One day Steve Kronzer sat down and asked himself a question: Is the world better with me having been here?
“I didn’t really like the answer that I came up with. Here I am. I quit my job and I knew I wanted to do something humanitarian but didn’t really know what direction I wanted to go so I volunteered for the Red Cross and I took every single class they offered to see what was a good fit.”
At the time, Kronzer was training to make it as a professional musician. Although he jokes being a musician is one step away from being homeless, it wasn’t until he began running a Red Cross homeless shelter when he realized he could make a difference. Oddly enough, Kronzer attributes much of his success with working with the homeless to the fact that he isn’t a social worker.
“I am totally nonjudgmental. I tend to use humor sometimes as a way to break down walls. I try to find something we have in common and I build on that. I find I get the best of my work done when people are out having a cigarette break. I am no longer a person of authority. A lot of people [have had bad experiences with social workers in the past].”
After recognizing both the satisfaction that came from helping people and his ability to connect with people, Kronzer went to work at Portland Homeless Family Solutions – a group in Portland whose mission is to get families into homes in less than a year.
“We are not always successful with everybody as far as getting everyone housed. I [do] feel I am successful when they leave our program that they have more tools in their toolbox to at least advocate for themselves. Building people’s self confidence is a huge thing. When you are homeless and struggling, you tend to feel bad about yourself.”
What does PHFS do?
Although their goal is to get people into houses within one year, the path of achieving varies from patient to patient. To account for the fact that everyone is different, PFHS has systems in place to help all sorts of people and meet a wide range of demands.
Step 1) First, PFHS gets eight families to care for at a time. By get I mean Multnomah county selects 8 people who have been screened as “high risk.” Although vague, this term qualifies as those who are most vulnerable in the homeless environment.
Step 2) PFHS offers an array of classes and seminars to teach skills to those in need. One class is helping people with criminal history be able to speak up for themselves and talk about their issues in the past and how they have moved past their problems. Another class lends information about people’s rights and privileges as homeowners. These classes allow people to gain understanding of their issues and helps them make better choices and (if all goes well) get off the street.
Step 3) PFHS negotiates with landlords to find a way to get people under a roof. Not only does PFHS meet with landlords all around town, they also work closely with mobile housing specialist to match families up with housing that is right for them.
Even with all the support PFHS offers, Kronzer took time to point to the increasing problem of affordable housing in cities like Portland.
“There is such a housing shortage in Portland [so] it’s supply and demand. Everyone wants to come here and a lot of people are coming here with money. I recently had a property manager who we used to consider an [affordable housing realtor] turn down one of our families because he said “I could list that I want nothing but [people] making six figures and I would probably get 100 applications a year.” So we have to develop landlords and property managers to [work with us and] reach out to us.”
To combat this, Kronzer suggests adopting a plan that is in place in several cities across the city: landlords must pay a certain fee depending on how much they raise their rent. Not only would this incentivise landlords to offer affordable housing it would also make some landlords “realize they should be a little more human with these people.”
“Sadly, money talks.”
What would you do to end homelessness if you were a magician?
“I would make mental health care accessible to people – quickly. Through the affordable care act, mental health care is now available to everybody. Unfortunately, what that did is it opened up the floodgates and so now a lot of the services have huge waiting lists. Another big drawback is that because it is paid by medicaid, (patients) have to have a diagnosis [to receive care]. A lot of people don’t want to do that because you are branded with that forever.”
Family: Wife, Mother and 2 sisters.
Hobbies: Music, bicycles, Camping.
Fun Fact: Steve was a professional musician for 18 years.