Unique challenges attract unique talents. At the forefront of the effort to mitigate homelessness in New York City are dedicated shelter staff like Tamara Gayle, Residence Director of the BronxWorks Jerome Avenue Men’s Shelter (JAMS). Tamara was born and raised in Queens, NY. She still lives in Queens to this day. Her family immigrated from Panama, and as the first daughter of an immigrant parent, Tamara holds onto that first-generation identity closely.
I strive to make sure that I am doing what my family came here for, to attain that dream. It is a beauty and also a burden.”
Tamara completed her Bachelor’s Degree at City College and received her Master of Social Work from Fordham University. She first joined BronxWorks in 2017 as a Case Manager Supervisor for the EXCEL Program and Young Adult Workforce Program within our Children & Youth Department. In 2019, she joined the Jerome Avenue Men’s Shelter as the Assistant Program Director, and in January 2021 she was promoted to Residence Director.
Tamara brings a range of experience to the position. She started her career working with women with young children to develop parenting skills and prevent abuse. She then worked in a 100-bed adult homeless men’s shelter as an evening Case Manager. Tamara still remembers her first housing placement, from the interview to the day she physically helped move the client out of the shelter and into the unit. After that, she worked in harm reduction at Planned Parenthood with individuals living with HIV/AIDS. All of this experience drives the way Tamara and her team manage the caseload at JAMS.
This work is heavy, demanding, and task-oriented. It’s a beast. That’s why I have always been very firm about onboarding, training, and coaching my staff.”
To this end, Tamara has recently developed a sort of boot camp for preparing new staff for the challenges of working at JAMS. The boot camp lasts for nearly two weeks and covers everything from education on the population, trainings on typical diagnoses and what their presentations may look like, an overview of crisis prevention and intervention, case management skills such as interviewing, de-escalation, case writing, service planning, and an in-depth explanation of the housing process. The boot camp also includes bi-annual refreshers for all staff.
Whether it is with young people or adults, Tamara brings the same qualities in her approach to working with every population. “Any population you work with, people just want to know that you care about them,” she says. “There is more in common between working with young people and adults than there is different. You’re met with the same resistance at first, and you go through the same motions showing up for them, earning their trust, and supporting them in their journeys.” As the Residence Director, Tamara still carries a case load and loves to work with the more challenging cases. “When you see what they are able to accomplish with the support of staff, that’s why you work so hard.”
Outside of work, Tamara is all about her family and her dog, Blu. She loves sharing meals with the people she cares about, and also volunteers as a mentor for young adults on their own paths to finding their passions.