Longtime City Employee Helps Individuals Experiencing Homelessness Stay Safe and Find Jobs During Pandemic
When the City of Long Beach opened a new temporary shelter in late March at Silverado Park in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and was in need of staff support to help run the facility, Cort Huckabone rose to the occasion and decided to make a leap.
Huckabone—a longtime City employee who is part of the City’s Department of Economic Development Workforce Bureau, also known as the Pacific Gateway Workforce Innovation Network—packed up his truck with a table, laptop, printer and stacks of handouts on how to build a resume, common job interview questions and other helpful resources.
Three days a week, he sets up his table inside the park’s gymnasium and sets out to assist as many individuals experiencing homelessness with employment-related issues during this challenging time.
“But for the first couple of days, none of the guests approached me at all,” Huckabone recalls. “I was like, ‘Hmm. I’m guessing they’re not knowing what to make of me.’ On the other side of the coin, I approached it like this shelter was their home, so I’m gonna respect their space and hopefully they will come approach me when they’re ready.”
The Silverado Park center—a 24-hour congregate shelter that requires a mandatory health screening prior to entering—currently houses nearly 60 individuals, with appropriate physical distancing between each guest space.
One of four temporary shelters currently operating in Long Beach, the Silverado Park location offers a variety of services, such as medical and mental health assessments and resources, transportation for essential errands such as medical appointments, pharmacy and laundromats, as well as basic necessities like food and shower facilities.
Instead of sitting around and waiting, Huckabone decided to get busy. He set up another table next to him with his sewing machine from home and started making face coverings for those in need. When he shared this intention, a friend donated 120 yards of fabric, which another friend helped cut into small pieces.
This new project proved beneficial in many ways. Not only did the face coverings provide a necessity for many of the shelter guests, it also gave Huckabone an opportunity to start a conversation as he passed them out.
“That led to over 40 people asking for employment assistance,” he says.
One shelter guest has since landed a job, and four others have been scheduled for employment interviews. The rest have filled out enrollment applications and packets for employment services at Pacific Gateway and for grant-funded, short-term employment opportunities geared to provide pay and recent work experience for individuals experiencing homelessness.
“What I’ve seen is a lot of people are highly employable but they've lost all of their identification or it’s expired and they have no means to get it renewed,” Huckabone says. “Many of these agencies they need to get to are closed [due to the pandemic], or they can’t renew online, or they just can’t afford it.”
Huckabone worked with the City’s Multi-Service Center to facilitate shuttle service from the shelter to the Pacific Gateway offices twice a week so that shelter guests can have access to the facility’s computer lab and take care of some of these logistics to help get them back on their feet.
In addition to employment services, Huckabone and the Pacific Gateway staff are actively gathering and donating clothing, bedding, and crossword puzzles as well as funds to purchase undergarments for shelter guests.
“I enjoy doing this because it makes me feel like I’m doing something to help somebody, even if it’s in a small way,” Huckabone says.
There are nearly 250 guests currently residing at the City’s shelters, which are providing a safe haven and essential services for those most in need during this difficult time.
For those interested in donating to Long Beach shelters, offers of goods and services can be submitted through the City’s online donation form. For a list of the most urgent needs at the shelters, email COVID19Donations@longbeach.gov.
For the latest information on COVID-19, with details on all that the City of Long Beach is doing to keep its residents safe, visit longbeach.gov/COVID19.