In January 2022, The Way Home and The Coalition for the Homeless teamed up to conduct their annual Point-In-Time (PIT) count. During the count, volunteers surveyed individuals experiencing homelessness in Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery counties. As the Navigator for Workforce Solutions’ Income Now program, I had the opportunity to volunteer at this year’s PIT count. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we were allowed to form teams or venture on our own into the downtown Houston area to conduct interviews and collect data using an app on our cell phones.
I decided to venture into the area on my own. For a moment, I couldn’t find one person to interview. Although a bit lost, I switched my mindset from outreach volunteer to frequent downtown visitor. I began thinking of areas saturated with people living on the sidewalks and explored them. This method worked for me because, upon arriving at a familiar street, I ran into the first person I could interview near a fast-food restaurant. It only seemed fair to buy him a breakfast platter with coffee as an incentive to speak with me – so I did. After shaking off my first-time jitters when approaching random people, every interview I conducted became a conversation rather than a questionnaire with boxes to check off. In total, I spoke with over 35 individuals, whose stories were heartbreaking, inspiring, and eye-opening on how homelessness can happen to anyone.
While all the stories slightly differed from one another, nearly half of the people I spoke with pointed out that employment was a solution to getting back on their feet. After each encounter, I offered the Coordinated Access intake line – a housing assessment for those interested in participating in a housing intervention program. Moreover, I encouraged those willing and able to work to request a referral to Workforce Solutions for job search assistance. Income Now, which began in 2015, is a partnership between The Way Home and Workforce Solutions. Income Now gives people access to housing and income by coordinating services and providers that offer a path toward self-sufficiency. All who complete an assessment with Coordinated Access are connected to the best housing intervention program suited to their current needs. Furthermore, it connects people to three different types of income: Social Security Income or Social Security Disability Income, supported employment, or Workforce Solutions for employment services. This dual program ensures people have the support to maintain long-term housing and employment stability.
Participating in this year’s PIT count had its challenges, but the data gathered is vital as it shows how many people are living without secure housing. Moreover, it presents an opportunity to learn why homelessness occurs in our communities and allows organizations to raise awareness and create action plans to help those in need. From my experience as the Income Now Navigator for Workforce Solutions, I take away a fresh perspective on the work our two systems have to offer our customers and how our partnership continues to impact the lives of one of our most vulnerable populations.
Omar Martinez is a Income Now Navigator for Workforce Solutions in the Houston – Galveston Region. Prior to joining the team, Omar served as a resource specialist helping customers get back into the workforce by reviewing current labor market information, job-readiness skills, and community resources. Omar’s continued driving force is to help customers get a job, keep a job, or get a better job by conducting job skills seminars throughout the 13 counties of the Gulf Coast region. He holds a B.S. in Psychology and a Minor in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Houston.