“People trust me that I know what they’re going through,” says Stephanie Carrington, a community health worker at the Creighton Resource Center. Carrington, who grew up in the Creighton Court public housing development, connects residents to health insurance, weight loss clinics, nutrition classes, mental health counseling, employment services, and other supports. Each year, the resource centers see more than 2,000 medical patients and make 4,000 referrals to social and community services.
Even so, Avula says the centers can’t change the fact that poverty is heavily concentrated in Richmond’s public housing developments. Over the years, the city has recognized that getting to the root of the residents’ health and social problems means changing the environment in which they live.
There have been missteps in that effort. When the city tore down and replaced the Blackwell development in the early 2000s, many residents were displaced or became homeless because not enough subsidized units had been built.
This time around, the city will replace units one-to-one, moving residents in stages as new mixed-income housing is constructed. And to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks, last year the housing authority contracted the health district to hire two social workers. Their job: help the first 100 families safely move to new homes in 2018, or to another neighborhood if they choose. These “family transition coaches” expect to work with each head of household for a year or more, helping them do things like land a steady job that will allow them to save for a deposit. They’ll work together to set and meet goals that will prepare residents for a move.
“Our goal is to have them live a well-balanced life,” says coach Nikki Patterson, who spent part of her childhood in Creighton Court, “and be able to prosper wherever they move.”