After 20 years of weaving a safety net of social services for low-income families, seniors and the homeless in Mountain View and Los Altos, Maureen Wadiak, the associate director of Community Services Agency (CSA), announced that she is retiring and moving away.
Wadiak has worked behind the scenes implementing programs at CSA designed to fill the ever-shifting needs of struggling North County residents, whether it be food pantry services at schools, short-term rental assistance or sending a social worker out to vehicle dwellers to ensure that they are getting the social services they need. Many city and countywide homeless initiatives send money directly to CSA, and its been up to Wadiak to set up the logistics and infrastructure to make it work.
Wadiak has been in charge of recent efforts to provide health care for seniors, fight diabetes and prevent homelessness, which has been particularly challenging given the rapid increase in housing costs in the region, according to Tom Myers, CSA's executive director. There has been a huge increase in people being priced out of their homes -- disproportionately affecting seniors -- and it's a constant battle trying to reach people who are struggling with poverty but "afraid to come out of the shadows."
"These changing needs have forced CSA to be incredibly flexible," Myers said. "As such, Wadiak needed to be our person who can think outside of the box and come up with the kinds of things we can do to help low-income people."
Santa Clara County's biennial homeless count shows that Mountain View's homeless population has tripled in just four years, to 416 people, many of whom reside in vehicles along Latham Street, Crisanto Avenue and Shoreline Boulevard. A previous survey conducted in June last year found 128 vehicles within the city that were likely inhabited, and that the high cost of rent was the most common reason for why vehicle-dwellers were living on the street.
Wadiak told the Voice that the goal right now is to tailor CSA's services so they can reach clients where they are, fully acknowledging that low-income families struggling with two or three jobs don't have the time or means to get to the nonprofit's headquarters on Stierlin Road during normal business hours.
"These are challenging times, particularly for seniors, working poor individuals and families," she said. "The housing crisis is really hurting them the most."
Wadiak's first experience CSA began when she moved to the Bay Area and served as a director at United Way of Santa Clara County, where she worked closely with Myers' predecessor and "fell in love" with the CSA's mission. She said the organization also had a reputation for attracting and retaining passionate, committed professionals who, with the help of a reliable volunteer base, have been able to find creative ways to help the community.
Looking back at her decades of service in Mountain View, Wadiak said she was always struck by the resilience of CSA's clients, the sheer coping skills of people who are facing "incredible odds" but still find a way to see the positive side of things. This is particularly striking among seniors, who may not have the same kind of flexibility to adapt as younger residents.
"Even though their bodies may not be as cooperative or as flexible as they used to be, they are resilient and can maintain their independence and keep their perspective," she said.
CSA plans to hire in-house to replace Wadiak, announcing Monday that Nicole Fargo Nosich, the agency's homeless prevention services director, will be picking up the torch starting this month. Nosich has been a "rising star" at CSA since joining in 2013, Myers said in an Oct. 16 statement, serving in multiple roles, including as the agency's housing case manager, where she helped displaced residents find new, affordable places to live.
Following her retirement, Wadiak and her husband plan to move out of San Jose and go to Washington, where she suspects she will do some part time work. Myers said it probably won't take long before she starts getting involved in community services in her new home.
Wadiak said she will miss CSA and Mountain View, in part because a whole confluence of the community -- volunteers, private donors and local city governments -- shows an unrelenting commitment to helping one another.
"It's the lovely sophistication of the Bay Area but the feel of a small town, in terms of people really caring for their neighbors," she said. "That's amazing, and makes our jobs in human services a whole lot easier."