The Caring Force Blog October 2023 Workforce Hero: Tina Cheek

The Caring Force is pleased to announce that our October TCF Workforce Hero Spotlight honoree is Tina Cheek, a Housing Resource Specialist Supervisor at Pine Street Inn. Tina goes above and beyond for the population Pine Street Inn serves and has taken her team to a new level of moving shelter guests into permanent housing. Every week it is guaranteed that her team will be moving someone out of shelter. She has built a very strong team who believes in working together for the same cause.

1. Tell us about your background.  How did you decide to pursue a career in human services?

I have been working in human services for 32 years with various agencies around Boston. I have experience working with populations such as domestic violence, substance abuse and homeless folks. This includes The Salvation Army/Harbor Light Center, who entrusted me with my first job after 6 months of being clean from crack cocaine in 1991 and graduating from their 6 month treatment program. The Salvation Army allowed me to attend college while they provided free room and food as long as I agreed to assist the new residents.

From there on, I have always felt this field and God has chosen me. I have always loved helping people and making things happen. I have always had great leaders, women and women of color that I have secretly considered my mentors. I learned really quickly that if I want to make any sort of money in this field, I should switch my major to human service management. I graduated from Roxbury Community College and attended UMass Boston, majoring in human service management. I did well there. Then I got sick, the loans kicked in, life happened and here I am with no Bachelor’s degree, but that is okay because I’m rewarded daily by the great work we do here at Pine Street Inn.

2. What does a typical day look like for you at your organization?

A typical day at my organization starts when I walk into the Bostonian Market for coffee and the guests (folks that live in shelter) say “Good morning Tina,” and “Hope you’re feeling better.” The guests know everything. My first task of the day should be checking my emails, but you never know.  My first task of the day might be on Harrison Avenue or Albany Street talking with a guest about housing or it could be assisting my staff (currently 6) with something they need help with, e.g., a new process and/or procedure since we merged. Then my first meeting may be at 10 a.m. and I might be able to multi-task while on the Zoom meeting by checking emails. Then I may meet with a guest and a member of my team to encourage the guest to take an SRO by informing them of the advantages of having their own place. My work atmosphere is very busy and fast paced for me and my staff and this job is not for everybody for these reasons.

I have an amazing, creative team. In my role, my team and I provide housing resource services for three shelters. You have to think on your feet, stay engaged with the guests and always be accessible to staff and guests. You have to track data to measure what is working and what is not. There are lots of meetings and trainings. I have an Outlook calendar that I use as my bible for my daily guide. I say guide because every day is different and brings its own challenges and barriers for staff as well as the population we serve. My reward is when we overcome the guest’s barriers and they put keys in the lock and walk into a brand new unit.

3. What is your favorite professional memory?

My favorite professional memory is while housing an elderly woman from another country, she stuck five $20 dollar bills in my pocket book. I did not know this until I was coming back in a taxi and went in my pocketbook. My supervisor and I mailed the money back to her. Then, two weeks later, the same woman came to the shelter, distraught that I sent the money back, and gave me a huge gift box. I accepted it and gave it to my supervisor because we are not allowed to accept gifts. However, this woman came all the way back to the shelter where I housed her because I remember it was a long taxi ride to bring me this gift. The gift was then given to me as an acknowledgement. Other gifts that were given to me we used in our staff raffle around the holidays.

4. This question is from our August TCF Workforce Hero Spotlight, Tatiana Salinas: Can you reflect on the things you are most proud of that you and your organization have accomplished together?

The thing that I am proud of is, my organization and I created a REC Center/drop-in center where our guests can come have coffee (still working on the donuts) and use phones and computers. They can discuss their housing options if they would like to. They can obtain assistance in filling out housing applications and we can order out of state birth certificates. They can also obtain assistance with referrals to detox and maximize income programs as well.

5. Do you have a question for the next person we spotlight?

If you could change one thing within your organization, what would it be?

Thank you so much to Tina and all of our wonderful human services workers who bring joy and passion to work every day! We are so thankful for your efforts and for making the Commonwealth a better place.

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