Written by Guest blogger, Tara Maguire, National Initiative on Policy and Economic Opportunity at the Heartland Alliance
The scale of family homelessness demands attention. As a new paper about integrating rapid re-housing and employment from my team at Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity makes clear, too many families are experiencing or at risk of homelessness for economic reasons. On a single night in January 2016, about 194,716 people in families with children were homeless.
Insufficient earned income and unemployment, combined with lack of affordable housing, are among the chief causes of family homelessness. Today, 28 percent of workers earn poverty-level wages and 42 percent make less than $15/hour. Most families living in poverty spend at least half of their income on housing. One in three American households has no savings account. Millions of vulnerable households are one lost job or financial challenge away from homelessness.
In recent years, rapid re-housing has emerged as a key strategy in ending family homelessness. The first priority of any rapid re-housing program is to ensure that people are moved quickly into safe, permanent housing. However, to address the economic instability that frequently leads to homelessness, rapid re-housing providers can and should prioritize employment and make it a goal for their participants. This is especially important because, although rapid re-housing participants are expected to pay market rate rent once their short-term rental subsidy ends, many face significant barriers to employment, which can make it difficult for them to stabilize in housing at the end of their rental subsidy.
Helping rapid re-housing participants succeed in employment is essential to their long-term housing and financial security — and to truly ending family homelessness. That said, employment is not a core competency for many homeless services providers. While our paper offers rapid re-housing providers recommendations to enhance their programs with employment services, we don’t expect providers to implement these recommendations alone. Rather, providers will need to work alongside multiple actors across systems. There also needs to be policy change, so that rapid re-housing interventions have the capacity, resources, and incentives to provide pathways to employment and economic opportunity for all participants.
Here are three key takeaways for rapid re-housing providers seeking to enhance their programming with employment services:
#1: Build partnerships to offer a continuum of employment, training, and supportive services that can meet a wide range of needs. It’s likely that employment services are not an area of expertise for many rapid re-housing programs — and there’s no need to build these services from the ground up. Instead, rapid re-housing providers can and should:
- Prioritize and value employment
- Make it a goal for their participants
- Work with Continuum of Care (CoC) leadership to support the development of necessary partnerships to make sure appropriate employment services are delivered
Establishing partnerships with a range of community-based providers and public systems is key. These partners should include the public workforce system funded under the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA), but the WIOA system may not be equipped to address the needs of rapid re-housing participants facing significant barriers to employment. Other partners can include community-based providers specializing in intensive employment and training services for jobseekers facing barriers to employment, community colleges and adult basic education programs, and agencies offering credential-bearing job training. The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program and the SNAP Employment & Training program can also provide funding for employment-related needs such as child care and transportation. Finally, connections to legal services, mental health, and health care providers, and financial capability services are all important.
#2: Immediately engage participants in employment, training, and supportive services. Finding a job takes time, and rapid re-housing participants likely face barriers to employment that lengthen the typical job search, such as limited educational attainment or a spotty work history. At the same time, because of the time-limited nature of their housing subsidies, participants are under considerable pressure to connect quickly with earned income in order to pay rent when their subsidy expires. For this reason, rapid re-housing providers should introduce participants to employment services as soon as they enroll, whether in-house or through partnerships with employment service providers.
Some steps that rapid re-housing providers can take include introducing employment as a goal on day one and offering connections to job search assistance as early as possible. Providers can integrate employment goals into case management conversations and use motivational interviewing techniques to address participants’ lack of confidence about pursuing work. Finally, providers can connect participants with service providers who are using evidence-based employment models for people facing barriers to employment, including transitional jobs and individualized placement and support.
#3: Prioritize job retention and reemployment services to support the longer-term success of rapid-rehousing participants. Job retention support is critical for jobseekers facing barriers to employment. To help rapid re-housing participants meet their lease obligations and stabilize in housing following the subsidy period, job retention should be a priority for any rapid re-housing program that is integrating employment into its service delivery.
Providers can offer job retention in a number of ways, including doing regular check-ins with participants about their workplace needs, employer expectations, and conflicts that arise at work. Providers can also offer financial incentives for getting or maintaining work. Lastly, job retention efforts should include reemployment services to help participants quickly re-engage in job search activities if they leave or lose employment in order to avoid long periods of joblessness and potentially falling behind in rent.
Now is the time to make sure that rapid re-housing programs provide clear pathways to economic opportunity and quality employment. By doing so, we can make great progress in the fight to end family homelessness.