Bocangel Named Mentoring Program Coordinator for Compassion Coalition

Communications Director

Kristin Farley
(865) 215-2589

400 Main St., Room 691
Knoxville, TN 37902

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Bocangel Named Mentoring Program Coordinator for Compassion Coalition

Posted: 09/02/2008
A key position in the public/private effort aimed at helping chronically homeless men and women transition from the streets into permanent housing has been filled.

Jon Lawler, director of the Knoxville/Knox County Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, said Jessica Bocangel has started work as the mentoring program coordinator with Compassion Coalition.

Bocangel will help develop ties between Knoxville's faith-based community and previously homeless individuals with the goal of building small mentoring teams - called Support Circles - from among various congregations. Each team will work with a person placed in permanent supportive housing to provide a network that will work with their case manager to encourage them to experience success and remain in their housing.

"Having a group of three to five people for this person to have a relationship with begins to create a community for them," said Bocangel, a 2006 University of Tennessee graduate who has worked with the homeless here and in Bolivia since 2004.

The Support Circles will work with their previously homeless neighbor to encourage social activities and community engagement, as well as help to work with them on skills like keeping their apartment clean, learning good nutrition, and practicing basic money management.

"There are things that we might take for granted, like how to make a grocery list or wash a load of laundry- these folks might need help with that," Bocangel said.

Each Support Circle matched with a formerly homeless person will work with a case manager and other social workers to help their new neighbor succeed.

The mentoring teams are one piece of the wrap-around support services package envisioned by the Ten Year Plan - including case management and social services to address issues like addiction or mental illness - to help the chronically homeless get off the streets.

The Support Circles are a key piece.

"It helps get them (the homeless) involved in the right network to be successful," Lawler said.

"The idea is that before these folks got into housing their community was the streets," said Mike Dunthorn, project manager for the Ten Year Plan, "and it's important to connect them with the rest of us, so they aren't tempted to go back to harmful influences when things get tough."

It's an ambitious undertaking but supporters of the plan believe Bocangel is the right person for the job.

"I cannot imagine a person who is better suited to providing leadership for this critically important part of our overall strategy to end chronic homelessness," Lawler said.

Bocangel is on the staff of Compassion Coalition, a Christian non-profit organization in Knoxville dedicated to connecting congregations committed to helping the less fortunate with people who are in need.

The group has collaborated with the Ten-Year Plan in creating the mentoring program.

Grant Standefer, Executive Director of Compassion Coalition, explains how, "We have worked closely with the Office of the 10-Year Plan and have researched similar mentoring efforts across the country to develop an approach that will be effective."

Bocangel has already approached leaders in several congregations, and she has the first Support Circle lined up for training in September. She hopes to have the group paired up with a formerly chronically homeless neighbor within a month.

She'll work with groups from all religious faiths in Knoxville and Knox County.

Faith-based and non-profit organizations have always been the backbone of attempts to feed, clothe and temporarily house the homeless in Knoxville, but the goal of the Ten-Year Plan is different. It seeks to end chronic homelessness through housing, support services, and community reintegration of homeless individuals.

The joint city/county effort was created in 2005 by Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale to coordinate the work of the various agencies helping the homeless in order to maximize their resources. It began operation in 2006.

The primary aim is to place the chronic homeless into permanent, supportive housing before solving the problems that put them on the streets in the first place.

"This is how we are choosing to do it," Lawler said, "with the overarching goal of ending homelessness, not just serving it."

Bocangel will be working with dozens of congregations to build the program over the next few years.

"I'm thrilled about this opportunity to be a part of something extraordinary," she said. "It is by far the most challenging undertaking I've ever signed up for."

Though their numbers are relatively small the chronically homeless typically use most of the resources available for helping homeless individuals. The definition of a chronically homeless person is an individual with a disabling condition who has been homeless for more than a year or has been homeless four times in three years.

About 90 homeless individuals were placed in permanent housing last year and a high percentage of them have remained in the program.

For more information about the program please contact Jessica Bocangel at 865-251-1591, ext. 8.