Promising Practice: Strategically partner with Workforce Investment Boards to refine communication and collaborate efforts that target individuals and families who are at risk of homelessness, or homeless.
The majority of persons who find themselves homeless want to work. Yet, homelessness often creates barriers to employment. Homeless people lack a fixed address, stability, flexibility and encounter many situational complications that render them less attractive employees. Others suffer from physical and mental health conditions that are better managed in supportive work environments. Without viable employment options these persons are likely to experience long term homelessness or cycle in and out of homelessness due to financial instability.
It is essential that those working to end homelessness partner with employment services and Workforce Investment Boards to find innovative ways to serve those who find themselves homeless.
The Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County (WDC) has championed homeless employment initiatives for almost 20 years, believing that employment services should be part of the range of support and assistance for homeless men and women.
They have outlined the following 11 best practices for homeless work force development:
- Regional shared vision and goals
- Increase access
- Collaborate--develop multiple cross-system partnerships
- Plan enough time
- Don't duplicate--"stay in your own lane"
- Collaborative work groups
- Flexible funding--combine public and private
- Employer relationships
- Employment emphasis in local planning
- Workforce Investment Act (WIA)/Policy support
King County has also entered into a formal partnership to promote system integration between housing and employment services in King County and begun work on a pilot program that targets homeless persons. The program uses employment system navigators to better serve high barrier homeless job seekers and is outlined in the chart bellow:
Credit: Workforce Development Council of Seattle - King County
Houston, Texas has also had success serving homeless populations. Houston has overhauled its system and moved away from its quota-based method. This has increased the number and diversity of people being served within One Stop Centers. Houston’s old service model, operated similarly to most Workforce Investment Boards current model, and concentrated on serving families and individuals who met certain benchmarks and funding categories. Houston, however, has discarded this model and instead focused on a new customer service based system. Their service centers concentrate on providing customer service to all persons who enter, and have proved to be more effective in serving vulnerable homeless populations.
According to Rodney Bradshaw, who was instrumental in this shift, the following principals guide their new service agenda:
Customer service focus (Clients)
- Well trained staff
- Serving more people
- Solutions focused service
- Community referrals
- Provide programming and training based on need
- Concentrated on more sustainable employment options – not minimum wage positions
Customer service focus (Employers)
- Capture more of their jobs through sound customer service and a focus on providing workers who best meet their needs
- Labor market information is, therefore, delivered to staff through close employer relationships
No categorical thinking
- Discarded practice of dedicating funds to specific populations; this practice restricted who could be served and promoted “creaming” for clients with best anticipated outcomes
- Streamlined approval systems to provide staff with more agency to deliver person-centered services
Access to employment for the most vulnerable populations is crucial. Implementing the above-mentioned strategies across the country can be a vital component in the fight to end homelessness. Philanthropy can help spread the message, provide assistance to programs that work and highlight those that do not. Employment opportunities for the homeless, in the long-term, promote stability and self-sufficiency. Inclusive models, like the one implemented in Houston, ensure that the homeless population is served.