Tag: public service

The Gift of Giving

The Gift of Giving

NxtGov and St. John’s Worked Together to Celebrate Children in the Program for Real Change by Hosting a Birthday Party

By Kelly Joy, NxtGov’s Community Engagement Marketing Chair

In April, NxtGov’s Community Engagement Team worked with members of Project Birthday to throw a joint birthday party for a dozen different children at St. John’s Program for Real Change. St. John’s provides a safe and welcoming environment for women and children who have experienced severe trauma such as domestic violence and homelessness. St. John’s hosts a community of these women and children, and the center provides housing and intensive support in a structured program that lasts between 12 and 18 months for each family. As part of these efforts, St. John’s has community birthday parties every month for all of the children with birthdays in that month. 

While preparing to host April’s birthday party at St. John’s, members of the Community Engagement Team planned out a theme, designed activities, collected party supplies and picked out gifts for each of the birthday kids. NxtGov members also reached out to their personal and professional networks and found additional donors who wanted to contribute presents for the children at the party. Mini profiles with the children’s names and interests were sent about each of the kids to the donors ahead of time. This helped the NxtGov members and community donors personalize the gifts for each child to make them feel as happy and well celebrated as possible for their birthdays.

I was so excited to see the profile of the little boy that I matched with and learn more about him. He was in elementary school and his interests included cars, fire trucks and Paw Patrol. I also noticed that his wish list also had a “light jacket” and for a moment my heart sank. My excitement reconciled with the gravity of the situation. I flashed back to the time I asked my mom about what to get a friend’s child. “Kids never ask for clothes for their birthday,” she said. I thought of my mom’s “rule” when I read the request for a jacket next to the list of possible kids’ toys I had expected. In that moment, I saw not only the wishes of a little boy on his birthday, but also a mother’s stress to provide for all the necessities of a growing boy in a challenging time.  I was reminded that although St. John’s has a wonderfully supportive program, being there is never a family’s “Plan A.” I don’t know what led to this particular family to go to St. John’s, but I also have to admit that I’m not sure that I can even imagine why. I am a mother to a toddler, and I can’t fathom how much stress I would be under not feeling like we had a stable permanent home to stay at night. Or a safe one. That is the reality of many of the women and children who go to St. John’s. And for the hundreds of others on their waiting list. I couldn’t solve whatever may have led the family to St. John’s, but I could do something to help make a birthday special for a little boy who might already be growing up way too fast. 

The day of the birthday party, the Community Engagement Team mobilized to put all of our brainstorming into action. Dozens of balloons were blown up and put on the wall, tables and floor. Volunteers filled up plastic eggs and a piñata with candy, and the presents were all collected and set up along with enough cupcakes for all of the birthday kids and all of the other kids in the community that attended the party – more than 50 in total! Each of the birthday kids had a special name tag to show that it was their birthday, and they looked so happy when they were personally greeted and wished a happy birthday by each of the volunteers. The party flew by with all of the fun activities. The biggest hits with the kids were the egg hunt and piñata. After the party games, everyone gathered in the main room inside to sing happy birthday over cupcakes and watch the birthday boys and girls open presents. An already happy day became a very special one for each of the birthday kids as they opened their presents and saw something from their wish lists. I watched a young boy open up the present I had picked out for him. He unwrapped the jacket first and immediately passed it to his mom. (I couldn’t help but think that my mom continued her streak of being right about everything.) He then opened the Paw Patrol police car and figurines, and I saw the reaction I hoped he would have when opening his birthday present. He then immediately shared the figurines with his younger sister so they could both play together. “Wow,” I reflected for a moment to myself. “Kindness begets kindness.”

Among all the activity, I noticed the kids weren’t the only ones smiling and laughing. I noticed many of the parents also seemed caught up in the fun of the moment seeing their kids so excited to be celebrated. I also looked around and saw all of the smiles on the faces on all of the faces of the volunteers. We all wanted this event to be special for the kids and their families, and it was emotional to see all of our planning and coordinating turn into not only a successful event, but also such a rewarding one for this wonderful group of women and children.


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Civil Service in Five Years

Civil Service in Five Years

Civil Service Promotional Opportunities Expected to See Increases in Near Future.

By Lusine Sarkisyan, NxtGov Ambassador

The CalHR’s Statewide Workforce Planning and Recruitment Unit annually analyzes state workforce demographic data and has come to the conclusion that based on December 2018 data, approximately 47 percent of managers and supervisors of state civil service are ready to retire in the next five years. 

Civil Service Permanent Managers and Supervisors Chart

CalHR Statewide Workforce Planning and Recruitment Unit, December 2018 Data 

What does this mean for rank-and-file employees? That in the next five years, there is opportunity for promotions and development, potentially if all 47 percent retire in the next five years there will be 15,371 vacancies at the manager/supervisor level within the State of California. 

Additionally, based on data from December 2018, approximately 36 percent of rank-and-file employees will be ready for retirement in the next five years. Which means that there will be 62,658 potential vacancies. These vacancies would allow rank-and-file employees to promote up, but it would also open opportunities for individuals to enter civil service.

Civil Service Permanent Rank-and-File Chart

CalHR Statewide Workforce Planning and Recruitment Unit, December 2018 Data 

With all these potential vacancies in the next five years, there is going to be more desire by rank-and-file staff to pursue avenues for gaining knowledge of programs, professional development, counseling by upper management which will ultimately lead to various forms of mentorship. In fact, CalHR has recognized this need and has issued a policy for state entities to take a proactive and strategic approach to recruiting, developing, and retraining a skilled and diverse workforce to meet current and future organizational needs. As of August 2018, there are 34 state entities who have developed some sort of succession plan to address future organizational needs. Departments similar to CalPERS, Department of Consumer Affairs, CalSTRS, and others have some form of mentorship program to help develop their staff. 

It is important to identify that mentorship is not just about getting promoted and developing one’s career, but mentorship is a great tool that results in improved relationships with colleagues, increased motivation, and most importantly improved job satisfaction.

Additionally, with these vacancies whether rank-and-file level or manager and supervisor levels, individuals seeking to enter civil service will be looking towards programs and workshops to provide tools and information in applying and entering civil service. This means, NxtGov is going to be very busy in the next five years reaching out and engaging with the local communities and partnering with various entities to help increase the workforce. Are you ready to give a helping hand?


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Path to Public Service Featuring Megan Miller

Path to Public Service Featuring Megan Miller

Megan Miller has been able to find meaning in public service as a Grants Manager, where she will be in charge of issuing awards to grantees and program oversight from the grants management perspective for the Emergency Solutions Grants Program and the California Emergency Solutions and Housing Program.

Name: Megan M. Miller

Job Title: Grants Manager (SSMI), Division of Financial Services, CA Department of Housing & Community Development

Recommended Reading: 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (not necessarily to literally strive towards a 4 hour workweek but for the efficiencies & lifestyle balance it promotes)

Spirit Animal: Fish

What was your path into public service?

After almost ten years of corporate work in the private sector and on the outside having a “successful” career, my work often left me personally unfulfilled. I wanted to do work that mattered to the community around me to be able to have a greater impact in the Sacramento community that has become so dear to me and in my broader home state of California.

When brainstorming career opportunities that would be most meaningful to me, I immediately thought of the homeless population and the need for affordable housing for all Californians. From both angles – for the purpose of providing every human being in the Sacramento community with a place to sleep and for the purpose of providing safe, clean communities for all residents – the issues that we’re trying to solve truly resonate with me. I am excited to see the increased focus and spending on providing homeless assistance and affordable housing and I am honored to now be a part of the solution in Grants Management.

What do you do in your current position, and what is something you are working on right now?

I just started in my position this past week and will be in charge of issuing awards to grantees and program oversight from the grants management perspective for the Emergency Solutions Grants Program and the California Emergency Solutions and Housing Program.

What cautionary tip would you give to someone looking for a job in state service?

Have patience and plan to spend 2-4 months or more in the application process from your first application to your start date in your new state position. There is a lot of hiring going on right now, especially within my department, which is great, but that also means the HR teams have a lot on their plates and the process from application through interview and hiring can take some time. Also, take as many exams as you’re qualified for and apply to a couple of positions a day until you land your job.

What resource/advice/practice did you find most helpful when applying for jobs in public service?

The email notifications feature in the job posting sites, especially CalCareers and governmentjobs.com were great in notifying me as soon as a position that fit my search criteria. Also I found it invaluable to connect with the people currently working in public service, especially via LinkedIn, NxtGov and those working at CalHR to learn about their career path – both from the perspective of learning about individual positions and about how those individuals obtained their current positions in state service. Everyone I had a chance to speak with was incredibly open to sharing their experiences. 

What was your strategy for applying to public service positions? In hindsight, would you change your approach?

Luckily, early on I got the advice to apply to lots and lots of positions and to expect maybe one interview per ten applications, so my approach was to find and apply to as many positions as I was interested and qualified for which really helped me set my expectations accordingly. The one thing I would have changed was to confirm and ask for an above minimum starting salary prior to accepting.


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Building the Future Public Sector Workforce

Building the Future Public Sector Workforce

NxtGov and Innovative Pathways to Public Service invite you to help inspire students and young adults into public sector careers.

By Danielle Metzinger, NxtGov’s Deputy Director

Did you know more than 20% of all jobs in the six-county Sacramento region are in the public sector? That’s 1 out of every 5 jobs in our region! And with the public sector facing a wave of retirements at all levels, our region has an opportunity to bring in a new generation of skilled public servants.

NxtGov is proud to partner with Innovative Pathways to Public Service (IPPS) in their work to inspire young adults to consider public service and create accessible, inclusive pathways into public sector careers in the Sacramento region.

In support of IPPS, I’d like to invite our NxtGov community to learn more about their work and attend their upcoming leadership summit Building the Future Public Sector Workforce on August 29.

This free, half-day summit will bring together government leaders, educators, and nonprofit/industry partners to reflect on a region-wide study of public sector employment. This study includes the counties of Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado, Sutter, Yuba, and Yolo.

During the summit, participants will hear from speakers and panels on the opportunities to mitigate barriers and bring youth and young adults into public sector careers. All levels of government in the region will be represented at this event!

Learn more about the Summit and register today.

NxtGov’s partnership with IPPS has brought about dynamic projects like our Millennials in Public Service video series and ongoing consultation opportunities for our Public Recruitment Committee, and I know even more exciting work is on the horizon. I hope you’ll be part of the effort to build the future public sector workforce and lend your perspective to the workforce challenges government faces every day. Now is the time to come together and help build the future public workforce for our region and beyond.


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Safe and Open Playground Space

Safe and Open Playground Space

Adventure Playground, a space for all children to explore and learn through free play.

By: Araceli Mohseni, NxtGov Member

In early March of this year, NxtGov partnered with the Sacramento Adventure Playground, a free after-school youth development program for ages six to fifteen. Adventure Playground is unique in its conception and mission: to promote the imagination, creativity and education of children. The very first Adventure Playground was founded in Copenhagen, and was originally known as a junk playground, where urban children were able to build their own spaces and structures using real tools, raw materials, and cooperation. Much like its predecessor, Sacramento’s own Adventure Playground allows children the freedom to play indoors and outdoors with raw materials like tires, cardboard, planks and paint.

On a gloomy Saturday in early March, NxtGov volunteers gathered around Director Steve Claude for orientation before Adventure Playground’s operating hours. It had just rained and the skies were dark and dreary. As I stepped into Sacramento’s Adventure Playground, I was aware of the raw materials on the premises. Tires, wood, cardboard, buckets, fish tanks, couches and giant blocks seemed to be all around making the space feel cluttered. And yet, as the orientation progressed, Steve clearly defined the different stations of the playground. There was the crafting station where children would be encouraged to build their own robots with raw and recycled materials, and hot glue guns! The pet station was adjacent to the crafting station, and upon closer inspection, it hosted a variety of animals including fish and madagascar roaches. The children would be allowed to “pet” the roaches after earning enough currency by picking up pieces of trash. The bank was meant to teach children the power of currency and delayed gratification; the more you saved your currency, the more you could “afford” to buy select items or time with the popular madagascar roaches. There was also a clay station and a kaleidoscope crafting station. There were giant building blocks and recycled couches that had found a happy home at Adventure Playground. During the orientation, Steve mentioned that we were to supervise and assist the children interested working at the different stations. Yet, Steve was quick to point out that were also meant to encourage kids to play freely and if they choose to build a robot, they were absolutely allowed to use the hot glue guns.

As a new mother to a one-year old, I was a little on the edge. Were we to allow children to roam free, to play with raw materials that could be potentially dangerous? Yes! And I quickly understood why. After our volunteer session, I reflected on what I saw, happy children engaged in play with each other and with their surroundings. It had rained the day before and the children took full advantage of the mud pits outdoors. I saw children running, jumping off the building blocks and enjoying the slides. Children built their robots and crafted clay creations while others were fully invested in petting the roaches. Our natural tendency to explore, create and learn from play are innate to us, and children covet this style of discovery and education. It was difficult for me to reckon with a model of play so different from what I grew up in. Growing up in an immigrant family, my parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, which limited their free time. They did not have time to supervise my sister and I, and they were constantly worried about our safety. We lived in a cramped two-bedroom apartment on the worst part of town, where dumpsters overflowed, cars screeched through the streets on multiple occasions colliding with the brick wall at the end of the cul-de-sac, and where drugs were sold, purchased and consumed. Because of these circumstances, my parents prohibited us from playing outdoors. We were meant to walk directly home, shut the door behind us, and under no circumstances were we to open it. This meant endless weekday evenings indoors. What I would have given to have had an Adventure Playground in my neighborhood! To run, jump and explore the outdoors alongside other children. 

As a new mother to a little one, I am happy to know there is a place like Adventure Playground where supervision is secondary to exploration so that my little one can grow up unafraid and emboldened by the power of play. Currently, about 1,000 adventure playgrounds exist in Europe, largely in Denmark, Switzerland, France, German, the Netherlands and England. Japan has a number of Adventure playgrounds as well. This European model of an after school program encourages play as a way to develop the imagination, creativity and education of children. It provides the space for children to learn and grow and relies on volunteers like the members of NxtGov to provide adult supervision and help with cleanup and set-up. Perhaps more importantly, it provides children of all income levels with the open space they need to roam indoors and outdoors in a safe and engaging environment. 


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Paths to Service Profile featuring Laura Carr

Paths to Service Profile featuring Laura Carr

Name: Laura Carr

Job Title: Air Pollution Specialist

Recommended Reading: Walkable City by Jeff Speck

What was your path into public service?

Lots of my family have had careers in the public sector, so I grew up with public service in the back of my mind as an option that was not only viable but attractive, presenting an opportunity to help people and leverage the power of government for good. Two environmental studies classes in high school posed big, concerning questions about the state of the planet, and a B.A. in environmental policy provided both a framework to grapple with them and further confirmation for me that policy work in the public sector was the best pressure point to try to address them. I volunteered part-time at a Caltrans district office to get experience working for the State, and then committed fully to that millennial rite of passage, the unpaid internship, at the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research in Sacramento. The internship evolved into a paid position, which I held for more than a year before opting to go back to school for a brief ten-month stint to earn an M.S. in economics. Four months after completing my Master’s, I got the job I’d been envisioning since college at the California Air Resources Board (CARB). I’m hoping for and planning on a full career in public service. The work is fulfilling, the colleagues are inspiring, and I’m excited to see what lies ahead.

What do you do in your current position, and what is something you are working on right now?

At CARB, I’m part of the air quality planning staff, focusing on the San Joaquin Valley. The planning effort to clean the air and meet national air quality standards involves putting together usually quite lengthy documents laying out the strategy to cut emissions. Earlier this year, I helped write and compile a thousand-page plan for the Valley that had been in the works for well over two years—longer than I’ve been with the agency. Now that the plan is finished, we’re moving into the implementation phase, making sure everything is progressing as laid out in the plan. It’s a big task with lots of moving parts, but it’s a team effort, which makes it doable and rewarding.

What cautionary tip would you give to someone looking for a job in state service?

Know that you might not hear back about a job you’ve applied for; sometimes that courtesy isn’t provided, but don’t let it get you down. Relatedly, be patient, be persistent, and don’t despair if you don’t get the first position, or even the first dozen positions, that you apply for. Applying for jobs with the state is at least partly a numbers game, and finding the right fit is liable to take time on the order of months rather than weeks.

What’s it like living and working in Sacramento?

Great! It lives up beautifully to its City of Trees designation, has an eminently walkable downtown (see recommended reading), and it’s invigorating to be surrounded by so many other people who’ve chosen a path of public service.


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2019 California Innovation Playbook for Government Change Agents (Cal-IPGCA) Scholarship Award Opportunity for one lucky NxtGov Member!

2019 California Innovation Playbook for Government Change Agents (Cal-IPGCA) Scholarship Award Opportunity for one lucky NxtGov Member!

Registration is now open for Cohort 2019 of the California Innovation Playbook for Government Change Agents (Cal-IPGCA).

NxtGov is excited to announce that registration is open for the Cal-IPGCA Cohort 2019! This program aims to transform government with enterprise innovations that Cal-IPGCA teams and their departmental Champions are deploying right now – Watch for updates! You have the opportunity to join this effort! We are pleased to announce that NxtGov can award one $2,850 scholarship for attendance in this 5- Month program. The program and registration under “LEARN MORE” below will guide you through the details of this 5-month journey.

WHAT IS CAL-IPGCA?

Cal-IPGCA is a leadership and innovation training program unlike any other available to state employees. Six teams are assigned one of six statewide Innovation Priorities/problems to create Moonshot solutions with 10x improvement. Top state and industry leadership host a monthly 2-hour “Change Challenge Forums”, which give insight and guidance to team Innovation

Priorities. Final moonshot presentations are presented to State leaders on the final day of the program. Between the instructional days, offsite video instruction from state leadership on CalHR’s 9 Leadership Values teach personal, professional and innovative team growth.

WHO SHOULD ATTEND?

Cal-IPGCA is designed for line staff who are rising stars with management potential, first line supervisors, middle managers, executives, and executive leadership. Each Cal-IPGCA Cohort creates a multi-generational, multi- cultural and multi-professional environment of change, integrating and synergizing participation across all levels of government classroom and work environments. And the 62 Professional Development Hours for full-time trainees meets the State of California’s biennial leadership training requirements. (GC 19995.4.)

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

There are many more reasons why you should attend or send staff to the Cal-IPGCA Cohort 2019. Here is a link to a Cal-IPGCA Fact Sheet of important features and objectives for consideration. The full program and
 online registration are linked here. For more information, you can connect to Cal- IPGCA’s Training website, KollaborNation. Should you have questions, please email program chair, Rebekah Christensen at rchristensen@orasystems.net.

Join us as a Change Leader and Innovator! This is a training program that will continue to produce results for you, your staff and your organization!

The Cal-IPGCA Association has a key role in this year’s Cohort. We think we are going to break new ground in change leadership and innovation! As an NxtGov member, if you want to learn more about the training program and/or join the Cal-IPGCA Association as a member, come to our Taco ‘Bout a Fiesta celebration on June 6 from 5:30-7:30 PM in Midtown. Here’s the flyer for logistics and registration.

NxtGov is proud to partner with Cal-IPGCA! We value the contribution Cal-IPGCA continues to make in pioneering innovation and change in state service. It takes all of us, working together as partners, to support each other’s efforts to assure real change and innovation occurs. Equally important, we are excited to be able to have a

NxtGov member participate in Cohort 2019.

This scholarship will be awarded by NxtGov no later than June 29. You must be a subscribed member of NxtGov to qualify for the scholarship.

Paths to Public Service Featuring Nathalie Nguyen

Paths to Public Service Featuring Nathalie Nguyen

Name: Nathalie Nguyen
Job Title: Council Specialist, Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council
Recommended Reading: George Orwell’s 1987 or any book of the Harry Potter Series
Spirit Animal: Sea Otters
Song stuck in your head right now OR Song you wish you didn’t like: Baby Shark Doo- Doo

What was your path into public service?

When I graduated college, I had dreams of going to law school and working in a corporate firm. Before I made that journey, I ended up applying for a fellowship with a push from a mentor. The decision landed me in Sacramento interning at the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. I was only supposed to stay in Sacramento for a year, but 4 years later I’ve made it my home.

During the fellowship I knew nothing about the State application process. I had a mentor who told me that I should apply because he knew the state needed young people to come in and create change. Innovation was highly sought after in the State, and the idea that I could receive a paycheck while making a difference was a highly motivating factor for me.  

After graduation, 35 applications, and 7 interviews I landed a job with the Department of Social Services as an analyst working on issues surrounding foster care. I had no idea what I stepped into because I had no experience with or knew anyone in foster care, but I did know that I was willing to learn and be a part of the conversation. I was most excited about the chance to provide input to policies that affected our youth.

When I was at Social Services, one of the projects that I am proudest of was a social media campaign working to recruit younger demographics to become caregivers, foster parents, and mentors to young adults and children in care. I spearheaded the project, working with a communications company to formulate a message that would resonate with an average person who never thought of themselves as being a caregiver, analyzed social media analytics, and managed various social platforms we used to insert and project our campaign messages. The project made me realize that the State was moving in the direction of innovation, social media, and technology.  

The biggest reason I have stayed in public service (besides the retirement) is the ability to help and advocate for those who otherwise cannot. This is the greatest privilege I feel has been given to me in public service, and I feel blessed everyday to be in this platform. I never take it for granted that this opportunity has landed on my lap.  

What do you do in your current position, and what is something you are working on right now?

I currently work for the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council as the Council Specialist. The Council is comprised of 19 members and includes State agency representatives, stakeholder appointed members, and partners. I staff all 19 members and the 4 other Council staff. In this role, I plan and execute Council meetings, which happen quarterly and are open to the public. My responsibilities include logistics; coordinating with panels, staff, the public, presenters; and anything else that is needed to execute a successful Council meeting.

In between Council meetings, I work behind the scenes to ensure the Council’s work is continuing when it is not outward facing to the public. This involves working with the Council member’s key staff on day-to-day projects. Together we work to ensure that various state agencies representing the Council are meeting state mandates and have policies in place that are consistent with helping efforts to end homelessness.

The job is rewarding because I feel like I am making a difference in what feels like the State’s biggest problem currently. The crisis is never ending, but I am happy to be contributing to an important cause and conversation. Everyday is a challenge, but a good one.

What cautionary tip would you give to someone looking for a job in state service?

Expect to be patient. The State unfortunately is slow when it comes to processing applications and can often take months. Some departments will process applications, schedule the interview and exam, but may not make their decision until weeks later. If you aren’t in a hurry to get a job with the State, the right fit will come with patience and time on your side.

What resources/advice/practice did you find most helpful when applying for jobs in public service?

I always encourage people that they should apply to jobs that interest them or have a passion for. Never apply for a job just to have a job. Life is more rewarding when your job doesn’t feel like a chore.

Take the time to look around the various state websites. Sometimes it’s just a simple google. Read about the work they are doing on their website. Does their mission align with yours? Do their values align with yours? Do they advocate for platforms that you truly believe in?

Once you take the time to research the department, visit their job recruitment page. More than likely they are hiring and if not, put it on your list and check back frequently.

If you can or know someone who works there – maybe take the time to schedule an informational interview to find out if the working environment is a good fit for you. Even if you don’t know anyone, don’t be afraid to ask during your interview what the working environment is like, what the team hat you will be working with is like, and what type of manager the person believes they are. Interviews and job applications aren’t just about finding a job, but also ensuring that both parties are the right fit for each other.

If you have resources outside of the web, use them. It’s a simple ask if anyone is hiring when you meet someone whose work aligns with yours. They can refer you to jobs or keep you in mind when they come up.

The very most important thing in looking for a public service job: PATIENCE. Be patient. The right job and right fit will come along when the time is right.


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Searching for the Invisible

Searching for the Invisible

NxtGov’s Participation in the Homeless Point-in-Time Count

By Kelly Joy, NxtGov Member

In January, the Community Engagement Team at NxtGov participated in Sacramento’s Point-in-Time count of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness throughout the region. The PIT count relies on hundreds of local volunteers to canvas set geographic areas throughout the county, and every volunteer directly contributes to making the PIT count as accurate and successful as possible. The information obtained during the PIT count gives not only valuable insight into the needs of a vulnerable population, but also potentially increases state and federal funding resources available in the community. Without enough trained volunteers, there are fewer people counted, which means the stories of those people are not heard and their needs are less likely to be met. NxtGov volunteers joined with staff members of the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council and other representatives of state and local government to walk the streets of Sacramento and count the number of people experiencing unsheltered homeless. I was one of the NxtGov members who were proud to participate in such an important event for the community, and happy that our efforts helped make this important event a successful one.

There were dozens of groups of volunteers that walked the streets of Sacramento during the 2019 PIT count. The group I walked with surveyed a northern region in Sacramento’s “grid” area. We interviewed almost twenty people who were sleeping without shelter. We encountered even more that we were unable to interview.

One of the first people we interviewed was sitting on a bench at the light rail station. She said that one thing she would want to change about the homelessness system is the judgment and lack of dignity for people experiencing homelessness. “Sometimes we need a hug to get through it all. Just someone to care,” she said. She added that she felt blessed by God to be where she was in that moment to talk to people who cared to hear her story.

There were two young adults who didn’t “look homeless” by a stereotypical definition, but we interviewed them to make sure. They were both living on the streets. One got emotional and asked if we knew somewhere he could take a shower. I thanked them for their time when we finished the interviews and told them the information they provided would really make a difference. “You promise?” one of the men asked. I replied that I was positive that it would make a difference, and he seemed to be a little reassured by that.

We walked past a man trying to sleep in a planted area next to the sidewalk. He got up and offered to answer our questions. Our conversation was interrupted a number of times for him to answer questions I hadn’t asked him. After my initial confusion, it became clear that he was answering questions from another voice that I couldn’t hear. My heart sank even further when he said that he became homeless four days ago.

We encountered a veteran who responded “You’re doing the homeless count? Oh yeah, it’s January again.” He had been homeless long enough to witness many PIT counts, which take place once every two years. He had also grown up in foster care. I couldn’t help but think of the systems we have that are meant to protect people like him.

We happened across a woman who was living without shelter in a family of five, a rarity to find during the PIT count. She seemed to have a bright spirit, but there were moments during the interview that her answers felt like they carried more weight. “I have been homeless before, but it’s taking me a bit longer to come out of it this time for some reason.”

We encountered another young woman shortly after. The woman suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to physical family violence. She was also visibly pregnant.

We encountered a number of people living without shelter. There were a number of times that only one person out of our group of four saw someone. I couldn’t help but wonder to myself how many others were there that we weren’t able to find. Every person we did find, however, will not only contribute to our understanding of who is experiencing homelessness in our state, but also made a lasting impression on all of the volunteers who participated on the night on the count.

I don’t know the names of the people I surveyed since the surveys were anonymous, but I don’t expect that I will ever forget their faces. They were all completely different people with varied needs and experiences, but all were in a very vulnerable situation in that moment. I was glad to be part of a group that was willing to look and see the humanity in what is often considered an “invisible” problem.

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DISCLAIMER: This is an unofficial organization that is not connected to any one government entity.

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