The idea of homelessness brings to mind images of people living in tents, or encampments, or cycling in and out of shelters. But according to Antoinette Gomez, the reality of homelessness increasingly extends beyond these visible signs.
As the new clinical program director for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in Denver, Gomez ’94 Agr sees many different iterations of homelessness—from female victims of domestic abuse staying with relatives, to individuals who are couch surfing because rising rents have priced them out of their homes. Homelessness, she says, affects people from all racial, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. It does not discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender, or social class.
The Coalition provides homeless people with temporary houses, says Gomez, equips them with “soft” skills such as budgeting, and supports them through drug and alcohol treatment and in dealing with anxiety. “We are primarily working with people who have been disenfranchised—politically, socially, culturally,” she says.
Gomez entered Penn State hoping to become a veterinarian. Fluent in Spanish, she traveled to Mexico and later to Malawi to work on international conservation efforts. In Mexico, she met farm workers with HIV/AIDS and realized she wanted to help people directly. “Working in Mexico and Malawi afforded me the experience and training to assess needs, gather resources, and create plans for success,” Gomez says. “[The experience] showed me how to work with those without resources, including houses. I want to empower people so they say, ‘I can do this. I don’t have to be a statistic. I can get to the other side of homelessness,’” she says.
Gomez is also a licensed clinical social worker, marriage and family counselor, and certified addiction counselor. She has a private practice, Harmony Counseling Services, through which she works with clients battling opioid addiction. —Cristina Rouvalis