What is it going to take to ensure that all jobseekers who are experiencing or exiting homelessness can access employment and economic opportunity? That was the question of the day at a national summit last month that brought together five innovative communities along with local, state, and national leaders.
Sponsored by Heartland Alliance, USICH, and Funders Together to End Homelessness, with the support of the Melville Charitable Trust and Oak Foundation, the convening centered on strategies that are working in the five Connections Project communities - Seattle/King County, Houston, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Baltimore - to more closely integrate employment and pathways to economic opportunity with efforts to prevent and end homelessness. Participants shared emerging and best practices, barriers to success, key lessons learned, and ways that the communities, federal agencies, philanthropic organizations, and other partners could support momentum in other cities and counties across the country.
In addition to learning from the Connections Project sites, participants were asked to generate a set of potential recommendations that could be implemented in the near-term to advance employment and economic opportunity for jobseekers experiencing homelessness. The discussion then shifted to a more future-oriented perspective about actions to support the long-term sustainability of coordination between our workforce and homelessness assistance systems.
Key Themes and Takeaways
- Employment opportunities are critically important for preventing and ending homelessness. Participants reiterated that one of the most effective strategies to support individuals to move out of homelessness and into safe and stable housing is increasing access to meaningful and sustainable job training and employment. However, connections to employment for individuals with experiences of or at risk of homelessness are not readily available and accessible and, in many communities, little if any collaboration exists between Continuums of Care (CoCs) and workforce systems.
- Jobseekers with experiences of homelessness face systemic barriers and challenges which, combined with the disconnection between CoCs and workforce systems, greatly increase the likelihood of prolonged periods of unemployment and inability to secure and maintain stable housing.
- System leaders, program managers, and direct service staff need guidance that communicates the role of employment as a key strategy to prevent and end homelessness, including prioritizing workforce supports for individuals to be able to exit homelessness and find stability and success.
- The Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act of 2014 (WIOA) provides an important opportunity to improve access to employment supports and prioritize employment services to people facing barriers to employment, including people with experiences of homelessness.
- Participants expressed the need for increased and coordinated guidance and messaging from federal agencies regarding the importance of collaboration between homelessness systems and workforce systems and other mainstream programs (e.g., JobCorps, TANF, and SNAP E&T).
The Path Forward
Ensuring access to employment and economic opportunity for youth, single adults, and families with children is critical to our shared success—for collaboratively creating stable, sustainable permanent housing opportunities and for ensuring such housing is a platform from which people can achieve their goals. Over the coming months, USICH will partner with external stakeholders to share community examples of best practices nationally and we will work with federal and national partners to develop guidance in the areas in which communities identified they need additional support.
Communities like Seattle/King County, Houston, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Baltimore are sparking action locally and demonstrating what is possible when the homelessness services and workforce systems engage in a meaningful and collaborative partnership, elevating the role of employment and focusing on the needs of jobseekers experiencing and at-risk of experiencing homelessness. Collectively, these innovators are helping to advance national efforts to prevent and end homelessness – we are committed to continuing to lift up their successes and to share in their learning.
The Connections Project is a three-year project aimed at increasing employment and economic opportunity for jobseekers experiencing homelessness. Launched in 2015 through Heartland Alliance’s National Center on Employment and Homelessness, participating communities were selected through a competitive process and include: Seattle/King County, Houston, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Baltimore. The sites are tasked with innovating around key strategies to improve outcomes for jobseekers experiencing homelessness, including: 1) increasing access to employment services, to public systems offering employment services, and to barrier-removal supports; 2) increasing employment and length of employment; and 3) increasing employment income.