What started as as pilot program through funding from the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation, Secure Jobs thrived through a systems change approach facilitated through public-private partnerships.
In 2013, The Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation launched the Secure Jobs pilot in five regions of Massachusetts. The initiative was the outgrowth of a public-private planning process that aimed to offer employment assistance to families transitioning from shelter into housing with short-term housing support, including rapid re-housing. Because only one in four families experiencing homelessness in the United States will receive a permanent housing subsidy, we saw the need to test an initiative that would quickly move individuals in families out of homelessness and connect them with opportunities to improve their economic wellbeing.
Secure Jobs was based on a simple premise: to make it easy for individuals to access employment resources by placing the burden on the system to deliver in more efficient and effective ways. Secure Jobs is less about creating a new program and more about system change. It is an attempt to have a state Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness (ICCH) deliver an integrated and coordinated set of strategies to enhance housing stability to include employment.
It was an initial investment of $1.5 million in foundation dollars with an additional $600,000 public-private leverage to support the one-year demonstration. Our one-year effort grew from 5 to 7 regions across the state and is being replicated in Connecticut, which is helping to inform our practice here and in other parts of the country.
Secure Jobs by design wanted to test the creativity of the regional partnerships by buying the outcomes, jobs in this case, and allowing the genius to emerge from the local communities. As a result, we have very different approaches at work and together we learn from one another through our quarterly learning labs that include our regional and state partnerships. Continuous improvement is at the heart of this effort. Our state ICHH is key to problem solving and delivering to the field child care, transportation and housing resources in ways that make employment a more possible reality for so many families. The role of the foundation has been to help facilitate the learning labs, manage the evaluation with our research partner, Brandeis University, and to make sure the state agencies deliver on their promises.
Because of the excitement of the success for the first two years, the regions, through their legislative engagement, successfully secured additional state funding to support future employment efforts for homeless families.
After three full years of a partnership budget with the state, we have learned a lot. As we taper off our foundation contribution to the Secure Jobs demonstration, we feel that we are leaving a legacy of lessons learned and a set of family providers who are thinking differently about how best to support families in housing. We have tracked our success and recommendations for ongoing policy changes and have hope that our state will continue. Some of the lessons we have learned include the following:
- Bringing our state partner agencies to the table with designated troubleshooters makes a big difference to rapidly resolve barriers to childcare, transportation, and transitional assistance. When that gets lost, outcomes are more challenging to accomplish. Offering quick resolutions so our clients can access these key supports has helped participants maintain stability so that they can complete training and secure employment.
- Building a strong collaboration with workforce-training organizations that have deep relationships with employer partners has strengthened our ability to secure jobs for participants. Through these connections, Secure Jobs participants gained employment with large retailers, hospitals and nursing facilities, hotels and hospitality industries, social service agencies, and manufacturing, among others. Over time, Career Centers have grown to be more helpful to our population.
- Our shelter and housing providers are learning the language and practice of workforce development. Conversely, our workforce partners have learned that with adequate supports in place, families who have experienced homelessness are not as challenging as they formerly believed and have demonstrated success in employment.
- It is no secret that having access to good data matters. In the planning phase, we discovered that the majority of the families targeted for the initiative had a GED, high school level education, and some had college and workforce experience. Having access to this and other demographic data helped us design and target the interventions and determine budget allocations.
- Without a doubt, having some flexible dollars is the key to a family’s success. We saw a need to provide financial help for a short-term training, driver’s licenses, eyeglasses, certifications, and short-term childcare. Our ability to offer this assistance made a huge difference for the participants.
As we assess the first years of our initiative, we have found that the providers love the interaction and the excitement of working with families to secure additional income. And, we are sharing the model with state legislators who like what they are hearing. We are hopeful that this is a first step to get to a new conversation on how rapidly landing families in stable housing can launch them to economic opportunity.
“Interviews with staff and participants show overwhelming support for the model, primarily because of the combination of integrated services, individualized employment plans that respond to each participant’s interests and situations, and a very high level of support for participants throughout the process,” said Tatjana Meschede PhD, the Director of Research at the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University, who the Foundation hired to evaluate the Secure Jobs initiative. “Employer partners have likewise expressed positive opinions of participant employees and a strong commitment to the initiative. Early participant outcomes data show that the Initiative is well on its way to meeting its ambitious goal of an 80 percent placement rate.”
As we celebrate over 1500 individuals placed in employment, the ICHH is rethinking where best to house the leadership of Secure Jobs for the future. We are in the midst of transitioning Secure Jobs to another state agency where the potential for additional employment resources can be leveraged. The Fireman Foundation has been a supporter to improve and enhance the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program- Employment Training (SNAP-ET) program which will allow state dollars to be matched. The state also supports the Employment Service Program which helps individuals transition off of Welfare. Since we all share similar families, the hope is to expand the model to more populations with the hope of preventing future families from experiencing homelessness. New Memorandums of Understandings (MOU’S) are in the draft stages and our foundation is playing a role in helping to draft the substance of what each state agency will agree to bring to this effort. Our ICHH is facilitating the conversations across the state agencies and the goal is to have the new agreements finalized by the end of this fiscal year.
At the end of the day, we know that life is better when resources are coordinated and systems are integrated to deliver a toolbox of interventions that make it possible for individuals to go to work and stay at work.
Sue Beaton is the Direct of Special Initiatives at the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation. As Director of Special Initiatives, Sue works with the state of MA to end family homelessness. This partnership includes supporting innovation in 10 regions of our Commonwealth through funding, network research and learning labs showcasing promising best practices. In 2012 Sue launched the Secure Jobs Initiative at an attempt to end family homelessness. Over the years the initiative has expanded from 5 regions to 7. It has helped over 1,500 formerly homeless individuals get employed.