Maine Equal Justice Partners works with many talented and dedicated professionals around the state. One of those is Amy Carmichael, Resident Service Coordinator at Bath Housing. She works with residents to meet their needs – practical, social, and personal. In December of 2015, Amy called MEJP because many of the residents at Bath Housing were having difficulty getting the food assistance they need. Chris Hastedt and Karen Wyman joined Amy and her staff on a snowy afternoon in Bath to go door-to-door to meet the residents who were having trouble. Chris and Karen saw the supportive relationship between Amy and her tenants and invited her to share some of her insights about the work she does.
MEJP: Why do you do this kind of work?
Amy: I help people every single day. I provide information and help people brainstorm solutions to problems. I deal with challenging situations and connect with people on a daily basis. I simply love what I do and love to network with my community.
MEJP: What’s the biggest barrier in meeting basic needs for your residents?
Amy: The resources are there. The communication around those resources is not. Tenants are struggling with state benefit programs. They are unable to communicate with the same person at the state level. They lose benefits that they desperately need.
MEJP: What connections do you see between housing and other issues that impact people with low income?
Amy: Without stable housing everything falls apart. When you have a stable place to live you have a “place” in this world. You have an address for forms, an address to apply for a job. You have a person who can help you navigate the system and assist in getting help. You have a place to call home. Without a stable home, nothing is stable.
MEJP: What issues, if any, have you seen that started as individual issues but now appear to be systemic ones?
Amy: The connection between LIHEAP and food stamps, often called “Heat and Eat,” and MaineCare renewals. Residents in public housing have their heat included. They don’t realize they have to apply for LIHEAP to keep the SNAP (food stamps) subsidy. They lose their benefits completely or are reduced. I have had several folks cut off without warning. They have no food. I have to help them search for back up until we can get it straightened out. The other thing is DHHS cutting caseworkers. Our tenants never get the same person. They get different answers about their benefits. Lost paperwork is another problem. Tenants send it in but still lose benefits because DHHS claims it was never received.
MEJP: We’ve noticed that you work very collaboratively and responsively with your residents. Why is that important and what allows you to work that way?
Amy: I believe in community partnership. I work with residents successfully because I am driven to help them. I’m not afraid to ask questions; and I network with community organizations. I also believe in empowering people. I do not do things for tenants. I do it with them. I lead by example and include them in the process.
MEJP: You work hard, and you are helping people with complex and challenging situations. What keeps you going?
Amy: The tenants keep me going. The partnership keeps me going and the fact that I wake up every day knowing how much I love my job. I work for an Executive Director who has a great vision that we are more than just a housing organization. She understands the needs of our community and that without stable housing nothing else can fall into place. Deb Keller believes in her staff and is passionate about creating better futures for people.
MEJP: What do you wish people knew about the tenants you serve?
Amy: They are people like you and me. They are hard workers. They all had or have jobs. They are veterans. They are elderly. They are recovering addicts who have a second chance. They are kind. They are helpful. They support the communities they live in. They are people struggling with mental illness. They are trying to make ends meet like everyone else. They are former doctors that had unfortunate circumstances happen. They want to live full and productive lives.