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New City College class prepares students for career helping homeless


Students interested in careers helping homeless people can learn what it’s like to work in the field while earning credits toward a certificate in a new class at San Diego City College.

The Homelessness Program for Engaged Educational Resources class, or PEER, may be the first of its kind in the nation and was developed with the San Diego Housing Commission, which provided $187,000 for the pilot program.

“We developed it because we were seeing and hearing from our service providers that they were having a hard time filling their positions,” said Lisa Jones, executive vice president of strategic initiatives at the San Diego Housing Commission.

Jones said she began working on the curriculum in May 2019 with Kirin Macapugay, a City College professor of human services and social work. California Community Colleges approved the curriculum in time to launch the two-credit PEER class Oct. 13 with a goal of attracting 15 students.

Instead, 42 are enrolled in the online class, more than Macapugay normally could have accommodated in her 40-seat classroom.

“I’m not surprised by the interest,” she said, adding that she knows a number of students at the school have expressed interest in the field. “But I was surprised at how many registered right away. It was put up just two weeks before the semester.”

The popularity of the new class may reflect the growing awareness of homelessness and also comes at a time when more opportunities are being created in the industry.

San Diego City College’s Vice President of Instruction Matilda Chavez said an unprecedented amount of grant funds coming to the region has created more job opportunities, and the new course provides a way of creating a workforce with the knowledge to be effective in the field.

Jones, who has been a guest speaker in the eight-week class, said jobs in the field can require a broad knowledge from a variety of disciplines.

“We start with national policies, then it goes down to regional policies, then the regional system and programs,” she said. “Then, what’s it like to work within the system. What’s it like to be a front-line worker or a program manager. The intention of the course is to create a foundation for students interested in some type of social work and to understand there’s a career path in the homeless industry.”

Jobs in the field include housing specialists, outreach workers and case managers, and Jones said the college is providing a career coach to help students find job openings in the field and an academic counselor who can shepherd them as they continue their studies. Positions in the field can pay from $15 an hour to $40 an hour, Jones said.

The class can be built into established City College certificate programs in mental health work, alcohol and other drug studies and gerontology or be part of the associate of arts degree in behavioral health.

Student Tara Stamos-Buesig, 49, is working on her bachelor’s degree in social work and already has her own nonprofit, Harm Reduction San Diego, which provides safe syringes and safe inhalation supplies among other services.

“A course such as this will really provide service workers with some knowledge about how to really connect systems and best meet the needs of people they’re serving,” she said.

Formerly homeless herself, Stamos-Buesig has worked as a substance-abuse counselor and said she often was frustrated at what she found on the job.

“When people with the best intentions set out to build programs but don’t have lived experience, I think the work doesn’t get done in the way it was intended,” she said, adding that she wants to use her education and personal background to remind people of their worth and self-respect.

Student Shay Dangerfield, 40, said she adopted three girls who came from a homeless situation and now works with foster youths.

“I want to do more to help homeless youths,” she said. “There’s so many out there and they don’t have many places to go.”

Dangerfield said she hopes to start a drop-in center specifically for homeless youths when she completes her education.

Student Cesar Zapata, 27, said he was motivated to take the class because he grew up in an area with gangs and violence, and he wants to help future generations.

“I want to make a change in my community,” he said. “I want to be a counselor in high school to support kids. And I want to continue to be a resource for kids who are homeless. I went through a lot of things when I was young, but that never stopped me from trying to be what I want to be in the future.”

A Housing Commission press release said the new class also will help match strategies identified in the city’s Community Action Plan on Homeless. Those include creating a client-centered homeless assistance system, implementing a systems-level approach to homelessness planning and improving the performance of the existing system.

The college has a goal of securing a volunteer position, internship or job for 80 percent of students in the class.


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