(Photo: HUD/Sammy Mayo Jr)

When Tonya Proctor visits homeless shelters locally and around the country, she is heartbroken to see families with no place to live, victims of domestic violence, individuals suffering from medical and mental health problems or those just down on their luck.

But those visits also motivate Proctor, who helps manage two major Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant programs that provide funds to communities and organizations for emergency shelters, transitional and permanent housing, and supportive social services to prevent and end homelessness.

“I think about how families and especially the children are impacted when they become homeless, but it is rewarding when they get the services they need from our programs and can transition out and become independent,” said Proctor. “Sometimes it is a little discouraging that we can’t help everyone, but it is good to know that what I am doing at HUD is making a difference.”

In a recent report to Congress, HUD announced that its annual survey of 3,000 cities and counties found an estimated 578,424 persons experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2014. Since 2010, when the Obama administration launched its strategy to prevent and end homelessness, local communities have reported a 10 percent decline in the total number of persons experiencing homelessness, and a 25 percent drop in the number of those living on the streets.

Proctor, the acting deputy director for HUD’s Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs, helps administer the Emergency Solutions Grants and the Continuum of Care program for the homeless.

In January, HUD awarded $1.8 billion in Continuum of Care grants to help nearly 8,400 local homeless housing and service programs across the country, including those providing transitional and permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing, street outreach, client assessment and a variety of medical, mental health and social services.

Overseeing a staff of about 40 people, Proctor manages the application process for the grants, from the rollout to communities and nonprofits across the country and the communication with HUD field offices to the internal reviews, rankings and final awards. She also handles the day-to-day operations of her office, including dealing with a range of personnel issues.

Ann Oliva, the deputy assistant secretary for special needs programs at HUD, said Proctor is the “subject matter expert” on the homeless grant programs and has “tremendous people skills.”

“She is a born leader. People respect her work and she motivates her staff to do quality work,” said Oliva. “People love her as a supervisor because she is incredibly supportive. People can go to her with problems or barriers they are encountering, and she finds a way to help.”

Norman Suchar, the director of HUD’s Office of Special Needs Programs, said Proctor “combines a deep loyalty to the mission and a passion for her work with a natural ability to work with people.

“She knows how to connect with people and they want to work with her,’ said Suchar. “I wish we could find a way to replicate that natural quality.”

The 46-year-old Proctor, a resident of Waldorf, Md., first arrived at HUD in 1990, working in the Denver field office where she had an opportunity to spend time with a homeless service provider.

“My role with the service provider consisted of various tasks such as street outreach, housing searches and monitoring,” she said. “Program participants came from all walks of life. Some were drug addicts, some had lost their jobs or were divorced or did a poor job managing their money. The end result was that they were homeless and needed help.

“I was able to see all of the different aspects of what our money does to help people,” said Proctor.

Those early days gave her valuable insights into and understanding of the homeless, lessons that have been reinforced over the years.

“Recently I’ve seen where moms and dads split up, and the mother was left with the kids and had no place to go,” she said. In other cases, she said, she has seen fathers who have been left with the children and not only lack shelter and a job, but also parenting skills. In these instances, she said, there were services available and people ready to help.

In another case, Proctor said, she became familiar with a drug user living on the streets of Washington who repeatedly rejected assistance. He finally relented and got assistance with housing and his drug use. “He’s been off drugs for five years and has been in touch with his family,” she said. “He now goes out and helps canvas neighborhoods to get other people into the program.”

Proctor said it is the “compassion for these people” that keeps her going, knowing the federal money that she dispenses translates into turning lives around.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to the Fed Page of The Washington Post to read about other federal workers who are making a difference. To recommend a Federal Player of the Week, contact us at fedplayers@ourpublicservice.org.