About five years ago, Central City Concern leadership wanted to provide the best assistance to clients in need, but was equally concerned about the emotional toll on staff members responding to crisis. Our mission is based on finding the positive in every person and situation. But because we are a large organization serving many people, things happen. Our staff—often alone and unprepared—had to deal with intense situations involving distressed, and sometimes traumatized, people.
In 2012, CCC’s Director of Equity and Inclusion Sonja Ervin looked for a better way to respond to incidents that protected clients and staff. “How do you support people and make them feel safe?” she wondered. She proposed a new Crisis Team model, which consists of “primary” contacts who carry the crisis phone for a week at a time, 24/7. There is also a “secondary” supervisor to support the primary contact and go on scene with them in cases of physical and emotional trauma. Crisis Team responders, usually six to eight people rotating through a year, come from across the agency’s housing, employment and health care programs. It is a paid on-call position that is above and beyond their regular jobs.
“It’s really meaningful work,” says Freda Ceaser, CCC’s Employment Access Center director, who has been on the Crisis Team close to three years. “It can be hard, but I feel completely supported by CCC.” Most of the crises, such as elevator problems, water issues and minor disturbances, can be handled over the phone. But sadly, physical and emotional traumas, including deaths, are among the crises that the team responds to in person. But the crisis responders always arrive together to support each other and everyone else who has been affected by the event.
Since it began, the Crisis Team responders, now led by Dana Brandon, CCC’s director of Supportive Housing, have answered the call to hundreds of incidents, large and small, at all hours of the day and night. Their only goal is to help people get through it. “The Crisis Team is peer support, peer driven, and they have no other agenda than to be there,” Sonja says. “They really do it from the heart.”