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Staff Spotlight: Mayra De Leon, Homelessness Prevention Advisor
“Don’t even worry, I’ve got you! Let me worry about you.”
This is the philosophy—delivered with electric energy—that Mayra De Leon brings to her role of homelessness prevention advisor, starting from the moment a client arrives at Way Finders’ Springfield Housing Center.
“I don’t treat clients as just any person. No, you’re my sister, you’re my brother,” says Mayra, who hails from Springfield and lives in Hartford, Connecticut. “I say, ‘How can I help you? Listen, if I don’t have the answer, we will find it together. You hit the right person, I’m the walking phone book!’”
Mayra—equal parts confidence, inquisitiveness, and warmth—prides herself on being a hands-on resource to people in need.
“When they walk through that door, they’re broken. They’re stressed, they’re angry, they don’t know what to do. I have a very sentimental heart when it comes to individuals who are struggling, because I can relate,” says Mayra, who joined Way Finders in fall 2022. “When you make that eye contact, and then you have a pleasant smile—not a jokey, funny smile, but a pleasant one. And you say, ‘It is OK. We all go through things. I’ve been there myself, what do you need?’”
Sometimes people need to vent before they can articulate their requests, and Mayra listens. She hears of worries and losses. Of things forgotten or misunderstood. And of stressors that compound housing hardships, including grief, job struggles, and barriers to literacy, technology, and transportation.
“I love my role because I get to be a counselor, a friend, a good ear. The person who’s going to make sure you have all your documents needed to avoid a delay,” says Mayra, in reference to the application process for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT). “Because I want your application to be done within 21 days. If I can get it done in 14, even better! Then we can help more people.”
Mayra’s style—humorous, complimentary, talkative—expertly lightens client interactions (“I’ll say, ‘Oh, honey, I got you to laugh! You were crying when you walked in. That’s something!’”). She points people to free resources on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, and to Community Legal Aid and staffing agencies. She explains protocols and how to report code violations, and how to use the RAFT portal.
In addition to working the floor, Mayra plays a key role behind the scenes in the RAFT application process, which calls for information to be uploaded from both tenants and landlords. She has worked as a “chaser”—the person making sure all required documents are received and are accurate—and, as a case manager, or the second set of eyes on an application.
“My cases, they’re full and detailed,” says Mayra. “I not only check for the housing issue they have, but I also want to make sure they’re all set. ‘Do you want to continue your education? Did you apply for food stamps? Without food, you’re not healthy—if you’re not healthy, you can’t work.’”
Very little makes Mayra uncomfortable. Not a client experiencing a mental health crisis. Not a landlord who needs a Zoom screenshare to understand the portal. Not the learning of various systems (“It’s like putting butter on bread, easy!”). Not the follow-up and phone tag required of a chase (“It’s like ping pong, I love it!”). Not the many pieces to the application process (“It’s like building a puzzle, I start with my corners and work in, the final section is that approval letter or a denial with explanation”).
What Mayra is learning to be more comfortable with, however, is lots of positive feedback.
“It’s like, ‘Can I go hide now?’” Mayra says, of being recognized by clients, colleagues, managers, and landlords. “It’s something I’m getting used to. Way Finders is a dope place! It’s more like a family environment than a work environment. It gave me parents, grandparents, children. We’re sisters and brothers from different mothers. Everybody notices, everybody hears, everybody gives you props. Being here brings everything awesome out of me.”
A client recently came to the Housing Center, asking for Mayra. When they’d first met, he’d been living in his car for a few months, after having lost his job and suffering a death in the family.
“He was looking sharp! Told me he got a job, thanked me for referring him, for always listening to him,” says Mayra. “I go, ‘My brother, I’m so proud of you! I remember when you came in and didn’t even have shoes. What an upgrade!’ I told him to keep going, no matter how many doors close for him.”
Mayra, who has worked previously as a personal care assistant and as an assistant/paralegal at a law firm, says it was long her dream to work at Way Finders. “What drew me to the role? That’s very simple. I’ve known Way Finders since 2004, when I was a participant. All the way to 2016, until I became stabilized on my feet.”
Mayra—an admitted “coffee machine” who enjoys music of all kinds, dancing, and writing poetry—received her job offer while waiting in line at Price Rite Marketplace.
“I screamed in the middle of the store. ‘Thank you, Lord!’ As I packed my groceries, I was talking to myself. ‘Mayra, this is your chance to take everything you have.’ I know what it’s like to be cold. I know what it is to be homeless. I know how it feels when what you have on at the moment is all you’ve got. I knew I could help my community, by showing them that we are not alone. I knew I could make a difference, little by little.”
Way Finders is grateful for all you do for our clients and the community, Mayra. Thank you!