Apartment is just what was needed for St. Patrick Center client

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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It's a slightly worn, sparsely furnished apartment in south St. Louis, but Bryan Pseno doesn't mind.

It's a long way from sleeping in a homeless shelter.

Pseno came to St. Louis from Chicago with a trailer full of furniture. He lived with his mom and left when she died, deciding to move on with his life and get away from negative influences. With an inheritance, he figured he'd stay at a motel until he got a job. He was unable to get employment, however, and lost his belongings in a storage unit when he couldn't pay the rent.

The 23-year-old's work record is spotty and he didn't graduate from high school. He'd spent his teens and early adult life as a caregiver for family members.

Pseno's routine for the past few months has included coming to the Shamrock Club at St. Patrick Center, a day treatment program that assists homeless people who experience mental illness and/or substance abuse and provides access to the agency's programs. He's busy making appointments and volunteering at St. Patrick Center, taking several buses to get there; he's also looking for work through another program.

"I've done the classes and got to know the people here who run it," Pseno said. "If you're part of Shamrock, they'll help you with housing."

St. Patrick Center, a Catholic Charities agency, collaborates with other service providers, faith-based organizations, the business community and all levels of government to transform homeless services and end chronic homelessness in the St. Louis region.

The center has reorganized to a Housing First model, a homeless assistance approach that prioritizes providing permanent housing as quickly as possible, and then adding supportive services as needed. The mission of St. Patrick Center hasn't changed. Housing First removes barriers to housing, such as requiring sobriety or employment before someone is ready to move in. Clients are prioritized by assessing their needs, which allows the center to serve the most needy first, with the correct level of support services before, during and after they're housed.

Pseno is now in the rapid rehousing program and is expected to enter permanent supportive housing — designations defined by varying levels of case management. He has a good attitude about the process and a good relationship with his case manager, Carly Wyss. "He makes everyone laugh," Wyss said. "He's patient and kind."

Much of his humor is related to popular culture and television. "Just the facts," he said with a smile and in a voice similar to the character Joe Friday of the "Dragnet" TV series and subsequent movie.

His outlook was less uplifting in his time in the homeless shelters, he said, pulling out the keys to his apartment. "Having these is so important," he said. "To know I can come home, I don't have to go out, just focus on taking care of whatever I need to take care of. I couldn't do that before because I had to take care of people."

He has a modest video game system in his apartment and hopes eventually to get a computer to do another hobby, writing stories. He said he's done some acting in the past — he broke out into an English accent when he mentioned his performance in "Oliver" — and would like to join a stage troupe. History is another of his interests.

"I appreciate what the Catholic community does" through St. Patrick Center, he said. "That's why I do what I can to volunteer and help out here."

At St. Patrick Center, he started working with the BEST (Building Employment Skills for Tomorrow) job-training program, City Seeds urban agriculture initiative and Gateway Greening. He volunteers to help out in the Shamrock kitchen, even on weekends.

"The best thing about being here is that I can give back and help other people," he said.

Caitlyn Passaretti, City Seeds coordinator, praised Pseno for his perfect attendance and for keeping spirits high. "He's an absolute gem, a hard worker, a team player," she said of the high-spirited, outgoing young man who describes himself as "a simple Christian." 

Housing First

St. Patrick Center is pleased with its decision to adopt a Housing First model, the evidence-based practice that ends chronic homelessness

"We're restructuring St. Patrick Center to fit the Housing First methodology and remove all barriers to housing as the client's first step," said CEO Laurie Phillips.

The mission remains the same — ending chronic homelessness in the St. Louis region. "We're working 'smarter' to assess and prioritize people experiencing homelessness, and immediately provide them with the housing and support services they need," Phillips said.

St. Patrick Center, along with partners Peter & Paul Community Services, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the St. Louis City Continuum of Care, has been providing housing coordination services through Biddle Housing Opportunities Center, a comprehensive pathway to housing options and support services for people who are homeless or at risk, since August 2016.

"Housing First does not mean housing only," said Karen Leverenz, board president. "Job and skills training, employment placement and behavioral health programs are all necessary in the Housing First model," Leverenz said.

St. Patrick Center's restructuring includes McMurphy's Café, which closed on March 31. Analysis and realignment of this employment training program is expected to take 12-18 months.

Opened in August 2016, Biddle Housing Opportunities Center north of downtown St. Louis implements Housing First with coordinated intake and assessment, housing

options and support services while providing additional needed emergency shelter.

At Biddle Housing Opportunities Center, St. Patrick Center oversees needs assessments, connections to resources, referrals, meals and housing placements for up to 125 men, women and children. Peter & Paul Community Services oversees onsite client support and program management, and directs the emergency overnight shelter for up to 98 men.

St. Patrick Center has provided programs and support services to end and prevent homelessness since 1983. Agency wide, it directly assists nearly 7,200 clients and their families annually. 

Housing Challenge

St. Patrick Center's recent 40 in 40 Housing Challenge topped its goal by helping move 76 clients and their families into housing over a 40-day period.

More than 60 staff members worked with clients on searches, applications, approvals and more. St. Patrick Center and Biddle Housing Opportunities Center, along with multiple partner agencies in the St. Louis City and County Continua of Care, collaborated to move the clients into homes.

The St. Louis community helped by donating:

• 19 move-in kits

• 61 new mattresses and bed frames

• $5,600 to purchase furniture vouchers in partnership with St. Vincent de Paul

St. Patrick Center is a Catholic Charities agency. For information on donating to the center, call (314) 802-0700 or visit www.stpatrickcenter.org/donate. 

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