People of Housing Security:
Street outreach worker part of HealthNet’s growing team in Bloomington
Margaret VanSchaik is a street outreach worker for Indy HealthNet’s Homeless Initiative Program team in Bloomington. HealthNet HIP started out as a team of two, Margaret and Melissa Burgess, and has now expanded to a team of five. HealthNet has a goal to bring medical care to people on the streets.
Along with her passion for helping others, Margaret also has a passion for traveling and speaks Arabic. She grew up on the east side of Indianapolis and graduated from Indiana University in 2021 with a degree in International Studies & Arabic.
Because Margaret’s work revolves around her clients, every day is vastly different. Typically, each day starts off with emails and figuring out what to prioritize for the day. From there, Margaret said she is nearly always going somewhere out in the community, including camps, parks, Beacon’s Shalom Center, or Wheeler Mission. A significant amount of Margaret’s clients don’t have phones, so one of the harder parts of her job is simply finding them. Margaret stated, “I come to them, instead of them coming to me.” She values that she is able to meet her clients where they are.
Margaret helps assess her clients for medical needs along with any personal needs they may have. If necessary, she then introduces them to a nurse practitioner or a psychiatric nurse She also schedules follow-up meetings with her clients and even provides transportation to appointments for those that need it.
When asked how she ended up in the field of housing security, Margaret said it all started with wanting to do something purposeful. As someone who learned about inequality from a young age, she wanted to address the issues that impacted her family. Through these passions, Margaret was oriented towards nonprofit work. During COVID, she volunteered at Beacon, helping in the winter shelter. She also worked at Beacon’s Shalom Center on weekends and was a Center Monitor for 2 months. From there, Margaret was a team lead at Friend’s Place, also run by Beacon, for 5 months before joining HealthNet in February of 2022. Margaret said that volunteering changed her life, noting that “Something inside you changes [when you volunteer].”
It’s not good enough to just be neutral. If you care, then do something about it. – Margaret VanSchaik
It’s not always easy being in Margaret’s position and having to work with those that are suffering. On her difficult days, Margaret said that it is good to remember who we’re doing this for and that “If we don’t do it, then who will?” Margaret also said that she is driven by compassion, but also guilt. In her position, Margaret has some of the most in-depth relationships with her clients and sometimes it can be difficult remembering that a lot of people are relying on her. However, Margaret said it pushes her to work hard for them. Besides trying to keep herself motivated, Margaret also said it’s good to surround yourself with people that motivate you and that it’s nice to receive encouragement from others.
When thinking of those that are impacted by homelessness, there are a few things Margaret reminded us to consider. “They are human beings just like us and should be treated like that, which is a basic ask,” she said. “It can be easy to treat them as though they are invisible, but it doesn’t take much to make someone feel seen. It’s not good enough to just be neutral. If you care, then do something about it. Ask someone how their day is, and if you see someone at Seminary Park, say hello.”
You never know the impact you can have by brightening someone’s day.
About the People of Housing Security: This series highlights the work of those committed to improving the lives of residents in South Central Indiana. Find all the articles in this series here.