Taylor Lacroix is currently pursuing a Master's of Social Work at Simmons. Here she shares her experience with advocating for the homeless, the incarcerated, and those with behavioral health challenges.
Tell me about the kind of work that you do.
I am currently a Senior Director at Open Sky Community Services, a large non-profit based in Worcester, Massachusetts. The agency focuses on many different areas and there are a lot of different funding sources: state funding, third party billing through insurance, grant funding, foundations, donations, and so forth. We serve a widespread population, including people with substance use disorder, justice involved individuals, and people experiencing homelessness. I also oversee crisis intervention, which involves training local police departments and first responders to respond appropriately to individuals with behavioral health needs and divert them from incarceration or unnecessary hospitalization.
How did you become interested in working in this area?
When I was younger, members of my own family had a difficult time finding resources for behavioral health needs. I learned from a young age that this is the field in which I would like to work. Coming from a position of privilege, at that time I could only imagine what other people were facing with lack of resources. In college I studied psychology and criminal justice, but afterwards I could not find a job in mental health and substance use, because everything required a master's degree. I eventually found a job at The Bridge of Central Massachusetts.
Why do you think homelessness has become such a significant problem in the United States in general, and what has contributed to homelessness in Massachusetts?
There are national systemic issues that contribute homelessness: the wage gap, folks being born into poverty, and low wages. Rents in many areas have risen since the COVID-19 pandemic, and rents in Massachusetts and especially the Boston area are particularly high. There is a trend in big cities to build luxury apartments and condos. We are not seeing as many private landlords with whom we can negotiate rents. Instead, property manager groups stick to higher rents.
Individuals experiencing homelessness may have a harder time finding subsidized housing. For instance, people experiencing homelessness may engage in crimes of survival, such as petty theft and trespassing. Others may use substances that make them hyper-vigilant for the purposes of survival or cope with the traumas of experiencing homelessness. Once someone is charged with a crime and it is on their record, it is difficult to receive subsidies.
Why did you choose to attend Simmons?
Some of my colleagues attended Simmons and they had a very positive experience. I liked the fact that Simmons offers an online and part-time program, as I have to continue to work full-time. Simmons is clinically focused, and I appreciate that focus.
How is Simmons helping to prepare you for your career?
The Simmons program is introducing me to different theories that I can implement, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), along with other interventions. Simmons does a great job focusing on self-reflection, and this is an incredibly important aspect of being a social worker. Knowing ourselves, our identity, and any implicit bias is necessary as we enter the field.
Do you have any advice for current students wanting to pursue a similar path?
Network like crazy, because this is an important part of how we can advocate for the folks we work with and it helps build relationships. Also, understand and implement work-life balance early on, and have people around you who can check-in with you; burn out is real and has become more serious since COVID-19. The work we do is very difficult, and holding onto those moments of inspiration and pockets of peace is essential.