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A “Calling” to Help San Diegans Experiencing Homelessness

With a passion to help people—especially in the area of housing—but unsure how to begin, Karisa Cinco found her “calling” through the Homelessness Program for Engaged Educational Resources (PEER) course, a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC) and San Diego City College.

“I really do believe that the PEER program really helped me develop my career path,” said Karisa, a case manager for People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) at the interim housing shelter program at Connections Housing in downtown San Diego. “It was a field that I wasn’t really aware of too much.”

The Homelessness PEER course provides students with specialized education, training and job placement in an effort to provide the skills essential for working in San Diego’s homelessness services sector. SDHC and San Diego City College launched the course in fall 2020 to address the need that SDHC identified for additional skilled, qualified applicants for positions in the area of homelessness programs and services in the City of San Diego.

The course builds upon established San Diego City College certificate programs in mental health work, alcohol and other drug studies, gerontology, and the Associate of Arts Degree in Behavioral Health: Social Work.

SDHC funds the Homelessness PEER course, while San Diego City College leverages existing San Diego Community College District resources. The City of San Diego also provides funding to support the Homelessness PEER course.

Karisa said the course introduced her to many of the terms, concepts and resources that she applies during her workday.

“Coming into this field, at first, for me was intimidating. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what really I was getting into. And I think the class with the PEER program really helped me—really helped me gain the knowledge that I would need, not only the knowledge, but my expectations,” she said.

Guest speakers shared their expertise and provided insight into the types of jobs that are available in the homelessness services field. Students also learned what they could expect on the job, received help with their resumes and interviewing skills, and were invited to a job fair, where Karisa found out about opportunities for employment at PATH.

Karisa started her career as a residential coordinator. After about six months, she was promoted to a case manager position. She works one-on-one with San Diegans experiencing homelessness and guides them through the intake process. She helps them access the services they need, from obtaining ID cards to signing up for benefits, to signing up for a homelessness assessment tool that is used to prioritize regional homelessness housing resources.

“I feel energized when once I come in this door, seeing the clients, seeing their faces, and then the conversations that we have—it’s just so satisfying,” Karisa said. “It’s such a good feeling to just come into work and know that you’re going to change someone’s life.”

She also gets to work with other students that she recognizes from the PEER course. As the program continues, Karisa has been asked to return to the PEER course as a guest speaker to share her experience with other students.

“I highly encourage any student out there … especially if you’re unsure of what you want to do at the moment, and you’re still searching what it is that you want to do, I highly encourage you to take some class with a PEER program because it will help you. It will help you identify what you really want to do,” Karisa said.

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