Q&A with Jess Leopold
In her three years with the agency, Jess Leopold, LCSW-C, has worn many hats: Lead Therapist Case Manager, ACIS Program Coordinator and now Director of Housing Services. We are thrilled to see Jess move into this new role as of March 15—bringing a decade of health care and social work experience to the job. Get to know Jess in the Q&A below.
What first brought you to Health Care for the Homeless?
I started here about 3 years ago as a Lead Therapist Case Manager on the Housing Services team. I was first introduced to the agency when I was at the School of Social Work in Kevin Lindamood’s Health Care Policy class. The class was one of my favorites at UMB, not only because Kevin is a great teacher, but because that was also the year the Affordable Care Act was passed so we had plenty to talk and write about! After I graduated, I worked at Chase Brexton as an HIV Case Manager for about 7 years and had the opportunity to cross-collaborate with members of the Connect team. My interactions with everyone at Health Care for the Homeless were always so positive. All of that combined with the great reputation in the community made me want to be a part of the work here.
Why were you interested in the Director of Housing Services role?
I really loved my role as the ACIS Program Coordinator. And as Director of Housing Services, I still get to be involved in the oversight of ACIS in addition to all of our other housing programs, so it’s definitely a win! This is one way I can move the work forward at a different level.
Tell us about some of the big projects ahead in Housing Services.
COVID has not slowed Housing Services down, and in fact it’s been quite the opposite. The ACIS team has 36 new clients in the last two months, bringing us oh-so-close to our goal of 200 households. The months of February and March were both record-breaking as we successfully housed 18 households. At the end of 2020, Housing Services received a grant to provide supportive services to 35 clients experiencing homelessness who were matched with a Rapid Re-Housing subsidy. We housed the first client in Baltimore City through this program, and she recently shared her story on WJZ (watch here). In late April/early May, 20 clients will move into their forever homes at Four Ten Lofts, a brand new luxury apartment building that came about through our partnership with Episcopal Housing Corporation (EHC). On top of all of this amazing progress, we also have the next project with EHC in the pipeline in our Sojourner at Oliver building, which will house 35 clients and families exiting homelessness.
What’s top of mind for you with housing services in light of both the pandemic and REI work?
As the Director of Housing Services, it’s critically important to lean into the difficult and uncomfortable work that goes into creating a more equitable landscape, both for clients and staff. I think we all are aware of the disparities that exist with access to affordable and adequate housing, which makes the REI work even more important. The lasting effects of redlining, one of the most obvious examples of structural racism, and similar policies are still present in our city today and we will never fulfill our mission of ending homelessness if we don’t address and dismantle the systems that make the injustice possible.
What started you on this career path?
I went to undergrad for nursing, but while I was there, it didn’t seem like the right fit for me. I wanted to be in a helping profession but wasn’t quite sure what that looked like. What 18-year old knows what they want to be when they grow up?! In my last semester, I did a community health clinical at the local Health Department in the HIV clinic, and that is where it dawned on me that there were other ways to help. I talked with a social worker there and decided that is where I needed to be. As they say, the rest is history!
How do you stay motivated in the midst of such a challenging time?
This has been a very busy time in Housing Services. During these times, my mantra has been that if I’m busy then that means vulnerable people are getting housed. That being said, we do hard work at Health Care for the Homeless, and anyone who has worked with me knows I am a huge proponent of self-care and a healthy work-life balance. I think everyone here does a great job of keeping each other motivated and inspired.
How did you celebrate the promotion?
With some margaritas and tacos from Clavel, and my family!
Be sure to give a warm congrats to Jess when you see her on-site or via zoom in the weeks to come!