housing. It was ironic. I mean, it was really difficult for our staff to say, “Wow, really? We’re going to let go of our housing programs even though we’re a homeless agency and people need housing?”

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. And how does your– the people that pay you? <laughs>

Thao Costis:  Right.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah.

Thao Costis:  Yeah. And so what we said was that we need to be able to make ourselves indispensable to the housing partners. We need to build relationships with apartment complexes, with nonprofits that provide housing, with the Housing Authority, and demonstrate to them that we are their needed partner in our case management capabilities, because apartments in itself is not enough for you. If you were to walk into an apartment today, is that going to help you end homelessness?

Tony Rodriguez:  No, it’s not. No.

Thao Costis:  Right. So, so it’s all the other things that we can help put together with you to make it work. So that’s, we said, “Okay. No more housing.” We stopped doing adult education. We used to have adult literacy classes, GED classes and all of that.

Tony Rodriguez:  Libraries offer that. You can get that somewhere else.

Thao Costis:  There are so many other programs that do it better than we could who are focused on adult education. So we said, let’s work with them. Let’s send our clients to them. And then when we stopped doing the feeding, the day shelter. That was very hard, because that was the very first thing that SEARCH created. That was how SEARCH came to be.

Tony Rodriguez:  Wow. Yeah. Hard to let go of that one.

Thao Costis:  Exactly. And so for us to say to our founder,
“You know what? We’ve got to stop doing what you started.”

Tony Rodriguez:  Wow.

Thao Costis:  It was very hard, but she was very– is very progressive. And she’s like, “You know what? It’s needed. It was needed back then. It’s not needed by us now. Yes, now others are doing it. So we don’t need to do that. Let’s focus on what we can do best.” So that’s the other thing that we’ve done as a community is really stop everybody from doing a little bit of everything and saying, “Okay. Shelter, you’re great at doing the shelter. Do that. Case management, SEARCH is great at doing that. We can do that. Housing, you focus on that. Food, you focus on that. Let’s not us try to do a little bit of everything.”

Tony Rodriguez:  Well, I hear that from a lot of people. That’s good you’re all on the same page with this, you know.

Thao Costis:  Right. Yeah.

Tony Rodriguez:  And we need to get together in San Diego and figure this out.

M1:  So, so on Thursday, Tony’s participating in the, like the committee that’s creating that three-year fund on homelessness.

Thao Costis:  Oh, great.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah.

M1:  And he’s the representative.

Thao Costis:  Good. Excellent.

M1:  For, yeah.

Thao Costis:  Well, you know, it’s so important to have your voice in the room and for you to speak up because it’s really hard. It can be somewhat intimidating, I know, to be in this room with who you think they are the experts. So it’s like, “Oh, well, you know, what–”

Tony Rodriguez:  I’m not so intimidated by that.

Thao Costis:  Good.

Tony Rodriguez:  That doesn’t really bother me. What bothers me is get me the right thing to say, you know? God. <laughs>

Thao Costis:  Well, you know what/

Tony Rodriguez:  Let me see what it is that I need to say, you know.

Thao Costis:  You are the expert.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, yeah.

Thao Costis:  You are the expert of this experience of your life and the experiences that other people are going through. I could not speak to what you can speak to.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, that’s true.

Thao Costis:  So, so yeah, don’t sell yourself short.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, yeah.

Thao Costis:  You have a lot in there to share.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah. I hope I see it clearly and be able to say it, you know. <laughs>

Thao Costis:  Well, you know, that’s always– it’s okay. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Tony Rodriguez:  Yeah, yeah. And I realize mine is just a small input, but it’s an invaluable input, yeah.

Thao Costis:  It’s absolutely invaluable. It’s been a pleasure.

Tony Rodriguez:  Thank you so much. I really, really–

Thao Costis:  Yeah.

Tony Rodriguez:  I’m glad to meet you. <laughs>

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