Dee Jackson: Outside the Box

Dee Jackson grew up in Raleigh. She says she did not plan to go into social work when she started college but helping others was in her blood.

“Growing up, I watched my mother help family and friends with food or whatever. I watched it my whole life and so I did it, too. And now, I’m watching my son do it.”

She has done a myriad of things during her 17-year human services career and was recently named the Shelter Program Manager at Urban Ministries of Wake County’s Helen Wright Center for Women.

Dee began working for UMWC nearly six years ago as a contractor. Now, as manager of the Shelter Program, she works to develop and implement systems to help other case managers do their jobs more efficiently.

Dee says she begins her day by meditating, then she reviews emails and case files. She also says she does a lot of research for resources for the women at Helen Wright. For years, Dee has been negotiating with local landlords to get them to work with her on stable housing for the women at HWCW experiencing homelessness.

Once she knows she has a good candidate with income, she asks the landlords to divide leases among two or three women and to work with her on deposits.

The housing crisis in Raleigh has made this even more difficult the past few years and leaves Dee trying to find ways to creatively navigate a situation that grows worse.

“There is not enough housing or affordable housing. Unfortunately, there are going to be homeless people on the streets. We cannot house everybody,” she adds about the issue.

“I know there are a lot of landlords who won’t do this, but I am honest with them and reassure them. I say, ‘Hey if you don’t want to do 12 months, let’s try a 3-month lease.’”

“I also try to get them to split the lease between two or three people. We know not everyone will do well, so we wouldn’t put anyone in that situation, including our women. We want it to be a good fit.  We also don’t want to break the trust the landlords have in us.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, UMWC had to quickly pivot, modifying operations in all its programs to keep people safe. The shelter aspect was perhaps the biggest challenge as it involves congregate living.

Over the course of 6 months, with Wake County’s help, UMWC opened a new shelter (already in progress,) sent some women to “Healthy Hotels,” and acquired a third building where women could shelter in place.

Dee says, “The best we could do was quarantine women and train staff, minimize face to face interaction as much as possible, check temperatures, use PPE and sanitizers.”

She says something else out-of-the-ordinary has happened. “Women we have never seen before are coming to us. Women are coming from different states to us. We are dealing with more mental health issues than we did before. And we spend a lot of time trying to help them.”

Dee recalls during the pandemic, an elderly woman who was not from Raleigh came to the shelter.

“She was scared because she had never stayed in a shelter before. We placed her in a hotel. But when I followed up with her, she said her mouth hurt. I coordinated for her to go to the dentist. She had to come back to shelter but was so scared. I was able to get her a place in two weeks. She was so happy.”

She says she gets a few calls a week from women she has helped at HWCW. “They call me to tell me they got new jobs, or custody, things like that,” she says.

“I have people reach back out to me to tell me they are doing well. I have only had about 6 women in 4 years return to us from permanent housing.”

As far as the new Helen Wright Center for Women goes, Dee is most looking forward to the state-of-the-art classroom being outfitted at the 73-bed facility. HWCW recently received a large Workforce Development grant from the county and will use the money to help women get certifications for jobs that will improve their wages and chance for success.

“I am so excited to offer the women these opportunities. They can do something to gain a skill set or certification where they can go out and get a good salary.”