New leader at Harbor Light brings unique perspective
Written by Julie Borgen, Twin Cities Media Relations Director for The Salvation Army Northern Division
Trish Thacker’s career has been about learning and taking on new challenges. Now she’s taken a job that might be her biggest challenge yet – Executive Director of The Salvation Army Harbor Light Center in Minneapolis.
“When you look at the volume of people here and the magnitude of what they are experiencing, we have a unique opportunity to help this really vulnerable population, ” Thacker said.
A clinical social worker, Thacker first worked at Harbor Light two years ago, serving as program director. After stints at Hennepin County Medical Center, where she worked as manager for social services, and at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, where she served as Regional Clinical Administrator, Thacker was excited to come back to Harbor Light.
“I never left a day of work at the Harbor Light questioning whether my work was important or worthwhile,” she said. “What’s exciting to me is the chance to be part of finding increasingly better ways to deliver services to our guests and support our staff.”
And there is no doubt, it’s an important job. The Harbor Light Center is the largest homeless shelter in Minnesota, and one of the biggest in the nation, often sheltering more than 400 people a night.
The reality is that many of the guests here face daunting challenges, including mental health issues, chemical dependency and a lack of access to resources like affordable housing.
“Nationally, nearly half of adults who find themselves homeless have a documented mental illness. 25 percent of those are serious, persistent mental illnesses,” explained Thacker, citing research from the National Coalition for the Homeless. “The same is true for people experiencing homelessness in Minneapolis. Many of those who have been shelter a long time have a very hard time maintaining housing once they find it. Due, in part, to mental illness.”
One of Thacker’s goals at The Harbor Light Center is to help connect guests with mental health services and other supportive resources, both while they are here, and once they transition into housing.
“If we can find a way to do that, people are more likely to stay housed and that is good for individuals, for their families and for our communities,” she said.
Thacker joins The Harbor Light Center during a time of transition in how shelter is being delivered in the Twin Cities. In 2016, the Adult Shelter Connect system created a single point of entry for the five adult homeless shelters in Minneapolis. The idea is to help people navigate the system more easily and with dignity.
“Ultimately, it will be a very good thing, it’s still a work in progress,” Thacker said. “The ability to know who is our shelters and what help they need gives us powerful data. That data helps tell the story of homelessness and that is what can create change.”
Supporting The Salvation Army church
For decades, the leaders of The Harbor Light Center have either been Salvation Army officers or envoys, serving as ministers in the church here. Thacker is the first person to take over as executive director from a social services background.
But she says, there is no question that she’ll support all aspects of The Salvation Army’s mission.
“Just because I am not an officer, does not mean I am not in full support of The Salvation Army as a church,” she explained. “The Harbor Light will continue to embody William Booth’s vision of caring for people, body and soul.”
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