Healthy Homes: Accountability and Learning Skills

If we surveyed 100 people, I’m confident all 100 people would say they don’t like chores. Then why does Willis Dady require clients staying in shelter to complete community chores? Not only do chores keep the shelter clean, it also gives clients responsibility over their space and reinforces the importance of cleanliness itself. Having a clean space is one aspect that makes a healthy home, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Things seen as “basic life skills” by some might not be a current priority or might have never been a priority for clients. Keeping up with chores is likely the furthest thing on their minds when they are looking for housing or applying for jobs. With all the transitions going on in a client’s life, it’s no wonder chores might fall to the wayside. I sat down with Willis Dady’s Shelter Manager, Faith Walker, to learn how clients are supported through this process.

Q: What is expected of clients when they first get to shelter? What kind of rules do they follow?

When clients first come in during the intake process, we go over the rules and expectations. It’s a lot of information to take in at once, so we don’t expect them to remember it all. Because of that, we have the chores and other expectations posted. Those other expectations include meeting regularly with their case managers, looking for employment, and looking for housing. For employment, we often refer them to our own employment program. We also have a curfew, so clients are expected to be back by 9:30pm if they aren’t at work. They need to communicate with the front desk if they won’t be in shelter, but we encourage them to have some consistency so they can work towards their goals.

Q: Can you explain that further? How do nights out work?

Clients can take up to three nights out. Sometimes clients have community support like their friends or family that they take a break from shelter to stay with. Sometimes clients want a break from shelter for whatever reason. For example, we had a client who found a job in Iowa City so they needed to take a few nights out to get that transition sorted. Clients can also earn additional nights out by doing chores.

Q: What are the expectations in regards to cleanliness and organization?

Each room is assigned community chores like the kitchen, hallway, laundry room, etc. Each client is responsible for keeping their sleeping area organized. All their items should fit into a locker which also helps with keeping things organized. Each client also helps with cleaning the day room, and they are encouraged to do their laundry weekly.

Q: Why do clients have assigned chores?

I’d say there are two main reasons. One, it helps with their daily living skills. Two, it helps them learn how to keep their environment clean

Q: Why is having a clean space helpful or beneficial?

It helps clients mentally focus and get clarity. If you’re in a clean environment you can sit down to work on paperwork for a job, food stamps, etc. It gives you a nice, clean space to work on. If you have a lot of jumble around, it is easier to misplace things.

It also helps with focus and not feeling overwhelmed. It gives mental clarity, organization, and order to what is important. It helps you look at what takes priority and what can be put on the back burner.

Q: What happens if those expectations are not being met?

As the Shelter Manager, I sit down and talk with them about following through on expectations. I explain how it is a benefit to them for when they get their own place. If they continue not to meet expectations, they will meet with our Shelter Services Director Denine. They might need to leave the shelter for a few hours so they can come back with a fresh slate. It might take going through that process a few times, but once it is done they feel really good about it and themselves.

Q: What kind of guidance is given to clients who are struggling to meet expectations?

They can meet with me, Denine, or our Shelter Case Manager Martha. What kind of support they need depends on what they are struggling with. For mental health we will connect them with the Abbe Center or they might just want someone to listen. If it’s substance abuse, we will help them get resources if they want them.

For chores specifically, sometimes we will stand with the client and talk them through it. We can divide it up into sections so they don’t feel overwhelmed with what needs done. This is especially helpful for clients who weren’t used to cleaning. Sometimes we will team them up with another client who is willing to work alongside them.

Q: How would you define a healthy home?

To me a healthy home is having the supplies you need, food to eat, a clean environment, and if they need mental health or substance abuse support they have that. A healthy home integrates community supports into an individual’s life. They should be able to then live independently. I feel that from my heart.

Q: How does regular cleaning contribute to a healthy home and healthy outcomes?

For a healthy home to be clean I think it’s an overall good feeling from within – a good feeling about yourself. It brings mental clarity so you can focus on your goals. You can prepare yourself for work the next day or whatever you have coming up. Organization and cleanliness mean a lot even if you don’t first think about them.


Check out this article from Very Well Mind to learn more about the connection between Cleanliness and Mental Health: https://www.verywellmind.com/how-mental-health-and-cleaning-are-connected-5097496.