Najat Elsayed, the director of the Community Assistance Department (CAD) with Harris County Commissioner Lesley Briones, Precinct 4, receives hundreds of calls and emails from residents each day. When she accepted her position last year, she anticipated the calls about road construction, animal control, potholes.
Then she noticed a trend.
Several residents were contacting the department to inquire about finding shelters, food assistance, career resources, and more. Commissioner Briones, Elsayed, and the rest of the CAD team saw it as an opportunity to collaborate.
Through a new partnership with University of Houston’s Graduate School of Social Work, CAD will use data-driven research to address social needs where residents need them most – taking a proactive approach to delivering services to residents.
A cohort of the school’s graduate students will serve as interns and receive hands-on experience addressing community issues like homelessness, food insecurity, and eviction, all while bringing a wealth of cutting-edge research to keep Precinct 4 on the cusp of social worker innovation.
During the year-long internship, which began Jan. 30, the interns will conduct research at community centers regarding the issues of surrounding neighborhoods. They will then operate from the respective community centers, creating programs, workshops, activities, and more for residents.
“Precinct 4 is improving the way we communicate and serve the public by gathering data and conducting research that captures the reality of our constituents’ situations,” Commissioner Briones said. “Through this approach, residents will see government not only listening to them, but also being solutions-oriented in connecting them with resources.”
Elsayed said typical social worker services funnel constituents through a slew of organizations and departments, meaning those seeking services experience complications with being constantly redirected and other delays to assistance. The partnership will bring benefits to both the program participants and the Precinct.
“By showing them out-of-the-box methods of providing resources through local government, we’re investing into future social workers who will be able to render quality, accessible resources to residents in all communities,” Elsayed said. “In addition, these interns bring best practices and research from the University of Houston, which will allow us to continue to deliver the best services within our Precinct.”
Commissioner Briones said the internship is an opportunity for the Precinct to demonstrate the abilities of government to build community by connecting policies with people in a meaningful way.
“This partnership will help create a framework for better delivering social services that will expand beyond this internship,” Commissioner Lesley Briones said. “We are innovating to connect residents with the services they need and are removing barriers residents face by bringing these services directly to our communities.”