Get to know…Jillian Castaneda, Housing Navigator

Jillian joined United Way of the Plains in 2023 and works to help those experiencing homelessness.

When Jillian Castaneda came to United Way of the Plains, she found a new calling in life: Helping house the homeless.

She’s been with United Way for a year now, applying her background in the mental health field and victim advocacy to help those who are challenged with housing.

“I wear two hats because I have my role where I work with people experiencing housing insecurity who are also dealing with mental health concerns, but I also have my housing navigator role where I engage with chronically homeless and the elderly who are homeless,” she said.

Outreach plays an important role in Jillian’s job. She primarily engages with people suffering from severe and persistent mental health to identify their barriers to housing and helps connect them to resources that fit their unique needs.

A helping heart is what Jillian says she has, and it is needed in her line of work. Many of the clients she works with have lived unsheltered for a long time, sometimes decades. Their stories tell of the struggles they’ve faced and overcome, but their journey to housing security is still not complete.

Jillian Castaneda and other housing navigators load housing supplies into a van.
United Way's housing navigators pose for a photo while performing street outreach.

Jillian and a team of navigators work to meet the homeless where they are and work with them on their terms to secure housing.

“We go everywhere during outreach. We walk up and down Broadway. We’ll go to hotels, motels, parks, under bridges. Anywhere that is needed, we do our best to engage with folks that require assistance,” Jillian shared.

When called upon, she also goes to medical facilities and nursing homes to ensure those exiting care have an advocate. This type of work is commonly referred to as a boundary spanner.

United Way of the Plains is the lead organization for the Coalition to End Homelessness in Wichita/Sedgwick County. The coalition is comprised of nonprofits, faith organizations, government entities, businesses and community advocates. Together, they are working to make homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring. Without the coalition, the Wichita community would lose the collective impact of all these providers working together to provide a wide range of services and resources. The coalition also secures millions of dollars in federal grant money from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant earmarked to help people regain secure housing.

Jillian’s work is funded by the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services and has resulted in more than 20 people finding housing stability in the first five months of 2024. While no case of homelessness is identical, her clients are typically the most difficult to reach and have a general sentiment that they are better off homeless. It takes time to change a mindset when someone doesn’t feel worthy of permanent shelter, but with time, expert training and compassion, Jillian has made great headway.

“I enjoy my job because I can come to work, be myself, and help my clients and the homeless. What brings me back every day is being able to help people and change lives. Getting people housed and the resources they need and deserve is very rewarding,” Jillian said. “When we can help someone secure housing, it’s the best feeling ever.”

Jillian Castaneda and Tyra Miles are Housing Navigators for United Way.


Published On: June 3, 2024Tags: , ,


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