Case Manager for the HIV and AIDS Services Administration (HASA)
Many workers providing services to the homeless face skepticism from clients. Jennifer Sanchez, who works for the HIV and AIDS Services Administration (HASA), is no exception.
“You don’t know how it feels,” they’ll complain. But Sanchez has an answer for them.
“I was formerly homeless,” she declares. “I tell everybody; I’m not ashamed. I know that you can come out of that. There are opportunities.”
Back Where She Belongs
Sanchez has truly found her niche as a Case Manager in HASA. At 49, she has held many jobs; for 10 years, she was a global insurance broker. But shortly after leaving for personal reasons in 2009, she found herself struggling to care for her two children with special needs. Though Sanchez became homeless for a year, she was savvy about accessing resources to provide for her family, and learned that exam fees were waived for people on public assistance.
“I took every one [of the civil service exams] that I could possibly take,” Sanchez recalled. “Case manager, peace officer, traffic enforcement, corrections—I took them all.”
Called up in 2014, Sanchez landed a job as a Peace Officer for the Department of Homeless Services at the Bedford-Atlantic Armory Shelter in Brooklyn. In 2016, she did similar work for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, providing security at 125 Worth St. in Manhattan.
Becoming a Case Manager at the HASA Brownsville office in 2017 was like a whole new world. When Sanchez was promoted to Sup I in 2019, she was taken away from that close client contact, shifting to obtaining benefits for clients at the Disability Services Unit. Within four months, she had “de-promoted” herself.
“I hightailed it back to HASA,” she said with a laugh. “Appealing a social security case and going in front of a judge is not as appealing as working directly with people…I like the one-on-one, going out to the field and seeing how the clients are doing.
“It’s not just that I miss my clients,” she added. “My clients miss me, too. They were upset when I left!”
Scooting to It
While Sanchez owns a car, she often takes guff from her clients over her choice of transportation. She used to ride her bike, but lately she often takes a scooter for miles across city streets—even after a snowstorm.
“My clients will be like, ‘Oh my god, Sanchez.’ I put myself in danger [riding on city streets]; I don’t know why. It’s the high…it’s helping people.”
Sometimes there are more practical reasons. Sanchez scooted at night from her home in Greenpoint over the
Pulaski bridge to Queensboro Plaza in mid-December to avoid losing her parking spot after the snowstorm.
She was headed to her nightly work with the End of the Line program, where she earns overtime volunteering to help homeless people who must leave the subway while its being cleaned—a nightly occurrence during the pandemic.
Sanchez has been doing this almost every night since May or June, though she notes that she took a week off once.
“I don’t know where I get the energy from, but I keep going and going,” she said. “And now I feel like if I don’t go, I’m missing something. They depend on me.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m tired; I’m exhausted,” she added.
Sanchez has no plans to give up the nightly homeless outreach, however. The extra income is helpful, it’s rewarding, if grueling. Her day duty lasts between 8 am and 4 pm, and she’s able to nap sometime after 7. Then she heads to Queens for the 12 am to 5 am outreach.
At the subway terminus, she greets homeless people who’ve been kicked off the trains, screens them and helps place them in shelter for the night.
“I enjoy doing it, I really do. I have my usuals. I know them all by name; they ask for me so I can place them,” Sanchez said. “I’ve seen a lot of them deteriorate in the few months I’ve known them. They need more services not just a place to sleep for the night; they need a team.”
“I’ve dealt with my own hardships in life, and I’m able to empathize with the clients,” she added.