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Housing Stability Work Group

Kelby Grovender spoke at the Housing Stability Work Group of the Governor’s Task Force last month. The Housing Stability Work Group is Chaired by Paul Williams, CEO of Project for Pride in Living, and Sheila Kiscaden, Olmsted County Commissioner. 

Kelby talked about specific challenges/barriers to housing, but also brought a few recommendations for the working group to consider, including:

  • Acknowledging the work that has already been done through the Long Term Homeless Supportive Services Fund and recommending that funding be expanded to allow for inflation on current projects and expansion into new parts of the state. 
  • Proposing more county support to assist in accessing and building Housing Support (formerly GRH) programs to serve long-term homeless households.
  • Support for the application process for the 1915i waiver to include housing search and tenancy support services as a billable services under the MN state Medicaid plan.

Stable, affordable and available housing in Minnesota remains insufficient, and it is important for the Governor’s Task Force to find new ways to address the demands, needs and challenges of our changing communities.

To learn more about the Governor's Task Force, click HERE



Hearth Connection Receives Program Excellence Award

Hearth Connection, along with our sponsor and partner, Minnesota Housing, was recently honored with a Program Excellence Award from the National Council of State Housing Agencies for our Step-Down Pilot Project. The Step-Down Pilot Project helps move people from site-based supportive housing into scattered-site housing and better utilizes scarce resources. The NCSHA judges found our application and service model inspiring and thought it was something many other states could and should be doing moving forward. 

Click HERE for an expanded description of the project. 


Angie has been a long-term Hearth Connection participant in Northeast Minnesota. When she entered the program in 2007, she was at the lowest point of her life: homeless, struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, and long alienated from her family. 

Angie's story began many years ago. Her family was separated and she was placed in foster care at a very young age. Angie suffered unimaginable abuse at the hands of her foster parents: physical, sexual, emotional abuse and even starvation. She began drinking in the 4th grade and by middle school had moved on to using drugs to mask the inner anguish she felt.

Over the years, she lost contact with her biological family, and after aging out of the program, Angie was left alone with no support network to help her find her way. Though she was finally free from the years of abuse at the hands of her foster families, without the support of others she had to do whatever she could to survive. This often included trading sex for food or a place to stay. She continued to use drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with and dull the reality of her day-to-day struggle for survival. Eventually, the decisions she made to survive led to multiple arrests, jail time and a felony record, thus beginning her long cycle of homelessness. 

After several years of living in the shadows of society, Angie found and reached out to her family, but to due to her continued substance use and criminal record, they rejected her. This was the lowest point in Angie's life. She was homeless, alone, and seriously contemplating taking her own life. It was at this point that the shelter she was staying at referred her to a new program developed by Hearth Connection for those like Angie who had experienced many years of homelessness. Looking back, Angie says this was the pivotal moment in her life when even though she was at her lowest, she felt something was about to change for the better. She now knows that what she felt then was hope for the first time in her life. 

The next ten years would be filled with ups and downs, meeting goals and backsliding into old behaviors; making good decisions, and then bad ones. But one thing remained constant, the support she had from her case manager Becky as she worked to rebuild her life. Angie came to know, without a doubt, that the support she needed would be there as long as necessary.  

Last summer, after a few years of working on reconnecting with her biological family, and having achieved a solid foundation of stability, Angie made the decision to move to Pine City to be near her family and continue building the close relationships she has longed for her entire life. Even though she has moved, Hearth Connection's program flexibility and philosophy of "sticky services" enables her to still remain a participant, for as long as she needs the support. For Angie, knowing that Becky is there if she needs her, brings peace of mind, and keeps Angie focused on long-term goals. 

This summer, Angie's nephew was honored by their community for retiring from the military having served 20+ years in the Army. Her nephew asked Angie to be the MC for this event. Words cannot describe what this meant to her. Only five years ago she was still alienated from her family, and now, to be asked to represent the family in this way was beyond what she could have ever imagined. Angie says that this is what she had hoped for that day she first met Becky and learned of Hearth Connection's programming. She humbly acknowledges that she wouldn't have been on that stage with her nephew without the assistance and support she received from Becky and Hearth Connection and for that she will be forever thankful. 


I began working with John in the fall of 2014 when I started with the Project SAIL Team. He had been working with multiple people in our organization for about two years before I met him. At the time, he spent most of his days down by the river, where he had been living for the majority of the past 20 years.

At first, John was skeptical of me as another new worker. He “fired” me every other month for the first year. However, as we continued meeting, John started to engage more and more. I quickly learned that John is an intelligent man who probably knows more facts about life than most Jeopardy contestants.

We were able to set him up with a psychiatrist and a therapist while he continued to live outdoors. The next step was to find him a place to live. John wanted to live in an apartment that was clean and had good water pressure in the shower. The hardest part about the housing process was that he had a 20-year old felony, one that most landlords frown upon. On top of that, John had picked up multiple “lifestyle crimes” (mostly misdemeanors).

Finally, in the summer of 2016, we found a landlord that was willing to work with John and Project SAIL. John moved into a newly remodeled apartment and has been living there for nearly nine months. John has been adjusting to this new way of living and is working on becoming a healthier version of himself.

- Alyssa Paulson, LSW │ Case Manager II – Project SAIL │ People Incorporated 


New Hearth Connection Executive Director Announced

The Hearth Connection Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Kelby Grovender has been named the new Executive Director of Hearth Connection effective July 1, 2017.

 Kelby has been with Hearth Connection since 2010 where he has held the positions of Program Director, Director of Programmatic Operations and most recently Deputy Executive Director. Kelby has over 26 years of experience in homeless services in both Minnesota and Los Angeles, including 21 years in leadership positions in the supportive housing field. Previously he spent 12 years with the American Indian Community Development Corporation where he developed Anishinabe Wakiagun, one of the first harm reduction based supportive housing programs in Minnesota.

The Board would like to thank Glenn Andis for his service and interim role as Executive Director for the preceding six months.


I started my career in homelessness by accident. My goal was to work with victims of domestic violence, so I started working in the local women’s shelter. This shelter served both women and children escaping domestic violence and women and children experiencing homelessness. I quickly learned that this is a false dichotomy. Most of the women escaping domestic violence became homeless as a result and nearly all of the women experiencing homelessness had a history of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking. We could not address one issue without addressing the other.

Research backs this up. Multiple studies of women experiencing homelessness have found rates as high as 92% of respondents having experienced severe physical or sexual assault in their lifetime [1] and 34% having experienced major violence in the past year. [2] The Minnesota Homeless Study in 2015 found that 21% of all people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota had experienced violence from an intimate partner in the past year and 37% have stayed in an abusive situation because they didn’t have any other housing options. [3]

Given all this evidence, why don’t homeless housing systems and domestic violence systems work together better? The answer is a complex combination of policies and funding structures, philosophies of practice and cross-sector relationships that have worked together to encourage competition over collaboration and differences over commonalities (I actually wrote an entire thesis on it [4]).

The tide is changing though. Government officials are establishing Interagency Councils to coordinate efforts to end homelessness across many government agencies including those responsible for addressing violence. Domestic violence advocates are speaking up about how HUD policies impact victims of domestic violence and, increasingly, the homeless housing field is listening.

I believe that if we are going to end homelessness, we need to work to break down these silos that leave individuals and families experiencing homelessness unable to “fit perfectly into either system, and therefore, receive insufficient or inappropriate services.” [5] I encourage anybody working in either field to reach out across the divide, learn about others’ work, and resolve to create systems that are inclusive of all people.



The Hearth Connection Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Dr. Glenn Andis has been named the new Executive Director of Hearth Connection, and that Kelby Grovender (formerly the Director of Programmatic Operations) has been promoted to the position of Deputy Executive Director.

Previous to this, Dr. Andis was the Senior Vice President of Government Programs at Medica, where he was responsible for Medica’s Medicaid and Medicare products. He has over seventeen years of experience in managing and providing mental health services. Hearth Connection will take the opportunity to use his unique experience and skills to set a strategic direction for the organization during a time of major change and uncertainty in the political, health care and social service settings. Dr. Andis had been a member of the Hearth Connection Board of Directors since 2005.

Kelby Grovender has been on staff with Hearth Connection since 2010, where he has held the positions of Program Director, and most recently, Director of Programmatic Operations. Mr. Grovender has over twenty-six years of experience in homeless services, including twenty-one years in leadership positions in the supportive housing field. His extensive experience in serving long-term homeless individuals and his innovation in program design adds exceptional depth to Hearth Connection’s leadership team.

Through the combined experience and expertise gained through decades of work in mental health and homeless services, Glenn and Kelby will team-up to maximize Hearth Connection's impact on ending long-term homelessness in Minnesota and providing ongoing services so that no one in Minnesota remains homeless and people who were homeless prosper.



We sat down with our board member, Barbara Miller, to talk about her background, why she decided to serve on Hearth’s board, and how her experience participating in a “Day In the Life” changed her understanding of homelessness.

Hearth: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Besides Hearth, what are you currently involved in?

Barbara: I’m officially retired. My background is in scientific research and new product development. I had always wanted to do more volunteer work, but it was hard with a career and family. Once I retired, I felt like I could do other things. I started volunteering at Guardian and began to learn more about homelessness. That’s how I learned of Hearth Connection.

H: How familiar were you with the long-term homeless population before you joined the board?

B: Coming in, I had stereotypical perceptions about what homelessness looks like - you know, an older man sitting on the sidewalk. I was drawn to Hearth because I saw that they made data-based decisions and were continuously finding ways to innovate and do research. I liked looking at it from a data perspective. A change occurred for me thought when I realized each number actually represented a person which represented a life. There was a lot of gravity in that. I can’t look at it as scientifically anymore.

H: Last winter, you participated in an experience called “A Day in the Life” with St. Stephen’s. Can you share a little bit about what that experience was like for you?

B: A group of 15 of us attended a class and visited various shelters together. We were led by individuals who were formerly homeless. They shared their stories with us and in that experience, the “face” of homelessness I had in my mind began to shift. My eyes were really opened.

H: What emotions/feelings/thoughts came up during and after that experience?

B: I was horrified that there was a population living outside in such a bitter, cold climate, and I was surprised at the limited resources available. I had some reassurance though, that yes, there is hope out there, and that there are good people who are dedicated to helping the homeless.

Like I said earlier, my “face” of homeless has changed too. For example, the leader in our class was a woman from privilege but her home life was not safe and because of that she became homeless.

H: How did that experience help you understand homelessness better? How did that help you understand the work Hearth does?

B: Homelessness could be me. Homelessness could be you. It could be the difference from one decision to another. It increases my motivation to want to help everyone. I have become more aware - reading more articles, being more in tune to the news, noticing homelessness around me.

It raises questions too. How can Hearth make it even easier for people to get help? How can we cut through the complexity to get people what they need? How can we chip away at the number of long-term homeless in Minnesota? How can we add on to the services we are already providing?

In my role on the board, I’d like to help where I can to reduce the complexity and make it simpler. The more straightforward we can be in Hearth’s work, the faster we can provide housing and services to those who need it most. 


Caring for self can rub up against internalized beliefs and social constructs about our own value and worth. Some of us may feel we are built to serve others-- selflessness is so ingrained within our identity that taking care of ourselves feels selfish. For others, striving to accomplish-- to solve the problem, complete the checklist, or be everything to everyone-- leaves little room for even the simplest gestures of self-compassion such as a deep breath, nutritious food and hydration. If you continue to struggle with making time for yourself and it feels more like an external should than an internal must, you might need to evaluate your mindset.

Have you ever:

  • Kept other people comfortable at your own expense? (That expense could be: time, money, energy, stress, etc.)

  • Worked through lunch and/or not taken breaks throughout the day to move, stretch, or breathe with attention? (Have you ever been so focused on a project that when you finally take a deep breath, you feel like you are reactivating your lungs?)

  • Brought feelings of frustration, anger or resistance home (or to work), where they come out sideways at the people you love (or serve)?

  • Felt resentment towards people because you haven’t known how to say no and set boundaries?

If you recognize yourself in any of these scenarios, the first step is to focus on the mindsets that lead to these destructive behaviors. The discomfort we feel in our bodies about the idea of self-care is what we need to explore if we want to practice better care for self.

Here are a few tips to develop a healthy self-care mindset:

  1. Watch your thoughts and evaluate what’s true.

Despite the fact that you are a helper, you too need the support of others. Sometimes our mind can play tricks on us that make us believe we are the only one who can do x,y, or z. When we believe those thoughts we miss out on the help that’s already around us. Perhaps there’s a new colleague who hasn’t quite learned the system yet. Rather than assume they can’t do the work, could this be an opportunity for them to learn it better? Are you the first call for help when a client has a crisis? Does it become your crisis too?

  1. Get curious and create boundaries.

Once we see the thoughts that lead to our discomfort with self-care, we need to get curious about our emotions, explore what we need and create the boundaries that will help us attend to those needs. Were you anxious about the event or did someone else’s anxiety trigger you to start worrying? Sometimes, when we focus so much on others, our happiness and contentment becomes dependent on how someone else feels, either about us or about a situation. Learning to separate our emotions from another person is a huge (and hard) self-care strategy! When we can stay true to our own thoughts and feelings we are much more likely to attend to what we need and can start to cultivate a internal voice that is more compassionate than critical.

  1. Take action.

Once you have attended to your mindset, your actions will align more intentionally with what you need. Putting down your work to take a walk or prepare a healthy lunch won’t feel so hard. Turning off the cell phone or email won’t fill you with anxiety, and saying no might even feel like a relief! And if those activities still feel hard, do them anyway. Your mind doesn’t think it’s safe, but you can help it re-learn by experiencing the good that comes from a much needed pause, a healthy dose of laughter or a good cry.

Self-care is not a one time fix and it looks different for everyone. It is a practice that takes time to strengthen and understand. In the same way our muscles hurt after a workout, attending to our mental and emotional health can lead to pain. They are both still acts of care. And remember, we are all doing the best we can with what we have.


For more from Lindsay, find her over at or over at, the nonprofit she started that helps youth find their courage through creativity.


Bruce Vento Distinguished Service Award

Monica Nilsson (L) winner of the Steve O'Neil Outstanding Organizer Award. Shery Block (R) winner of the Bruce Vento Distinguished Service Award.One of our Southern providers, Shery Block, won the Bruce Vento Distinguished Service Award this year for the work she has been doing with people experiencing homelessness in Southeast Minnesota. Shery has worked as a service provider since the 90s in the Rochester Metro Area. Before becoming part of the Southern Regional Project to End Long-Term Homelessness, she was active in the homeless services community, working for what was then known as Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center. In the late 90s, she participated in conversations that led to the creation of the Managed Care Pilot, now known as Hearth Connection, and the Long Term Homeless Supportive Service Fund.
 Shery has been a good fit for the Southern Project because she naturally has a "person centered" approach when working with people. She openly advocates, taking in the hardest to serve households who have multiple barriers to housing. Talking with program participants through focus groups and program events, they describe her as a "godsend." She is easy to talk to and always appears to be on their side, helping them to navigate the system. She advocates not only for her programs' participants, but for everyone experiencing homelessness in her community. She strongly promotes housing first values and is not afraid to challenge county or other providers on behalf of participants. Her leadership and values have set the culture for her entire team who reflect her commitment to working with participants to achieve stable housing. 
 She has a unique role as the Homeless Services Supervisor because she not only manages the programing but keeps a caseload, too. Shery has been an extremely valuable partner, helping to bring in unique funding resources and advocating for new ways to pay for programming, such as additional Adult Mental Health Target Case Management funding and taking advantage of GRH reform by creating the first significant scattered-site GRH program in Greater Minnesota. Shery is never afraid to try something new or do things differently to bring more service and housing resources into her community. Because of Shery's success, we are now looking at replicating the Homeless Service Teams model in other areas of the state.  
Thank you, Shery, for all of your hard work!

Happy 10 Years! 

Last week, our Rochester Provider, the Zumbro Valley Health Center’s Homeless Services Team, celebrated their 10 year anniversary of not only receiving funding from the Long Term Homeless Supportive Service Fund (LTHSSF) but also of their partnership with Hearth Connection. They set up a lunch with some of the original participants who are still in the program today and later hosted an open house for the community.

The Homeless Service Team is a good fit for our Southern Project because they naturally use a "person-centered" approach when working with people. They advocate for participants and take the hardest to serve households who have multiple barriers to housing into the program. Participants of the program described the Homeless Service Team as a "godsend." The staff is easy to talk to and always appears to be on their side, helping them to navigate the system. They strongly promote housing first values and they are not afraid to challenge county or other providers on behalf of participants. The culture of the team is a strong commitment to working with participants to achieve stable housing. 

We’re ecstatic to be able to celebrate this milestone with the Zumbro team. You can learn more about them in this piece for KAALtv.


by Heather Duchscherer

This year, I had the opportunity to attend the National Conference on Ending Homeless in Washington, D.C. It’s taken me a couple of weeks to recover from the heat and humidity and to fully take in all the information presented, the innovative ideas shared, and the amazing advocates I met. Here are seven things I learned:

1. Ending homelessness is hard work.

There were many workshops to choose from at the conference. Workshops that addressed homelessness experienced by every gender, race, sexual orientation, family structure and life situation imaginable. With so many populations, how do we end homeless for everybody?! Many interventions were discussed, some of which I’ve touched on below.

2. We are making progress toward our goal of ending homelessness.

NAEH President, Nan Roman, reported on the current state of homelessness and the progress we’ve made.  Last year, the national rate of homelessness fell to 17.7 homeless/10,000 people down from 18.3/10,000 the year before. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia reported decreases in overall homelessness. OMB Director, Shaun Donovan, shared data indicating that since 2009 we’ve reduced veteran homelessness by a third, chronic homelessness by 22%, and family homelessness by 19%. These decreases were attributed to the increase in rapid re-housing capacity and permanent supportive housing beds, and CoC prioritization of the most vulnerable in available units.

3. Housing first and harm reduction models are best practices.

Hearth Connection has been focused on providing housing first and practicing harm reduction since the beginning, but for many, these are new ideas that are being adopted to meet HUD requirements. The first workshop I attended applied these concepts to working with youth.  Stephen Gaetz of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness reminded attendees that homeless youth haven’t had an opportunity to learn how to be good tenants and live independently so “if [we] wait for young people to be ready for housing, [we]’ll miss the mark” on ending youth homelessness. 

4. Ending chronic homelessness is possible.

The US Interagency Council on Homelessness has set a goal of ending chronic homelessness by 2017. That’s a lot of work to accomplish by next year! But some communities have reached a “functional zero” through effective outreach, identification of the hardest to house, and prioritization of those folks for housing. Julia Orlando of Bergen County, New Jersey told the story of a Ms. M with whom they worked for seven years to house. Ms. M had many barriers including a long history of psychiatric hospitalization and missing immigration documents.  Housing Ms. M required collaboration across outreach, shelter, coordinated entry, and housing programs. Transparency and constant communication were needed, along with willingness to negotiate on Ms. M’s behalf. This was the kind of hard work that helped Bergen County decrease homelessness by 87% over the last six years.   

5. Housing providers should explore partnerships with healthcare systems.

Providing supportive housing requires not just housing, but supportive services. But how do we pay for these services? Since the Department of Health and Human Services released a bulletin last year indicating Medicaid could be used for housing-related services, providers and administrators have been exploring strategies to make this happen in their state. Similar partnerships have been implemented providing additional data on the positive effects of housing stability on health. Communities consider how they can advocate with state policy makers to bring these efforts to a larger scale.

6. Political will is a necessity.

Local ordinances that allow sex offenders to find homes in cities of their choosing. Policies that support community policing over criminalizing sleeping outside or panhandling. State and local funds that align with federal priorities. All of these can help end homelessness but require state and local leaders to support this goal and understand the ways they can all be part of the solution. I was proud to be from a state that has prioritized ending homelessness and has put their money where their mouth is. But our work’s not done!

7. Congressional action is needed to fund federal programs.

On the final day of the conference, we heard from Dr. Matthew Desmond, sociologist and author of Evicted. Desmond pointed out that the majority of working families are paying at least half their income on housing and one in four is paying over 70% of their income. He suggested that eviction isn’t just a result of poverty but a cause of it. He called for a universal housing voucher program in which all households below a certain income level get a voucher anywhere they choose. Such a program would cost only $22 billion, far less than the $171 billion cost of mortgage interest deduction that primarily benefits upper-income households. But is it possible to make this happen?

Later that afternoon, a group of six Minnesotans attending the conference went to Capitol Hill to speak with the staff of Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Al Franken, and Representative Keith Ellison about increased funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, Homeless Assistance to Families, and the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) as well as requesting their support for police reform and decriminalization of homelessness. All three expressed support for these policies!  But there are 98 other senators and 434 other representatives.

We all need to reach out to our elected officials to express the importance of funding and policies that support our goal of ending homelessness. 


Meetings, meetings and more meetings. It seems at times as though the meetings never end in the efforts to end homelessness. And yet, despite all the planning, reviewing, evaluating and innovating, after nearly a decade into the statewide plan to end homelessness, homelessness remains. 

We’ve all been to those community meetings charged with identifying the barriers to ending homelessness. Usually the following are identified as the top barriers facing those experiencing homelessness:

  1. Lack of Affordable Housing
  2. Chemical Dependency/Mental Health
  3. Access to Employment

Looking at this list makes me feel a bit like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Each year, multiple times a year, in various locations throughout the state, this conversation takes place resulting in the same conclusions. And yet, after ten years of identifying these barriers and developing action plans to eliminate them, these barriers and homelessness still exist. It begs the question:  “Is this the best we can do?”

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to ask if the work we do is about ending homelessness, creating jobs for the multitude of social workers coming out of our universities, or making ourselves feel good at the end of each work day. Let's face it, we all profit from homelessness. We profit individually through our salaries and benefits. Our agencies profit by way of grants, second-party billing and donations. Truly ending homelessness could leave our agencies shuttered, us unemployed, and perhaps even jeopardize our own housing and stability. 

Now, it is not my desire to diminish the intent of those whose work each day to assist those in need, or to diminish the severe need of many in our communities. But the fact is that the resources spent to keep us busy for 40 hours a week could end homelessness for a lot of people. This cannot be ignored. 

Instead of repeatedly identifying the obvious causes of homelessness, and the barriers to ending it, perhaps we could begin to discuss how to make our agencies and our collective efforts operate more efficiently and effectively on the local, state and national level. This could result in some of our agencies downsizing, merging with other agencies, or even closing their doors. Some of us might even find ourselves looking for a new career.

But if we are serious about wanting to end homelessness, shouldn't unemployment be our ultimate goal...and if not, why are we doing the work we do?




Deanna Ripka, is a case manager at South Central Human Relations Center’s Project Home, and recently attended a series of Motivational Interviewing trainings hosted by Warren Duncan from Hearth Connection, and Russ Turner from People Incorporated. 

We sat down with her and asked her how the trainings have helped her in her work.


"The recent trainings I’ve received in motivational interviewing (MI) have helped me in my interactions with my participants. Before, I felt that if a participant wasn't doing well, I was failing at my job. Motivational interviewing allows me to have a guide to work off of. It’s so easy to tell someone to do X, Y & Z but that usually doesn’t work and the participants don’t have any buy-in to the program. Gently guiding the client to find solutions seems to be a lot more productive.

Here’s a great example from last week: I met with a client who can often be very difficult. In fact, she’s in jail now due to drug use. Despite that, we continue to build our relationship. When she came in to see me, she had a black eye and was crying as we talked. We focused on how she was and what was happening in her life. I quickly found out that the source of her emotion wasn’t her conviction. It was missing her youngest son’s birthday. She hadn’t been able to be involved in the end-of-school activities like she had with her older kids. She was very upset that she had let her son down. If I had jumped straight to a conclusion on the source of her emotions, I would’ve thought it was because she was in jail and had a black eye. That wasn’t the case. Using open-ended questions and reflections helped me understand what the underlying issue really was. 

After she opened up about her son, we started working on an assessment to get inpatient treatment and other personal business taken care of. Because I do take the time to work with her on what she wants, we are moving forward on other issues as well. She trusts that I am there to advocate for her. For example, she had previously revoked a release of information (ROI) that I had with child protection services (CPS) but because I took the time to listen and build the relationship, she felt comfortable enough with me to reinstate my ROI with CPS.

My client does dig in her heels on her chemical use as well as complying with what CPS requires her to do. She says her drug use is not her fault and that CPS pushed her to use. She also fights child protection. Motivational interviewing has allowed me to validate her feelings and come up with a plan to work with child protection that might help her to meet goals that CPS has set for her even if she doesn’t always like what she’s asked to do.

Using the MI model with my clients is just one tool that helps me in my practice. Another tool in my tool bag that I bring to my conversations are Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skills like mindfulness, radical acceptance and distress tolerance skills. I really think that both motivational interviewing and DBT line up with Hearth Connection’s service model of harm reduction and tailoring services for the client. This service model allows me the flexibility I need to help the client make changes in their lives."


By Warren Duncan

Spring and summer in Minnesota means baseball and I love baseball! It’s an amazing and complicated sport that seems fairly simple on the surface, but a deeper look will reveal layers of strategy as to how the game is played. It is fascinating to think about everything that goes into a game, including all of the hours the players spend improving and honing their skills to peak performance.

"Small ball" and motivational interviewing is an analogy I often use with our providers when discussing the Hearth Connection service model. “Small ball” is an offensive strategy used in baseball. It's all about making small plays, focusing on getting guys on base to win a game rather than hitting home runs. Runs will come once players are on base.  

One of the ways we approach our work in supportive housing involves regularly practicing the Motivational Interviewing (MI) skills we use when working with participants. These MI Skill Drills are different than coaching circles and traditional motivational interviewing trainings. We’ve taken the proven method of motivational interviewing and added new practice drills that enable providers to effectively engage with participants in our regional projects using the skills they’ve learned. The MI skills covered in the drills are reflective listening, affirmations, MI-consistent questions, and summarizing.

Like baseball, these skills look easy on the surface but it can be tricky finding the right word or the right time to insert these skills into a conversation with a participant. In collaboration with People Incorporated, we’ve worked hard to develop drills around these four areas for our providers to practice. Along with the skill drills, we also discuss the topic and re-enforce the importance of working alongside our participants to accomplish their goals without interjecting our opinions into the conversation.

Late 2015, a few of our Metro and Southern Project teams had a chance to try out the MI Skill Drills. It was a safe place to strategize how to help program participants as well as get feedback on the best ways to carry out those conversations.

We know that not every participant will move at the pace we want them to and sometimes, it can seem like we are spinning our wheels. There can be engagement issues or a lack of connection between the provider and participant. For these situations, it’s important to focus on the “small ball” of what steps we can take to help that individual be successful.  Skills like reflective listening can help us understand where the participant is and validate their views. A consistent approach utilizing the motivational interviewing skills will result in positive outcomes over time.

As in baseball, we can get very deep into strategies for working with our program participants. But it’s when we adapt those strategies to fit the individual that we start to see results. Whether it’s affirming a participant or summarizing their experience, each conversation brings the participant one swing closer to a home run.