by Lindsay Friedrich
Pat Tomcho is a woman who gets things done for the homeless veterans of Cleveland. She has been working with them for over 20 years. Tomcho understands their troubles but most importantly, she cares. Tomcho, an RN and MSN, didn’t begin her career in the field of public service. She has been a Registered Nurse since the 1960s. Though she began by working with an Ob/Gyn and in pediatric medicine, her children were young at the time and she began looking for something that would allow her to spend time at home.
Tomcho began volunteering at the West Side Catholic center, and eventually a position opened up. “I loved working there with the women at the shelter and the men at the drop-in center. I fell in love with the work. The position was too perfect to pass up,” she said. This was during the early 1980s and she began to get involved with the advocacy movement, which stemmed from significant cuts in service. People began looking at all the issues behind homelessness. In order to learn more about the population she was working with, Tomcho went back to school and earned her Masters degree in psychiatric nursing. She then moved on to a position with the Veterans Administration and has been there ever since.
Tomcho during this time assisted with the formation of the Coalition for the Homeless. At first it was a loose collective of homeless programs, and then became a non-profit organization and she assisted in finding a director and moving the goals of the organization as a board member.
Tomcho truly enjoys what she does at the Veterans Administration as the Coordinator of Outreach Services. Her only complaint is that she misses the large amount of direct service she had been involved in prior to her current position. She said her boss, staff, and outreach team are wonderful. She is grateful for her autonomy, which allows hers to work with other agencies and try new ways to increase services for the homeless veterans. “The downside to this work is that we still have the problem, we are still having this conversation twenty years later,” Tomcho said. She stated that there is not enough stable, affordable housing, nor are there enough mental health services, substance abuse services, or employment. She said it is our fault, as a society, that homelessness still exists.
The work Tomcho does is difficult most of the time. She learned a valuable lesson about boundaries several years ago when a program she attempted to create just did not work. Instead of taking this upon herself, she realized that it is her job to facilitate growth in her clients; it is their job to grow. She learned not to personalize the outcomes of her efforts.
Even though it is hard work, success stories keep her hopeful and determined to make a difference. One such success was found in a gentleman who was dealing with long term homelessness, serious mental illness and addiction. Today, he is sober, permanently housed, working full time, and seeing a psychiatrist on a regular basis. These accomplishments are largely due to the relationship that Tomcho was able to form with him through her work. He began to trust her, and the other service providers trying to help him. He still has follow-up once a month, but he is a fully functioning, content individual now. These are the success stories, which cause Tomcho to come alive as she speaks of her work. Knowing she was able to have some positive impact in the lives of those she works with provides momentum to keep her constantly striving to provide the key to those she is able to reach.
Copyright to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio 2003.