Landrian Ashe: “A client’s truth is THEIR truth and their story is their story to tell; It is not my role to discredit a person’s history when it’s easier to validate and uplift”

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Validate a client’s experience. A client’s truth is THEIR truth and their story is their story to tell. It is not my role to discredit a person’s history when it’s easier to validate and uplift.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Landrian Ashe.

Landrian Ashe is a San Diego native who currently serves as manager of residential services for Father Joe’s Villages, one of the largest homeless providers in the San Diego region. Landrian works hand in hand with clients experiencing homelessness to direct their path to the comprehensive services the organization offers and to build a positive relationship with them. With compassion and respect, Landrian has led his team to successfully overcome some of the challenging issues the pandemic has brought to the homeless population.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background, and how you grew up?

I was born in Key West, Florida and relocated to San Diego at the age of 11. After a couple of years in San Diego, my family relocated again to Los Angeles where I attended Alhambra High School, and Glendale City College in the city of Glendale. After high school, and a couple of years attending Glendale City College, I joined the United States Army. I was stationed at Fort Lewis, WA for two years. Currently, I reside in San Diego with my family.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?

I don’t have a particular story. All I can say is that as a kid I can recall always praying for an end to homelessness. I guess now, I can’t imagine a better way to end homelessness than working in social services for Father Joe’s Villages.

Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

I believe one of the main reasons is the constant increase in the cost of living; especially in the cities that were mentioned. The cost of living continues to rise, as with the cost of gas, food, etc; however, the living wages do not match the cost of living.

In addition, working for social services for as long as I have, I would say that I believe substance use disorder and untreated, misdiagnosed/not diagnosed mental health issues contribute greatly to the issue on homelessness. As an example, I can tell you that many people who struggle with mental health issues do not feel like the medication they have been prescribed works for them; therefore, they chose to “self-medicate” with different street drugs.

For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?

As with many of our clients, there are a number of underlying issues a person may be facing. Each person’s situation is unique to them. We have had clients from all walks of life. Some entered homelessness because of job loss, lack of family support, bad luck, severe mental health, substance use disorder and other factors. While there is no common root cause into why or how a person enters homelessness, it is important we understand each individual, their story and their needs in order to help them overcome homelessness and find stability in their lives.

A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?

In my experience, I have interacted with clients who leave to cheaper states, but they return to San Diego as they were “unlucky making it work elsewhere”. By this I mean that even when they relocate, some of the clients struggle building relationships, finding jobs and taking care of their underlying issues.

When speaking about homelessness we need to keep in mind that many of our clients have underlying issues which could contribute to their homelessness. What I mean by this is that, although it might not be evident, many individuals experiencing homelessness are fighting their own battles. Many struggle with substance use disorder, mental health issues, past trauma, issues with budgeting, issues creating boundaries, etc. For some people, many of these issues could appear “manageable” or “easy to take care of”; however, for the people dealing with these barriers might not be as easy. This is the reason why I constantly encourage my staff and coworkers to “meet people where they are at”, as we don’t know what kind of battles they are fighting.

If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?

First and foremost, being kind. People in general tend to assume homeless individuals “choose” to be homeless. As I mentioned previously, many people just went through a rough patch and, unfortunately, ended in homelessness. No matter your social or economic status, gender, sexual orientation, age, race, etc., we are all human and deserve being treated as such. I understand when people have uneasy feelings about individuals who are experiencing homelessness; however, if they know of any resources where individuals could receive assistance it’d be great if they could guide them toward those resources. Having information is empowering. Most clients on the streets are unaware of what is available to them; therefore, they are unable to seek those resources out.

What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?

The best response to a client asking for money would be to offer and provide other resources, such as comprehensive career services, supportive housing, healthcare and other services that provide the tools needed to regain independence. Teach them how to fish, so they don’t have to keep asking for fish.

Be aware of what resources are available in your community and what’s the easiest way to access those resources.

Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?

I think being a positive influence in the lives of our clients makes a huge impact. I strongly believe that showing clients compassion and understanding helps them feel heard and more comfortable approaching staff when needed. We are meeting clients at a point in their lives when times are really hard and being supportive helps tremendously. This is the reason why I try to actively educate myself in the different resources in the community available to assist our clients.

We take on a client-centered approach. The work that we do is not your traditional “cookie cutter”. Each person’s situation is taken into account and we work with them to derive a plan to help them resolve their homelessness experience.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?

Unfortunately, with the pandemic there has been a definite increase in people experiencing homelessness for the first-time in the region. This is due to many people losing their jobs, and housing. Many of those first-time homeless individuals are unaware of the resources and laws that were implemented after the COVID-19 pandemic began.

As a Residential Program Manager, I would tell you that although the COVID-19 pandemic forced us and our clients to adjust to a “new normal” we were able to overcome the challenges presented to us and still serve our clientele in the best way possible.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

The first thing that makes me proud is seeing our clients self-resolve their homeless situation. When our clients stay in our program we witness the clients’ drive to become self-sufficient, being able to acquire stable income and being able to leave the shelter program without the need to rely on any financial assistance.

The other item that makes me most proud is building a team of people who have the same goals in mind.

Residential at Father Joe’s Villages is an entry level position and oftentimes the staff that are hired aren’t familiar with working with the population that we serve. As a result, training staff on the resources we have available, teaching them to be culturally aware and gaining an understanding of our agency’s goal of ending homelessness one life at a time, is something that I thoroughly enjoy.

Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?

I could give many stories, but one that comes to mind in particular was an older client that had experienced homelessness for most of his adult life. I recall this client finally getting housed (after years of sleeping on the streets) crying when he realized he had obtained housing. It’s stories like his that keep me coming to work everyday.

Being able to be a part of someone’s journey is an experience that I cherish and success stories like this is what keeps me and my team motivated to do the work that we do.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?

  1. Don’t prejudge — Certain demographics are often overlooked or frowned upon based upon their appearances. By getting to know the individuals, you’ll understand that most of society’s preconceived notions about homelessness are simply not true.
  2. Provide resources — Clothing, shoes, housing, meals, health care, referrals, amongst other things. Whether you’re donating to organizations or directing people to where those resources are located, be sure to make a positive impact in the lives of others.
  3. Provide affordable and supportive housing — More affordable and accessible housing options can help reduce the number of people who enter homelessness, and supportive housing can help those who are experiencing homelessness regain their independence.

If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

  1. Living wages — I feel like we have to be able to pay people a living wage. Paying a living wage would definitely decrease the amount of people currently facing homelessness.
  2. Affordable Housing — One of the biggest barriers for our clients is being able to afford rent. Our agency’s goal for all clients is that they gain income and secure housing. I have seen way too often a client gain employment only to come to a realization that the income they have isn’t enough to afford the rent.
  3. More Funding for Mental Health Resources — More funding to help clients who struggle with mental health and substance use disorders. A significant amount of our clients struggle with drugs and alcohol. I believe having funding to support clients facing these issues will go a long way in helping them get stable housing.

I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going? Serving the people we serve.

What keeps me going is having an opportunity to positively impact someone’s life on a daily basis. As mentioned prior, I thoroughly enjoy being a part of a client’s journey and watching them exit successfully. Knowing that we provide the clients with the tools needed for success and being able to witness the “fruits of their labour” is extremely rewarding.

Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?

I am not sure if it will ever be solved completely, but I will fight everyday and continue doing my part to hopefully get there someday.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Don’t take things personally. There are times when a client may project their feelings toward you. I may not have done anything personally to them but since I am the person sitting in front of them/interacting with them; I may get the brunt of their frustration.
  2. Boundaries are HIGHLY important. When you’re working in this field, you want to help in every way that you can, and do more for a client than you probably should. It’s important to remember that giving a person the resources and tools to help themself is probably the most effective way to positively affect someone’s life.
  3. You cannot save the world. A person will determine their own story, in their own time. You have to remember that you cannot want something for someone more than they want it themselves.
  4. Don’t take your work home. Work and life balance is extremely important. When I initially came into this line of work, clients’ stories and situations impacted me greatly. So much so that I would often take it home with me. Over the years I have come to learn that this was not a healthy practice. I can now say that I have learned great self-care practices.
  5. Validate a client’s experience. A client’s truth is THEIR truth and their story is their story to tell. It is not my role to discredit a person’s history when it’s easier to validate and uplift.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Being in the climate we are currently in as a country, I would definitely like to make a positive impact in the social equality realm. I want to contribute to an environment where I can help create a culture of understanding of one another, so that no individual is unfairly treated. Social injustice is a huge issue and something that has reared into a more complex issue.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I was always taught to treat people how you want to be treated. I try to practice that in every interaction that I have. I feel like if we did so as a society, the world would be a much better place.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I don’t have anyone famous that I would want to meet. I believe if I could have a private breakfast with anyone, it would have to be my grandmother. I lost my grandmother several years ago, but she obviously has made a huge impact in my life. There isn’t a day that goes by in which I can’t still hear her, telling me to treat people how you would like to be treated. I would give anything in this world to be able to have my grandmother share that with me again.

How can our readers follow you online?

Unfortunately, I am not on social media. But you can follow the work that Father Joe’s Villages is doing by visiting the organization’s website, Or you can see the latest news from Father Joe’s Villages on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Landrian Ashe: “A client’s truth is THEIR truth and their story is their story to tell; It is not… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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