Moving from unsheltered to successful
Success of Worker Connection Program highlighted
By Josh Staloch
GREEN BAY – The 2022 Point In Time Count, an annual event in which a crew of volunteers embarks on an overnight mission to count every individual experiencing homelessness in Brown County, highlighted that there is much work to be done before the problem gets any better.
The most recent count shows that in July of this year, at the peak of homelessness season, there were 123 unsheltered individuals in Brown County, a drastic increase from the 26 counted the previous July.
The number wasn’t a fluke either, as the unofficial and most recent count that came in on Sept. 13 of this year showed 175 unsheltered compared to 51 in 2021.
There is reason to be hopeful, though.
On Tuesday, Oct. 18, a roundtable event was held at NEW Community Shelter in Downtown Green Bay to highlight some of the achievements being made by the shelter’s residents through the Worker Connection Program, an initiative developed as part of a$150 million investment in workforce development coming out of Madison using American Rescue Plan Act funding.
The Worker Connection Program’s mission, as detailed by Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek, is to help individuals overcome barriers so they can enter the labor force and be gainfully employed.
“We are full speed ahead on our recovery,” Pechacek said of our state’s bounce back from the economic fallout caused by COVID-19. “But we know that there are still pockets of talent throughout the state that, due to lack of access to stable housing, to child care, to transportation or to in-demand training, might not have access and they need some help.”
The obstacles facing Jack Martin, currently a resident at NEW Community Shelter, in his struggle to get back on his feet seemed like too much at one point.
Over the course of his time spent unsheltered, Martin said he had lost track of his birth certificate.
Left with only one form of identification but lacking a birth certificate and social security card, Martin said he wasn’t sure how he’d make any progress towards getting himself off of the street.
The process to replace those documents seemed like too big a hurdle to get over along with everything else life was throwing at him.
He said the Worker Connection Program and NEW Community was the missing piece.
Only three weeks into the program, Martin’s documentation issues have been dealt with, he has a resume ready to go and a long-term goal which he is working hard every day towards achieving.
He said the process is helping him grow and he enjoys being challenged.
“I look forward to what’s to come in the future. (NEW Community) has helped me to align myself with the resources and everything that’s out there to help me be the best person I can be,” Martin said. “I’m in the process of getting my birth certificate now and that’s very important because nobody would hire me without two forms of identification.”
Martin is now focused on his goal of becoming a CNC machinist, something he wouldn’t have considered if the staff at NEW Community hadn’t encouraged him to explore it as a career option based on things he told them he might be interested in doing.
Now, he said he’s been pointed in the right direction and is looking forward to embarking on a career as a CNC machinist someday soon.
House of Hope
Deloris Fitzgerald has been at House of Hope Green Bay, a shelter specializing in helping youth and families experiencing homelessness, with her nine-year old son for just over four months.
Deloris said during that time, the resources made available to her through the Worker Connection Program have helped her obtain a business license and she hopes to open a salon in the Green Bay area in the near future.
The process to take herself and her small child from unstable housing to a home they can call their own has been a struggle, and Fitzgerald said she couldn’t have done it without the support from House of Hope and all of the help the Worker Connection Program brought to the table.
David Van Der Wegen has been a member of the NEW Community family since June after a series of events – kicked off by a confrontation with a roommate – led to him being out on the streets and alone.
Now, only a few months removed from being unsheltered, he is brimming with confidence as he is only days away from testing for his commercial drivers license and hopefully starting a career in an industry desperately in need of dedicated employees as a truck driver.
“Now, I am starting to realize that when I put my mind to something, I can accomplish pretty much anything,” Van Der Wegen said proudly. “It just took me a long time to realize it.”
When asked how important it is for him to make sure he’s never again stuck in the spiral of homelessness, he replied, “On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s definitely a 12.”
Janelle Gordon, a career navigator with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development who has worked closely with both Fitzgerald and Van Der Wegen, said their stories are examples of what makes her job worthwhile.
“It’s so gratifying,” Gordon said of working with individuals who are so close to turning their lives around.
“I get so much drive and inspiration from doing this work. Sometimes, it is hard to take these steps that may seem easy. It’s just little things that are in the way and if we can get over them, there are a lot more success stories just like these that are waiting to happen.”