“On the workforce side, it’s terrifying when someone’s housing is unstable—how are they going to maintain their job search or keep their job? At the same time, for homeless services providers to really end homelessness, they need to help people meet their economic as well as housing goals. Both systems need each other.” –Nancy Phillips, Heartland Human Care Services, Inc., Chicago, IL
A new report from Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity identifies challenges to workforce and homelessness service systems collaboration and recommends strategies for building a more effective relationship. Systems Work Better Together: Strengthening Public Workforce & Homeless Service Systems Collaboration is a report based on in-depth interviews with over two dozen public workforce and homelessness service systems leaders and the innovative systems collaboration work led by our Connections Project sites.
Employment success and housing stability go hand in hand. Although the public workforce and homelessness service systems both serve people experiencing homelessness and jobseekers experiencing housing instability, they don’t often work together. Systems collaboration is necessary to ensure clients can access stable housing, employment, and economic opportunities.
Our report provides background about the structures, responsibilities, and funding of the workforce and homelessness service systems. Grounded in existing policy frameworks, our report gives actionable steps that stakeholders can take to enhance collaboration between their systems—and provides community-level examples where these ideas are underway.
Here are four takeaways:
#1: Share Governance.
The workforce and homelessness service systems can “bake” collaborative processes into their work by sharing governance. Local Workforce Development Boards (LWDBs) can appoint Continuum of Care (CoC) leadership and members that offer employment services to people experiencing homelessness or jobseekers experiencing housing instability. Likewise, CoCs choose the members of their Board, committees, and workgroups, so LWDB members or other workforce system representatives can participate.
#2: Dedicate Resources and Increase Accountability Within Both Systems.
In both systems, limited resources and little accountability for advancing employment and economic opportunity for people experiencing homelessness and jobseekers experiencing housing instability undermine nearly every aspect of systems collaboration. Although resolving these issues may merit federal-level action, LWDB and CoC leaders can take steps to mitigate these barriers and advance collaboration efforts.
In a community’s workforce development plan , LWDB leaders can prioritize people experiencing homelessness and jobseekers experiencing housing instability for intensive services. To couple prioritization with resources, governors can leverage discretionary funds to develop employment programs for this population. LWDB leaders can also incentivize the system to serve more people experiencing homelessness and jobseekers experiencing housing instability by making sure the system’s outcome measures reflect this population’s barriers to employment.
On the homelessness service side, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s annual CoC Program Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) process can be a vehicle for ensuring more homelessness service providers consider their participants’ employment interests and needs—and receive funding for doing so. While the NOFA signals federal funding preferences, CoCs can incentivize the infusion of employment into programming by prioritizing funding for projects that include or have demonstrated partnerships with workforce, education, or training services.
#3: Collect, Share, and Integrate Data.
Having the workforce and homelessness service systems collect, share, and integrate the housing, employment, and income data of the people they serve is essential to collaboration.
The workforce system must gather information about jobseekers’ housing status, and CoCs must gather employment and income growth data for people staying in or exiting the system. Both systems face challenges collecting these data. To improve data collection, LWDBs and CoCs can provide technical assistance to increase the capacity of their data management systems and frontline staff to record and report these data. CoCs can also ask questions about the employment needs and interests of individuals via their community’s Point-In-Time count or coordinated entry system.
Once data are collected, these systems must share or integrate their findings to drive collaborative decision-making aimed at supporting individuals’ employment success and housing stability.
#4: Engage Stakeholders in Cross-Training.
Workforce and homelessness service systems collaboration requires buy-in from staff, managers, and other decision-makers that their systems can and should work together to advance employment and economic opportunity for people experiencing homelessness and unstably housed jobseekers. Stakeholders from both systems may question clients’ need, desire, or ability to work, as well as the system’s role in helping an individual experiencing homelessness achieve stability. Cross-training is one strategy for overcoming these pervasive uncertainties and spurring collaboration, and it’s been effective in a number of our Connections Project sites. Systems leaders, philanthropy, and advocacy groups can all play a role in initiating cross-training efforts aimed at sparking collaborative work between systems.