Wings | Homeless Advocacy

Wings is a ministry of the congregation of Community Covenant church.  If you would like additional information, please visit the Wings website at wingsadvocacy.org contact Jim Young or Peggy Benedum.

The impetus for the idea:

The idea for this ministry was developed as a result of Project Homeless Connect (PHC) Santa Cruz, http://www.phc-santacruz.org/. PHC is a one-day event where the county’s homeless population comes together with the county’s homeless resources to try and help as many homeless as possible on one day.  For those of us who have been involved in PHC, it is a very rewarding experience.  Especially the job called “Escort” or “Advocate”.  Every homeless person that participates in PHC has the opportunity to have someone walk with them throughout the day to help them navigate all the services and get as much out of it as possible.

But for some of us who were escorts, that experience felt incomplete.  At the end of that day, we still had to say “goodbye and good luck” to our new homeless friend.  Which prompted the idea to form this startup ministry at CCC.

The goal of this new ministry is to become ongoing “escorts” and work with one homeless participant at a time, assess their greatest needs in order to help them navigate the maze of services available to them, and attempt to walk them out of homelessness.

 Object:

To help one homeless person at a time to get a home, a job, the means and skills to lead a successful life within our society.

Team Structure:

Wings has a well-organized group structure as follows:

• One Central Leadership Team (2-3 people):

This team is the main liaison with the homeless services agencies and the Participant. The team defines and ensures the boundaries for our ministry team and the participant. The team interfaces between the church leadership team and the Homeless Services agency leadership. The team also acts to make sure both participant and individual teams are being held accountable and work to break down any barriers to success.

• Focus Teams:

Each focus team is made up of groups of individuals within Community Covenant congregation that act as “experts” on individual issues the participant requires to obtain the means and skills to lead a successful life within society.  Examples of focus teams are housing, employment, documentation, legal, and transportation.  Each focus team navigates through the public and private systems and coordinates the details with each other, the participant and the Central Leadership team.  For example, the Health Focus Team is dedicated to knowing how the health system can work for the participant. The team understands the complications associated with the aspects of health care and knows where to go and how to access available services. The team may provide transportation for the participant to and from appointments and establish health records.

 The Need:

Santa Cruz County worked in conjunction with Applied Survey Research (ASR) to conduct the 2011 Santa Cruz County Homeless Census and Survey. (ASR is a non-profit social research firm based in Santa Cruz County, California, with extensive experience in homeless enumeration and research.)  The results of the survey found

  •  2,771 homeless individuals were counted during the 2011 point-in-time count, as compared to 2,265 in 2009.
  •  It is estimated that 9,041 persons experience homelessness annually in Santa Cruz County.
  •  Based on the 2009 American Community Survey population profile, this annual estimate of homelessness represented approximately 3.5% of Santa Cruz County’s total population of 256,218 people.
  •  77% of those counted within the 52 census tracts were unsheltered (2,125 individuals and 23% (646 individuals) were in shelter facilities such as emergency shelters, transitional housing facilities, and motel voucher programs in Santa Cruz County.
  • 52% of respondents indicated this was the first time they had experienced homelessness, compared to 46% in 2009.  Job loss was the highest cited cause of homelessness.  54% of respondents had been homeless for a year or more.  28% indicated that it has been more than three years since their last permanent housing situation.
  • 39% of survey respondents were chronically homeless.  The percentage of chronically homeless in Santa Cruz County was higher than the national findings reported in the 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress.  The report found that 27% of all homeless individuals across the nation were chronically homeless.
  • It is estimated that on any given night, Santa Cruz County has a chronically homeless population of approximately 988 persons.  Of those, 24 were living in families.  In 2011 there were 964 chronically homeless single individuals, a 15% increase from 842 chronically homeless individuals enumerated in 2009.

There are resources available for a participant to move out of homelessness in our county. There are many governmental and non-governmental groups that provide the resources needed to lead a successful life within society.   In addition, the Homeless Services Center provides caseworkers that offer help in accessing all of these programs or services. Recently Peggy Benedum found a 4-sheet spreadsheet of all of agencies and services that are available within Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties. With this in hand one might think “why would anyone be homeless in our county”?

Although there are a number of agencies and services available to the participant, the problem is accessing these agencies and services.   Even successful adults have a hard time working with different governmental agencies.  It takes a lot of patience and willingness to work through bureaucracy. And one must do it while being homeless, without a proper place to store records, lack of easy to use transportation, and scheduling tools.

The Homeless Services Center does have very strong case managers for each of their participants but they are often overloaded with 50-80 individuals and families.   The Homeless Services Center doesn’t have the ability or the resources to shepherd participants through the system. At most, they are able to point the participant to the resource and encourage them to use it.

Wings Solution:

As a church we have access to about 120 volunteers. Taking on one participant at a time, Wings acts as additional support for the Homeless Services Center. Instead of pointing the participant to the service that is available, Wings takes the participant to their appointments. Wings helps the participant navigate the bureaucracy and make sure they have every advantage to navigate the system. Wings keeps track of the participant’s appointments, keeps track of the documents they need, and goes above and beyond–making sure the participant is being the most successful they can be. We make sure that their paperwork is moving along in each of the systems we help them navigate.

Wings also keeps track of what stages the participant needs to go through before they move to the next. For example, they may need to take care of some health, dental or legal issues before they are eligible for a jobs program.

Wings works very closely with the participants’ caseworker at the Homeless Services Center.

Requirements/ Risks:

There is risk with this ministry. Chronic homelessness typically causes men and women to have disabling conditions that can interfere with their ability to do well in the structured circumstances.   But we know, as Jesus did his ministry, he was not afraid to get his hands dirty and hang out with the riskier aspects of society. He mitigated his risk by having his Father back him up. We have the same Father that will back us up.

Acting as an advocate for homeless persons has a lot to do with being flexible and focusing on meeting the basic needs of the participant.

The characteristics required as a team member of Wings are open-mindedness (“willingness not to know everything”), creativity, a strong interest in learning, a sense of humor, and professional knowledge.  There is an emphasis on the need for patience and optimism.  The process can be very slow and requires trust that in time the effort may or may not result in success.

For more information, please contact Jim Young or Peggy Benedum.