Community Health Centers of Burlington (CHCB) is home to over 320 staff members, across eight different locations, serving 30,000 patients annually. The mission of CHCB is to improve the health of all those who live in the communities we serve, and, as with most things, it is all in the delivery. This series is produced by former CHCB nurse and current Board member Beth Reilly, to chronicle the many different people who make up the fabric of CHCB, and stitch together the variety of paths, passions, and experiences of those who rise to the occasion, each day, to provide outstanding health care for our community.
“The Cause of Homelessness is Lack of Housing.”
Allison Joyal joined CHCB in 2019 in the role of Permanent Supportive Housing Case Manager at Beacon Apartments and the Safe Harbor Health Center, where she works to support 100% formerly chronically homeless individuals. During her time as a housing counselor for another nonprofit organization, Community Action, Allison began her enjoyment working with the homeless population. When asked what brought her to CHCB, Allison reports “As a housing counselor and housing advocate, I remember hearing of CHCB’s Safe Harbor Health Center and the Beacon Apartments project when it began. I remember being so impressed with the concepts of Homeless Healthcare and Housing First and thinking I wanted to be involved in that. As soon as the job opened up, I jumped at the chance to join the CHCB team.”
Housing First is a homeless assistance approach where the focus is on housing and food security. Other potential issues such as unemployment, substance abuse, and behavioral health do not create barriers to accessing housing or food with the Housing First model. CHCB offers the only federally-granted Healthcare for the Homeless Program in the entire state, allowing us to support those suffering from homelessness by connecting them with medical and dental care, social services, intensive outreach and case management. For Allison and her colleagues, their job is delivering this model of assistance and care. When asked about what is unique to her role, Allison states her patients “trust the Beacon team to guide them to a future that is safe and stable.” They work hard to meet patients’ basic needs, as well as take things one step further with a tiny library, garden space, and coordination of care with a variety of community partners.
Experiencing homelessness is a trauma. Therefore, when working with this population, there is an added benefit in having a personal connection. Having experienced homelessness herself due to Tropical Storm Irene, Allison not only understands “the constant crisis mode” one experiences due to being unhoused, but is open with her patients about her own experiences. On a daily basis, Allison can be found supporting her patients with everything from housing applications and coordinating medical appointments to providing assistance with individual questions and concerns. “If someone’s heater is broken, we may teach them to call maintenance. We create budgets with people who have never had one… we often just sit and listen to those who need to vent.” There is no script to this job, only the consistent push to provide the necessary support for individuals to take the next positive steps in their lives.
Born and raised in upstate New York, Allison has lived in Vermont with her family since 2001. These days, when not at work, she can be found living off the grid on a micro-farm in Plainfield, VT raising ducks, chickens, pigs, goats, fruits and vegetables. Allison also runs a homesteading Facebook group called “Down to Simple” and she and her husband, a veteran of the Vermont National Guard, have two grown children. When asked what brings her to work every day, Allison states, “I love my job because every day I am given the opportunity to assist people who often had a pretty tough go in life. My patients have suffered unimaginable trauma, often through their entire lives. Yet we get to treat them to the dignity they always deserved. We get to remind them they deserve homes and good health.”