Hunger Hits Close to Home: Why Tannis Vines Became a Social Worker
Last Updated: 01 Jul 2022
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Tannis’s family went from upper middle class to fear of homelessness in a matter of months. Here’s how the experience propelled her into a social work career she’s passionate about.
Tannis Vines, Lead Case Manager for the Rapid Rehousing Program at Endeavors’ Houston office, knows what it’s like to go hungry.
“I got into this field because it’s something that hit very close to home with me,” she said.
Tannis is referring to her tumultuous childhood. Originally from California, her family would have been considered upper middle class until she was about 11 years old. “My dad had a really good job, and my mom was staying at home,” said Tannis. “Both my brother and I were going to a really expensive, private elementary school.”
However, when the recession hit in 2008, Tannis’s dad lost his job, and they lost their home. Family friends helped them out for several months, but eventually they had to move to a different, less expensive city nearby.
“We had to move from one of the nicest cities in the state to one of the worst,” explained Tannis. “It was awful. Our house got broken into, we almost got our car stolen at gunpoint.”
Tannis said the transition was a shock to her young system. She went from a relatively sheltered, suburban life to wondering if the family would be able to pay rent from month to month.
“We went from being able to get any toy we wanted at the grocery store to struggling for food,” she said.
Hard Times Lead to Addiction
Unfortunately, after losing his job, Tannis’s father began struggling with addiction, something he had previously struggled with before his children were born.
“My dad had gone through a lot of trauma in his life, and he had a very addictive personality,” Tannis explained. “When he was young, he was doing and selling drugs. But then he did a complete turnaround when he met my mom.”
Unfortunately, the addiction began to show up again after Tannis’ dad was prescribed opiates to combat the pain from an injury.
“My dad’s addiction really took over. He lost the ability to work,” said Tannis. “I remember vividly when my mom told me that my dad had an addiction problem. I was crying because she was crying, but I was still too young to really understand.”
The family began relying on her mother’s income and government assistance to obtain food and to pay some bills.
“We went to food pantries and nonprofits to get some of those resources, the kind that Endeavors provides,” said Tannis. “I definitely grew up with a lot of food insecurity and always that fear of homelessness.”
Becoming a First-Generation College Student
Tannis recalls that it was scary to feel that pressure as a young teen—not wanting to add any more stress to a family already experiencing hardship. When thinking about her future, Tannis began to dream of a life on the other side of poverty. She wanted to become a first-generation college student.
During her senior year, Tannis faced plenty of obstacles. Her dad’s addiction reached its peak, and there were a lot of emotional ups and downs at home. Thankfully, a high school guidance counselor really saw her through the college application process, helping her fill out paperwork and decide which programs to apply to.
For Tannis, she knew the path she wanted to take: “I always wanted to go in and help people. I wanted to be able to take what I went through and turn it into a positive thing. I wanted to help other people going through the same thing.”
She settled on a major in human services and minored in substance abuse and treatment. Over the course of her college career, her dad got clean, and they repaired their relationship.
“It was challenging, especially because I was away at college,” said Tannis. “But he did a good job of having a lot of conversations with me and being completely open to letting me ask whatever questions I wanted to.”
The Road to Endeavors
After graduating college with a social work degree, Tannis got a job at a small nonprofit in California, helping to run food pantries and providing case management and help to homeless populations.
Tannis still vividly remembers her first client, a student who was experiencing homelessness. “I remember being so excited to start working with her,” she said. “She ended up being so successful, and it was exciting to work with her and help provide her with resources and eventually that financial assistance.”
Eventually, she found Endeavors and fell in love with the diversity of programs. “There are so many different spheres of people that we help,” said Tannis.
Now, Tannis works in Houston as the Program Manager for the Endeavors Community-wide COVID-19 Housing Program (CCHP), a partnership with the City of Houston and the Coalition for the Homeless Houston/Harris County. This program provides rapid rehousing, diversion, and case management services to individuals experiencing homelessness in the Houston area.
Finding Connection With Clients
When it comes to working with clients, Tannis feels lucky to be able to relate to each one on a very human level, thanks to her past experiences.
“Working with those who are experiencing homelessness, I feel like I’m able to see a little bit more inside of what they go through,” she said. “I think it gives me a deeper level of compassion because I’m almost able to relate directly to what people are going through, especially with food insecurity. I feel like it also helps a client have a little bit of trust in me. I’m able to relate to people a little bit.”
To anyone experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, or a family member with addiction, Tannis has a hopeful word.
“As a child, I was always worried that I was just gonna follow my dad’s footsteps. I actually had a high school teacher who told me that going to college would be a waste of time because I was just going to end up like my dad.”
In response, Tannis only grew more determined to succeed. “I just remember going down to my counselor’s office and saying, ‘We’re going to do this. We have to figure this out.’”
Besides support from people in her life, Tannis credits her amazing story to her determination. “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something,” she said. “If you put your mind to it, or if you need to change your situation or turn something around, you definitely can.”
Endeavors is a longstanding national non-profit that provides an array of programs and services in support of children, families, Veterans, and those struggling with mental illness and other disabilities. Endeavors serves vulnerable people in crisis through innovative personalized services. For more information, please visit www.endeavors.org.