Peer support specialists are essential to the mission of House of Ruth, providing invaluable and irreplaceable services. They help connect clients to the care they need, and most importantly, they offer encouragement and empathy.
What are Peer Support Specialists?
A peer support specialist is a professional with a unique perspective. Most commonly, a peer support specialist has a history of mental illness or substance use disorder, as well as training to guide and support others working through the same roadblocks. At House of Ruth, our peer support specialists relate to our clients’ unique challenges of HIV/AIDS and homelessness. With their experiences and training, they can expertly connect clients to the services they need.
Larry Clark has been a House of Ruth’s peer support specialist for three years. “Peer support specialists meet people where they are because we’ve been there,” Larry explains. He can relate to House of Ruth clients because of his HIV-positive status as well as his history of mental health issues and substance use disorder.
Now, after more than nine years of sobriety, Larry’s experiences allow him to model life after recovery. “My past allows me to connect individually with my clients,” Larry says. “By meeting them where they are, I can better guide them to what they need.” This can mean getting sick clients into regular care for their HIV/AIDS, connecting them with counseling services, and much more.
Becoming a peer support specialist
The requirements for becoming a peer support specialist vary from state to state. To become a peer support specialist in Kentucky, a candidate must:
- Have a history of mental illness or substance use disorder;
- Be able to demonstrate their successful recovery from these issues;
- Complete 30 hours of training
- Pass a certifying test.
There are four types of peer support specialists recognized in Kentucky. Larry is certified in both family and adult peer support and feels grateful that his past struggles can help others.
Peer Support at House of Ruth
House of Ruth offers a spectrum of services for HIV/AIDS-positive individuals struggling with homelessness. Our housing services include short-term, emergency, and long-term housing programs. Both our short-term and emergency housing programs are contained within Glade House, a 5,500 square foot, 13-bedroom group home.
At large community shelters, residents typically sleep in an open room with many other people. This can be a dangerous situation for immunocompromised, HIV+ adults. House of Ruth’s three-bed emergency housing program provides a safe place for these individuals. Emergency housing clients can stay at Glade House for up to 90 days while receiving intensive case management designed to help them find stable housing.
Short-Term Housing Program
Glade House also holds ten short-term housing beds. For individuals who are homeless and HIV-positive, Glade House provides a safe, drug and alcohol-free community living environment. For up to two years, clients in the short-term housing program receive intensive case management as well as group and individual counseling. At the end of the program, graduating clients are self-supporting and able to get and maintain housing.
Larry provides peer support services to the clients staying in Glade House. During their stay, Larry helps clients heal, recover, and become self-sufficient. Larry’s support is individualized and varied. “It could be teaching clients how to be a good neighbor, or how to pay rent,” Larry says. “Or it could be teaching basic self-care skills. It’s really whatever the client needs to be successful.”
Once clients graduate from the short-term housing program and leave Glade House, Larry continues to check in every six months or so. If a client is struggling for any reason — for example, if they’ve gone through a personal loss and stopped getting care for their HIV/AIDS — Larry reconnects them with the services they need to ensure they maintain the health and stability they achieved at Glade House.
Long-Term Housing Program
Larry also supports about 30 long-term housing clients working towards the goal of owning their own homes. Alongside House of Ruth case managers, Larry helps clients access House of Ruth’s holistic wraparound services. Larry explains that this model has a high rate of success because it offers clients long-term care that is individual, thoughtful, and empathetic.
Peer to Peer Support: Inspiring Hope
As a peer support specialist, Larry also inspires hope in clients who are suffering. “We act as role models, first of all,” he says. Peer support specialists at House of Ruth model a life beyond homelessness, substance use disorder, mental illness, financial instability, and HIV/AIDS. For clients who are at their lowest, seeing the potential for a long and healthy life beyond their struggles can be the spark of hope that drives them forward. “They do all the work,” Larry says, “I just help show them that it’s possible.”
After three years at House of Ruth, there are several client success stories that stand out to Larry, and they all have something in common. These clients came to House of Ruth with severe AIDS, dangerously low T cell counts, and a viral load in the millions. For these clients, continuing on this path would be fatal, and they felt hopeless.
Now, Larry says, these clients are thriving in the community and their HIV is undetectable. This is the most gratifying part of his work: “I am blessed to see clients who come in very sick graduate from the program feeling healthy. They have a full life ahead of them.”
Larry considers these client success stories to be examples of what’s possible with the right care and compassionate support. “A lot of people don’t know how to get the care they need,” Larry says.
“My wish is that everyone in our community who needs these services knew to come to House of Ruth.”
You can inspire hope!
If you want to help House of Ruth’s mission to provide housing and support services for people with HIV/AIDS and their families who are homeless, at risk of losing their homes, or need financial help, please consider donating today.