Trying to break the cycle of poverty: Aiesha’s story

April 27th, 2020
Aiesha and her daughter Akyah in their Detroit apartment. (Note: This photo was taken 11 days before Michigan’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order.)

At the end of March, Aiesha Randolph left her job at a major grocery store so she could begin a new job at a call center. One of her colleagues at the store had died of COVID-19. Two others were infected. But the risk of the disease was not the reason Aiesha decided to leave.

Aiesha had been working part-time at the store for eight months, and she was looking forward to a full-time job with better pay.

“My goal is to become self-sufficient one day,” Aiesha, 29, said. “I feel that I’m responsible for my future and I can make myself become what I want to be — if I want it enough and try hard.”

Aiesha woke before 5AM for the long and two-part bus ride from her east-side Detroit apartment to the call center in Highland Park. She waited anxiously for the second bus on this first day of training. Because of the COVID crisis, there were fewer buses running. Unfortunately, the one she needed did not arrive as scheduled, and she lost the job opportunity. Aiesha was disappointed, but not dismayed.

“Another opportunity will come along, and I’ll be ready for it,” Aiesha said.

Aiesha is a participant in the supported employment program at Southwest Solutions. The program assisted Aiesha to get her grocery-store job last year and the chance for the recent call center job. During the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order, the supported employment program has been conducting a virtual job club via video conferencing once a week. Candice Taylor, an Employment Specialist with the program, helps to run the job club. Aiesha is one of Candice’s clients. Candice helped Aiesha get unemployment benefits, which along with her stimulus check is enabling Aiesha to pay her bills.

“The job club focusses on soft skills to help the participants obtain and retain employment,” Candice said. “Aiesha has been using this time when she’s home to better herself, and her engagement in the job club refreshes her skills and helps her stay connected.”

The supported-employment virtual job club is part of the telehealth initiative that Southwest Solutions has implemented to continue to serve clients during this time when in-person assistance is not possible. Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (DWIHN) is reimbursing for the telehealth services provided by our counseling programs to help those recovering from mental illness, homelessness, and other issues.

Aiesha had been homeless before she got an apartment two years ago through a supportive-housing program facilitated by the Coordinated Assessment Model (CAM), which is the collaborative system to address homelessness in the city.

“I’d lost my factory job, was pregnant, and had no place to go and no one to help me,” Aiesha said. “I stayed in a vacant house with no utilities and no water for a while before going to a shelter. The CAM helped me get subsidized housing through Southwest Solutions.”

To help her maintain stable housing, Aiesha is connected with a Clinical Housing Specialist at Southwest Solutions, Kimberly Goodson. During the shelter-in-place, Kimberly has been calling Aiesha once a week to talk about her staying safe, her mental and physical health, her coping with depression and the current social isolation, her caring for her two-year-old daughter, and her personal goals for future success and the steps to achieve them. Kimberly’s phone outreach is again part of our telehealth initiative that is being reimbursed by DWIHN.

“Aiesha truly wants to be independent and be in a position where she no longer needs a housing subsidy,” Kimberly said.

Once the crisis subsides and the economy re-engages, Aiesha hopes to secure full-time work. She also wants to take classes in the culinary arts at a community college.

“I am optimistic about my future and I also want to be role model for my daughter Akyah,” Aiesha said. “I want to make sure that she won’t know what it’s like to be homeless, stay in a shelter, and struggle like I did in life. I grew up poor. My dad died when I was 12 and my mom died when I was 21. I want to break the cycle of poverty and encourage Akyah to get more education than I did so she’ll have better options ahead of her.”

Our supported employment service is formally called the Individual Placement and Support – Supported Employment (IPS-SE) program. IPS-SE is supported through Medicaid billing processed by DWIHN. For more information about the program, email Barbara Gray, IPS-SE Program Manager at Southwest Solutions.

The implementation of our telehealth initiative was made possible in part through a generous grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

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