A Conversation with Enrique “Rick” Rivera
Recently we met with Rick Rivera, The Salvation Army Passages Program Coordinator, who works with families and individuals facing homelessness to talk about his background and working for The Salvation Army Austin.
Describe your professional background.
Oddly enough, I got my degree in music education at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. I moved to Austin with my guitar and just kind of kicked around for a while. I was living with relatives at the time, and my aunt worked for the nonprofit Austin Families, Inc. A job answering phones came open after a lady went on maternity leave. Two more people in the office went on maternity leave so I received a full-time job. I worked there for several years and began to assist homeless families. We were awarded Passages funding, and eventually I started working at The Salvation Army to manage the Passages program.
What is your favorite part of the job?
The people I work with and the people I serve.
Where do you draw inspiration?
I was at a restaurant one time getting lunch, and the guy behind the counter looked up and saw my badge and said “Hey, The Salvation Army. You guys helped me find a place to live.” For me, those surprise encounters prove that what we do changes people’s lives. It is such a powerful thing and a compliment to all of us.
What is the Passages Program?
The Passages Program is a grant that provides housing assistance for families and individuals who are experiencing homelessness. The grant pays for rent, utilities, childcare, transportation assistance (bus passes), and more. The case managers are the ones who do all the heavy lifting for the program. They engage clients and work with them to find stable housing. We mainly work with the rapid rehousing program to get people out of the shelter system.
What are your biggest challenges?
We have no control over the external forces that impact a person’s ability to move forward. The cost of rent in Austin has been skyrocketing for a long time, and incomes are not keeping up with those costs. Trying to work with those barriers to people working to stabilize their situation are difficult. We provide rental assistance for about one year, and that is not much time when you consider moving from shelter into a place.
What is your favorite type of music?
I am a big classic rock type of guy. I am also a big fan of instrumental music like jazz. I have played with several bands over the years, so music is the way I recharge my batteries.
What is your favorite food?
TexMex without a doubt, specifically enchiladas with rice and beans.
Any final thoughts?
Sometimes people fall into a mold that is created by others. The reason I am doing what I love today is because I turned off the noise in my head and focused on what my heart was telling me. This career is special, and the ability to affect change makes me happy.