Navigating Conflict in Community Living
January 26, 2017

By Terry Brown  |  A typical afternoon at the Families Moving Forward program center is quiet, and the center is relatively empty because the children are either in school or daycare and their parents are likely working. Perhaps some guests would be searching for employment on the computer, or they may be resting before it is time for their night shift. As one of the case managers, I would be searching for housing or jobs leads for the guest. However, that is a typical afternoon. The mornings, evenings, and weekends are extremely hectic and busy.

Unfortunately, living in a community with common areas is not easy for the families. With up to 8 families and 32 people, personalities often clash. It would be unreasonable not to expect conflicts.

Becoming homeless is traumatic enough, but all of our families enter into the program with previous experiences which shaped their outlook on the world. That being said, a guest could become so wrapped up with conflict with another family that they may lose sight of their personal goals. While mediating a conflict, FMF Program Manager Sakinah Mujahid gave one guest some sound advice: “Do not let someone else’s personality dictate your ability to be successful in this program.” 

As a former teacher, I often would listen to my students argue while playing.  Reaching impasses always resulted in them asking me to solve their dispute. However, I always encouraged my students to resolve their conflicts by talking to each other and asking for space when they need alone time. Developing these social skills is important, vital for adults as well as children.

In a homeless shelter with community spaces, conflicts can often play out in a similar manner. Two or more adults have conflicts, and they want the case manager to determine who is right. Instead, whenever a case manager steps in, it is to provide the safe space where the families can voice their concerns with each other. Resolving conflict is especially vital because guests are already overwhelmed with community living. During one house meeting, a guest expressed that families may just need to hash it out. When families can solve their conflict without the situation escalating, the community within the FMF program becomes stronger.

Terry Brown
Terry is a case manager at Families Moving Forward in our Hennepin program center.