As Assistant Director at Mission House in Jacksonville Beach, Michaele Bradford oversees programs that help area homeless people find jobs, housing and assistance with turning their lives around.
As told to Maggie FitzRoy
Q: Your name is very unusual for a woman and pronounced “Michael.” How did come to have that name?
A: My mom liked the name Michael and wanted to put an “e” on the end, so people didn’t think I was a boy. The irony is that if I had been a boy, I would have been named Matthew, but she never told me why.
Q: How long have you worked at Mission House?
A: Two years. I have a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan and an undergraduate from the University of Florida.
Q: What is your career background?
A: After graduating from Florida, I did AmeriCorps in Alaska, where I met my boyfriend, who was from Michigan. I lived in Michigan for three years and did another AmeriCorps VISTA term at a homeless service provider in Metro Detroit. I got hired by that agency, so I was a full-time employee for eight months before going for my masters.
Q: What is AmeriCorps?
A: It’s domestic Peace Corps. It’s a national service program where you volunteer at nonprofits and get paid a stipend. In Alaska, I got about $1,000 a month.
Q: How did you live on that?
A: In Alaska I qualified for food stamps and also got a free bus pass, so had transportation. My rent was $540 a month so I had a little left over. When you are living on that little money, you are able to experience what it’s like to be under the poverty line. But it wasn’t totally the same because I had the privilege of being able to volunteer for it.
Q: What is VISTA?
A: Volunteers in Service to America. It started with President Johnson’s War on Poverty and is now part of AmeriCorps. In VISTA I developed programs: contacted landlords, developed guidelines, program eligibility forms. It was on the job training.
Q: How did you come back to Florida?
A: I was born and raised in Florida, so my boyfriend and I moved back. When we did, I saw the Mission House job listing for a social services manager. Prior to that, I had just been a case manager for children and youth in Missouri. I thought it was kind of a stretch, but I applied.
Q: What do you do in your present position at Mission House?
A: I oversee all of the day-to-day programs: our operations team, case management team, clinic team. To insure all the programs are operating efficiently and serving our clients as well as we can.
Q: What does Mission House provide for clients?
A: Meals, showers, case management. Meeting basic needs, providing vital services, including a free medical clinic for uninsured Duval County residents under a certain income level.
Q: How many clients does Mission House serve a year?
A: We did about 600 intakes between January and November in 2019, so that was 600 people coming in and meeting with a case manager.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
A: I love being able to help people. I like being able to shape policies and make sure they are working for clients.
Q: Do you have a recent favorite success story?
A: We have a “Rapid Re-housing” program where we assist people into getting into a place quickly and then follow up with ongoing case management to sustain that housing by working with them to increase their income. Recently an individual moved into a place and was able to start their own small business at the Beaches and is doing pretty well. A lot of times job loss is how people become homeless. A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck. It is easy to get evicted. We are all on the cusp of this. One giant catastrophe in your life, and it could be you.