Sandoval: making connections to change lives
Homelessness can be extremely isolating and people who experience it are usually disconnected from family, friends and support systems. Their primary means of communication may just be a sign indicating an immediate need: hunger! Cold! Everything helps! They can rest on the sidewalk or sleep somewhere out of sight of the public. Days can go by without seeing or interacting with another person.
When people are disconnected from support systems, accessible health care, and financial resources, they have few options to stabilize their lives when their homes are in danger. Once homeless, isolation perpetuates the problem and widens the gap in accessing vital resources. Living outside with the trauma of losing your home tends to crystallize that sense of disconnection. This need for connection is not diminishing, so people are finding new networks, embracing new lifestyles, and many are wary of the public who want to help but may not know how.
But thanks to community partners in San Jose, PATH has a team of dedicated street outreach specialists to connect people with services and housing. Our outreach team finds people experiencing homelessness and immediately begins to bond. They provide intensive case management services directly to them.
Our teams start by creating a climate of trust and relationships where there may be hesitation. They do this by consistently delivering on their commitments to individuals – we’re sure to show up when we tell them we’ll arrive with a meal and a hygiene kit. We deliver the essentials for survival: food, water, hygiene kits and connection.
During the pandemic, we all learned new definitions of what is essential and our outreach teams have adapted to deliver what we need in real time. Our teams delivered meals when the food banks closed. We have distributed more hygiene kits than ever before; our outreach specialists were able to distribute 200 kits every week. These kits, which now include personal protective equipment, are essential engagement tools that allow people to bathe, take care of their hygiene, maintain their dental health and preserve their dignity.
Our outreach teams are dedicated to honoring the dignity and self-esteem of each person we serve, and distributing these essentials is just the first step on a person’s path to housing. Each individual’s path to housing is as unique as the circumstances that led to their episode of homelessness. It takes time to build trust and get to know people, but during this time we learn to understand their specific needs.
A person may not be eligible for an apartment because they do not have their essential identification documents, their credit is poor, or they do not have enough savings for a security deposit. Our team of case managers can arrange a service plan to assist with transportation to the DMV, fee waivers for essential documents, resources for one-time financial assistance, and referrals to credit repair services. We provide the on-going coaching, guidance and support necessary to successfully navigate complex social service systems and advocate until their needs are met.
Our teams are adept at establishing transitional relationships towards permanent homes. In our last year of performance, even during the pandemic, our staff served 519 homeless people in San Jose.
PATH outreach specialists connected 176 people to emergency housing placements, such as emergency shelters, bridges, and motel stays so they had a safe place to stay while waiting. to find accommodation. My favorite achievement to highlight: our team helped 166 people get off the streets and return to their permanent and permanent homes.
Despite the many challenges of the pandemic, our essential workers were still able to end homelessness for hundreds of people last year. And yet I know that the local homelessness crisis far exceeds what our small team of outreach specialists can accomplish on their own. This is why we know that we are only one part of a larger community network to rise to the challenge.
Over the next few months, I will be sharing stories of PATH staff, volunteers and community partners who are working together to end homelessness permanently in our community. It’s our shared commitment that drives change, and change starts with connection.
Laura Sandoval, Columnist at San José Spotlight, is the Director of Programs for PATH San Jose, a homelessness services and housing development agency. She is also a licensed clinical social worker with over a decade of experience. Its columns appear every fourth Monday of the month. Contact Laura at [email protected]