The Thurston County Housing Task Force has honored Olympia resident Lori Christmas with the 2015 Housing and Homeless Hero Award.
The annual award was presented Dec. 21 during a luncheon at the Olympia Women’s Club. Recipients are chosen by their peers in the social service sector for their efforts to strengthen the homeless service network.
Christmas works as a case manager and family advocate at the Family Support Center’s Pear Blossom Place, a homeless shelter in downtown Olympia. She has helped hundreds of homeless families find housing and employment, and ensure that their children have coats.
Before joining the staff at Pear Blossom Place, Christmas had been helping the local homeless by volunteering at an overnight shelter at First Christian Church. She doesn’t see clients as homeless people, but instead sees them as people who are experiencing homelessness, she said.
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She tells her clients: “This does not define you. This is not your label.”
Christmas said her focus is finding stable housing for families, but in the end, she will do whatever needs to be done. That can include sending referrals for child care, calling a school liaison, or just holding a baby for 15 minutes so that a homeless mother can get a much-needed break.
“The family unit is so important,” she said. “That’s the stability, that’s the learning, that’s the nurturing.”
Christmas expects to finish her studies at Saint Martin’s University in the spring and receive her master’s degree in counseling. In the meantime, she continues to manage a caseload that includes 120 clients who are not at the shelter.
“It’s about the small successes with my clients,” she said.
Longtime social worker Theresa Slusher praised Christmas for the personal touch she puts on her job. The task force also recognized Slusher for her longtime efforts to strengthen the network of services, housing and shelter for the homeless population, including nearly 20 years of work with the Thurston County Housing Authority.
“Lori has got her heart and soul into it and she really makes an effort to connect with every client,” Slusher said. “She’s always been in touch with the humanity of the people she works with.”