Meet Tandah Etienne: Tireless Advocate for Homeless Families

Our new Program Director returns “home” to work on behalf of  homeless families

When Tandah Etienne arrived at Friends of the Homeless of the South Shore this summer as the new Program Director, it was a return to her roots. In fact, Tandah’s work as an advocate for homeless families began when she was a student at Eastern Nazarene College. Back then, she volunteered at Friends of the Homeless under the direction of then Executive Director Dorothy Newell.

Since then, Tandah has worked as an advocate for homeless families and individuals in a variety of settings including:

  • A Family Life Advocate position during Governor Duvall Patrick’s campaign to end homelessness
  • Individual case management at homeless shelters
  • Housing search specialist
  • Prevention and diversion at the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA)
New roles increased her understanding and skills

At DTA she served as the overnight supervisor in a rooming house for people with HIV, substance abuse, mental health, and domestic violence issues. “Every one of those positions increased my understanding and sharpened my communications and problem-solving skills in a different way,” she recalls.

But it wasn’t until she left social services to work in the private sector that she realized how much her work meant to her. It was a key part of who she was. “I couldn’t get the fire to ignite and didn’t feel the same passion for my work as I had in the past,” she remembers. So she returned to the state, got a position as a housing advocate, and was happy to be back on track. Then Friends of the Homeless came calling–again.

Coming full circle, facing new challenges

Now Tandah has come full circle, with more than a decade of experience as an advocate for homeless families behind her.  Here, in her own words, is how she views her new role – and the challenges of helping families in transition.

In her own words …

When I arrived at Friends of the Homeless as a volunteer in 2004, Dorothy took me under her wing, as my mentor. She taught me that there is no blanket approach to solving homelessness. Instead, there are many possible solutions, depending on what each family needs.

That’s why it’s so important to build a relationship with the family. It means you can:

  • tailor services specifically to them and
  • help them navigate the various state and private agencies that might give them needed support.

Dorothy also taught me that, whatever a client’s circumstances are, you must stay positive about finding solutions that suit each individual or family.

I enjoy that kind of problem solving and I’m good at it. And, that’s what I’m doing every day now.

Looking at how we do things in a new way

 Of course, I’m doing it at a different level now. I attend meetings for updates on the rules and requirements of different agencies and I work closely with the shelter staff rather than directly with clients.

 And, honestly, there are days when I miss that one-on-one connection.

 But I also know my role here is critical. I have an opportunity—and a responsibility—to help the staff look at things in a fresh way. We need to re-think “how we’ve always done it” to be more effective in fulfilling our mission. We also need to be more efficient about using our time and energy to meet clients’ needs.

 “Hope holders” for our families

 I’m using my voice and passion to make a difference. And I’m getting to know the staff and collaborating with them. I’ve also been reminding them that, ultimately, we want to give each client more than just help with the rules, the contacts, and the tools.

As much as possible, we also want to be “hope holders” for our families, lighting their way out of the dark and doing our best to help them set new expectations and complete the picture of what they want for themselves.

 I’m looking forward to working with everyone at Friends of the Homeless of the South Shore to help make that happen.

Tandah Etienne, Program Director

Helping families in transition

The mission of Friends of the Homeless of the South Shore focuses on improving the lives of homeless families. They do this by:

  • Building stronger parents, children, and families
  • Securing education and employment opportunities
  • Finding safe and affordable permanent housing
  • Supporting the efforts of every family to work toward functional self-sufficiency
How you can help too

To learn how your church or community group can assist the Friends of the Homeless of the South Shore in their mission to help families in transition, visit the Friends of the Homeless website