Islander Grad Students Assess Program for City’s Homeless to Maintain, Clean Downtown Seawall

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Imagine sitting on a street corner. It’s 11 p.m. and rain has soaked you to your core. Your family, who you haven’t spoken to in years, lives in another city and is unable or unwilling to offer assistance. It’s a ten mile walk to the nearest shelter, but you have nowhere else to go – no home. You don’t know if your situation will ever get better, and you wouldn’t know where to start that change or if it’s even possible. Life feels hopeless.

Almost 400 homeless – including children and veterans – live in similar conditions in Corpus Christi and there is a city-wide effort to improve their quality of life, which includes reintroduction to society. Master of Public Administration (MPA) students from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi are doing their part to provide a solution to this problem. Specifically, they evaluated the city’s Seawall Steward Program, a proposal by the Downtown Management District (DMD).

“Service learning is an incredible opportunity. The chance to really make an impact increased my commitment to the project tenfold,” said Theresa Gayle, MPA student who worked on the project. “Putting the abstract classroom theories into the context of my hometown’s challenges added an unspoken depth and understanding of why public administration and service is so critical.”

The goal of the Seawall Steward Program is to tackle two city problems with one solution. The program, which is one component of the Corpus Christi Advisory Council on Homelessness, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse 4-point plan addressing homelessness, would use Type A Board Seawall funds to help reintroduce homeless individuals to the workforce by providing employment opportunities while also implementing regular cleaning and maintenance to one of the city’s major tourist locations – the Corpus Christi Downtown Seawall. Tourism comprises 10% of the economic revenue of Corpus Christi and 15% of jobs. Currently, the city’s Parks & Recreation Department is in charge of seawall maintenance, but their resources are limited. At the Downtown Seawall, it’s not uncommon to see styrofoam, plastic cups, and water bottles littering the water along with dried gum and cigarette butts on the cement.

“The seawall has a long history of being perceived as dirty and in need of maintenance by locals and tourists alike,” said Addison Kraus, MPA student who worked on the project. “That is why programs like the proposed Seawall Steward Program could be so impactful because of its capacity to address major issues within our city, including the need for interventions for the homeless population and seawall beautification.”

Islander MPA students tackled this project through a four-pronged focus including: assessing the need for a transitional work program; establishing best practices in homeless employment plans; establishing best practices in downtown/seawall maintenance programs; and examining the costs and benefits of the program to the downtown area. They also gathered census data on Corpus Christi’s homeless population and catalogued the resources available to this population in the city.

“The implementation of the Seawall Steward Program would be a tremendous first step in the right direction for our city,” Kraus said. “Though there are decent quantities and varieties of services offered to the homeless, employment opportunities specific to this demographic are scarce. In our research into other city’s intervention processes, we found multiple successful homeless specific work programs that serve as a catalyst to get this population working and developing necessary job skills.”

MPA students presented their findings to DMD and Advisory Council on Homelessness, Mental Illness, and Substance Abuse members on May 8. Alyssa Barrera Mason, Executive Director of Corpus Christi DMD, says she was impressed by these students’ work and the effort they put into their data collection. The next step is for the proposal to get approved for funding from the Type A Board’s Seawall fund, and then the City Council. If all goes well, the program would kick off this fall.

“We see great value in being able to work with the MPA program to solve problems we are facing daily in our local community,” Barrera said. “The information they were able to gather about comparable cities and programs gave us great insight in how effective our program could be, as well as ideas as to where it can be improved.”

Projects of this magnitude, which assist cities in the expansion of resources, are regularly undertaken by the Island University MPA program. Last year, MPA students assessed the city’s proposed Tiny Homes Program to provide housing for the homeless, and another cohort of students interviewed Rockport High School students on their perspective for Rockport city improvements and master resiliency plan after Hurricane Harvey. In the fall, MPA students hope to evaluate the Coordinated Entry and Family Reunification programs, two additional Advisory Council on Homelessness, Mental Illness, and Substance Abuse programs aimed at reducing homelessness in the Coastal Bend.

“While textbooks teach theory, these projects teach students about research in practice, how to work with stakeholders, and deal with constraints on time, data, and other resources while getting involved in the community,” said Dr. Sarah Scott, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice and Public Administration at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and faculty lead for the project. “In fact, two students this semester have told me that they plan to continue to work with organizations that serve the local homeless population.”

Additional Information

This study was conducted as part of the PADM 5335 course offered by the Island University and is in conjunction with the City of Corpus Christi’s Advisory Council on Homelessness, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse 4-Point Plan. Students who took part in the study are:

  • Velvet Espindola
  • Theresa Gayle
  • Hilda Gonzalez
  • Justin Guajardo
  • Adriana Jimenez
  • Addison Kraus
  • Janet Ogubowale
  • Lee Pradia
  • Cynthia Ramos
  • Liz Romo
  • Daniel Schwartz
  • Daniel Shelton
  • Victoria Valerio