Tess Taylor, a landlord in Barre, who has worked with Pathways Vermont’s Housing First Department of Corrections Participants for close to a decade recently sat down with our Development Director, Pat Gallagher. The following is their conversation.
Pat: Why do you work specifically with people coming out of the corrections system?
Tess: In all the people I’ve housed I’ve seen that there is this real desire to be a part of the community. How is that going to happen if they aren’t given a chance? I think housing is the first element that people need to feel safe and secure and included in the community. That’s all there is to it. You can find food and you can find everything else, but finding that place where it’s yours, is hard. You feel empowered knowing that it’s your kitchen, your bed at night, and your roof over your head. I can’t imagine not having that, having to live in a correctional facility, having to live in a homeless shelter or out on the streets. So I think housing is the first line of defense to success.
Pat: Tell me about when you first started working with Pathways Vermont and what that experience was like?
Tess: I have an apartment building in Barre, there are three apartments there. I live in one and rent the other two out. There was a Parole Officer in Barre that I’m friends with and she asked me if I had any open units. At the time I had a one bedroom open. She told me she was working with someone who was coming out of corrections and really needed to be on his own and start transitioning back into the community. And she told me about a great program called Pathways Vermont that I could work with. It ended up being a great situation. He was able to go live back with his wife because things had gone so well. And since then, I’ve had about 5 or 6 other people live in my apartment. I feel like it’s really important to do something that I can for my community.
Pat: Can you speak to what it’s like working with the team from Pathways Vermont?
Tess: It’s really good. I like working with Dan, who is the Housing Coordinator for Barre. He’s the person I work most closely with here. We prefer texting and calling. Which I really appreciate because I do have a full-time job. He manages my expectations and follows through on everything he says he’s going to do. He’s very responsive and I like his style of working with the client and how he responds to me. The tenants respond well to him because he is calm.”
Pat: Do you have any good ‘housing success stories’?
Tess: There was this young woman, who has had a rough life. When she moved in she said, ‘I’m just going to stick to myself and mind my own business. I don’t want to get involved with people because I don’t want to go back to any bad behavior.’ I told her that she was welcome to use one of my open garden plots. She ended up gardening her plot but also took care of mine! She was a really good tenant. We were friendly and I think she needed that. She helped me realize that my building is a community. She got along really well with the other tenant. Even today I will see her around town and we will stop and chat. I’m really happy we still have a relationship.
Pat: How do you think providing stable housing helped her on her journey?
Tess: Well she isn’t unknown in the community and there was a lot of negative feelings about this person when she first moved in. But, she didn’t get any of that from me or the other tenants. It was complete acceptance. She was highly motivated to transition into being part of the community again. I treated her with respect and she treated me with respect. At one point she really wanted to have a cat and since she’d shown how responsible she was we let her have a cat which made her very happy.
Pat: What would you tell other landlords who might be thinking of working with us?
Tess: I would say give them my number, call me! I would say it is enriching and rewarding and you have many services available to help people be successful and keep their property safe. I really love the Barre community and I find being a landlord here very gratifying. The best part of working with Pathways is knowing that I’m not doing this alone. I am so impressed with the dedication Pathways Vermont has and I have seen the program grow so much. It is a stable organization that feels like it’s just going to keep growing and growing.