People of Housing Security:
Senior Police Social Worker aims to connect those falling through the
cracks to resources.
From a small rural town in Indiana called Brookville, Melissa Stone grew up seeing and experiencing generational poverty firsthand. She always knew she wanted to work with people and put her efforts towards breaking the cycle of poverty. Melissa expressed how she hates “that there are people who are automatically disadvantaged from where they were born into.”
Both Melissa and her twin sister were first generation college students. Melissa went to Indiana University for her undergrad, graduating in 2011 with a major in psychology. Between undergrad and graduate school, Melissa worked in higher education doing some academic advising. She also volunteered as an advocate for students who were victims of sexual assault. She then went on to get a Master of Social Work degree at the University of Southern Indiana.
Melissa had the opportunity to do two internships working at a release facility and at a prison. Melissa explained how she really liked being able to find people in the toughest time of their life, meet them where they are, create a non-judgment zone, and be able to build relationships with them.
A few years ago, Melissa’s twin sister Kristina saw that the Bloomington Police Department was hiring a social worker and thought it looked like a great fit for Melissa. Melissa applied and was given the job. Like many people, Melissa wasn’t aware that some police departments have social workers on their team, but this position had been everything Melissa was looking for.
As the Senior Police Social Worker for the Bloomington Police Department, Melissa’s position entails a wide range of responsibilities. She works with clients that have been referred to her by community partners, and by riding along with officers. Typically, Melissa is called to a scene that doesn’t involve a crime, but when resources are needed for those involved. Her job also includes supporting family members after an incident.
“Our whole goal is finding people who are falling through the cracks,” Melissa said, then connecting them to the resources they need. Melissa also explained that BPD’s social workers follow up with these clients, making sure they stay connected to the resources provided and don’t fall back through the cracks. As an example, BPD social workers might refer someone to Centerstone. They’ll follow up by checking to see if the person has transportation to Centerstone, and they’ll later reach out to see how the appointment went. Having someone to follow up with in this way also helps reduce the number of repeat callers to 911.
While Melissa spends a good amount of time outside of the office checking on cases and following up with referrals, she provides those in her department with any assistance they may need as well. This includes doing mental health prevention work, hosting department celebrations for officers and their families, and connecting officers with the appropriate resources they may need.
“Our whole goal is finding people who are falling through the cracks.”
Melissa is one of three social workers for BPD. Between the three of them, they also do community engagement, build relationships with clients, and table at community events, making an effort to have one case worker at every meeting in Bloomington.
Through her job, Melissa has seen firsthand those experiencing housing insecurity. “People think that it is easy to get housing,” Melissa explained, pointing out “there is a lot that goes into making housing happen.” Melissa emphasized that there are a ton of awesome providers trying to assist those that need housing. “We are working really hard,” she said. “It’s housing that ties our hands.”
In addition to work, Melissa likes to fill her time in many other ways, joking that she’s “chronically overcommitted all of the time.” Melissa teaches at IU in the School of Social Work. She enjoys working with students and believes that mentorship is so important.
As a huge animal lover, Melissa also spends her free time volunteering at Monroe County Humane Association to help provide services for animals in need. She also has a dog of her own, an 8-year-old Golden Doodle named Millie.
Melissa recently started a private therapy practice that she says has “been good for her soul.” She spends her time doing this in the evenings and loves that it allows her to do long-term therapy. Eventually, Melissa would like to transfer full-time into private practice and focus on first responders, members of the military, and victims of crime.
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.