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Pre-Conference Session: Advanced Employment Strategies (hopeFound)
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Pre-Conference Session: Advanced Employment Strategies (hopeFound)

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Ending homelessness through employment and housing requires a focused effort aimed at building linkages with the mainstream workforce system, using innovative, proven strategies and advocating for the …

Ending homelessness through employment and housing requires a focused effort aimed at building linkages with the mainstream workforce system, using innovative, proven strategies and advocating for the necessary resources and supports. Homeless jobseekers with barriers to employment are disadvantaged in the best of times. In the current economy, agencies need better tools and skilled practice. In this pre-conference session, we will help participants make use of new the Community Employment Pathway guidebook provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to create training and job opportunities, explore how hopeFound has combined a Housing First, work first program using motivational interviewing as a cornerstone practice. Speakers also addressed the need for local and national advocacy for financial resources, employment encouraging policies, and access to mainstream services.

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  • 1. EMPLOYMENT SERVICES FOR ADULTS EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS hopeFound is dedicated to ending homelessness among men and women in Boston by helping them achieve self-sufficiency and secure and maintain permanent housing. We serve 3,000 individuals annually using three core strategies: Recovery, Employment and Housing. Our services span street outreach, emergency shelter, addiction treatment, employment assistance, and intensive, one-to-one assistance finding and keeping permanent housing. Throughout our work, we are committed to outcomes measurement, best practices, and innovation. hopeFound reaches people who are frequently labeled the "hardest to serve" - single men and women facing multiple challenges including addictions, mental health issues, and long-term, chronic homelessness. We start from a difference premise: Respect for all individuals and a belief that everyone has the potential to overcome homelessness. IMPACT EMPLOYMENT SERVICES IMPACT Employment Services, a program of hopeFound, was launched in1994 as a regional job placement program specifically designed to address the multiple barriers facing homeless individuals seeking employment. The program has grown to become Boston's largest provider of employment services for homeless individuals, accepting referrals and providing support for the city's entire homeless network. IMPACT Employment Services reaches men and women with striking needs: > 83% struggle with addictions; > 49% have a mental health history; > 60% have a history of involvement with the criminal justice system; > 46% are chronically homeless, which means they have been homeless for more than a year or repeatedly experienced homelessness. Reflecting national statistics, 82% of IMPACT's clients are male and 18% are female. The racial breakdown is 37% White, 35% African-American, 26% Latino, and 2% other. EMPLOYMENT NEED With Massachusetts’ unemployment still above 9%, even the most skilled and highly educated workers struggle to find decent-paying jobs. Job seekers who are homeless face exponentially higher barriers, barriers so high they "can be almost insurmountable," according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. IMPACT Employment Services exists to break down these barriers and give men and women who are homeless every possible opportunity to find and keep jobs. The program addresses two urgent needs. 1. The need for specialized employment services for homeless individuals. Traditional employment programs such as One Stop Career Centers are not equipped to meet the complex, multiple challenges of homeless men and women who are also out of
  • 2. work. These challenges can include medical conditions, mental health issues, substance abuse problems, and histories of incarceration. Additional barriers to employment often include limited educational background, lack of transportation, lack of technological expertise, lack of workplace skills and experience, lack of appropriate interview and workplace clothing, and no place to safely store job search materials like a resume. 2. The need to earn a living wage to end homelessness. In the past decade, many nonprofits serving homeless men and women, hopeFound included, have shifted their focus from managing homelessness in shelters to ending homelessness by providing permanent housing. Yet housing is not the only solution. Employment is equally important to help homeless men and women pay a portion or all of their housing costs as they move toward self-sufficiency. There is an especially strong need not just for jobs, but jobs that pay a living wage. Almost half (44%) of the nation's homeless population works at least part time, but their monthly income averages only $367 - nowhere near enough to pay for food and rent, especially in a city like Boston, the fourth-most expensive rental market in the country, with average monthly rents of $1,598. A lack of income is an even more severe problem for the individuals enrolled in IMPACT. Among individuals newly enrolled in the first quarter of 2010, 81% had no income at all, 11% earned under $6,000 a year, and 8% earned between $6,000 and $15,000 a year. IMPACT addresses the need for earned income by helping men and women who are homeless find and keep jobs while also developing a career path from minimum wage to living wage jobs. RECENT ACCOMPLISHMENTS: FINDING JOBS, ENDING HOMELESSNESS Amid the worst economy since the Great Depression, IMPACT enrolled 395 individuals in 2009 and achieved a job placement rate of 56%, with an average salary of $11.30; 30% making more than Boston's living wage of $12.62 per hour. Perhaps the strongest indicator of the program's success was the number of individuals who left the program with housing:175 housed. In 2009, IMPACT also successfully launched a new initiative, WorkFirst, a three-year demonstration project to help 140 formerly homeless, newly housed men and women find and keep jobs. The project is the first of its kind in Boston and one of only a handful of similar projects around the country. IMPACT's work is known and respected among policymakers and practitioners. In 2003, it was honored as a "best practice" by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. JOB PREPARATION, PLACEMENT AND RETENTION SUPPORT IMPACT includes specialized job assessment, job-targeted educational and skills training, job development and placement, and initial employment supports. It also includes WorkFirst; Project Team, which links homeless individuals with food stamps, and a young adult component that provides specialized assistance for homeless or precariously housed 18 to 24-year-olds. We estimate an average of 20 hours of involvement per client with great variety in the level of involvement among clients. In particular, it is not uncommon for clients to use
  • 3. our Job Search Resource Room as an office and to log more than 100 visits during a prolonged job search. The Resource Room offers computers, printers, a dedicated IT staff person, and a well-organized roster of trained volunteers. IMPACT EMPLOYMENT SERVICES: CORE STRATEGIES a. Recruitment and Assessment: Targeted outreach and recruitment is conducted at community-based organizations serving homeless men, women and young adults. IMPACT is located on Chauncy Street in downtown Boston, easily accessible to clients by public transportation. Our multilingual staff (English, Spanish and Polish) assesses client’s education, skills, employment, legal, substance abuse, mental health, and physical histories. Together, staff and client develop an Employment Action Plan. b. Job-Targeted Educational and Skills Training: After developing the Employment Action Plan, clients gain access and referrals to educational resources, job training, and on-site technology training in computer proficiency to develop job-targeted skills. An Employment Portfolio is developed to include a resume, cover letters, and references. Referrals are made for employment-related support services, such as medical care, mental health care and legal services and are supported by other hopeFound services such as addiction treatment and housing placement. c. Job Development and Placement: IMPACT's staff and volunteers help clients with all aspects of job searching from how to read an ad, how to interview and how to write thank you letters. Clients gain access to IMPACT's on-site Job Search Resource Room and links to local and regional job training providers and employers. Additionally, IMPACT provides support services such as voicemail, email, transportation assistance, clothing for interviews and help gaining IDs. The result of these activities is competitive employment. d. Initial Employment Support: Once placed in jobs, clients receive post-placement job retention support to address on-the-job issues. Conflict resolution, problem solving and life skills development result in clients making progress toward stability and confidence in job duties and workplace relationships. Ongoing support, such as coaching to address career goals, helps clients retain employment long-term. Employment counselors mentor each client working toward long-term employment and self-sufficiency. WORKFIRST: THE NEWEST IMPACT EMPLOYMENT SERVICES INITIATIVE In the fall of 2009 hopeFound launched WorkFirst, a three-year demonstration project to support long-term housing retention and self-sufficiency among 140 newly housed, formerly homeless men and women. WorkFirst, described as "pioneering" in The Boston Globe, will test the premise that adding employment services to post-placement housing support improves outcomes for new tenants. The project design includes an evaluation and the results will be disseminated to local, state and national audiences to advance knowledge within the fields of workforce development and homeless services. WorkFirst is now up and running, with the first clients enrolled, staff hired, partnerships established, an original curriculum, an external evaluator and a distinguished Advisory Board of local, state and national policymakers and practitioners. The project design encompasses outreach and recruitment; individualized assessments;
  • 4. mobile career counseling through home and office visits; pre-employment skill building; job search assistance and coaching; scholarship support and stipends; employment placement and on-site job coaching; post-placement support and career coaching for up to 18 months; and ancillary support including access to a post office box, email and voice mail, interview clothing and travel assistance. WorkFirst's guiding philosophy is client-centered, strengths-based and non-coercive, with a goal of helping each participant not only secure employment but also identify and follow a career advancement path. Our original curriculum translates the "stages of change" theory developed by addiction treatment experts to a vocational setting. This approach makes it possible to engage clients at the very earliest stages of change, helping them move toward work in incremental steps. CURRENT CONDITIONS: 2010 Despite a few recent promising economic indicators, the outlook for homeless men and women seeking jobs remains bleak. At IMPACT, the decline of the once-buoyant economy has led to lower job placement rates: from 69% in 2007 to 56% in 2009. It has also influenced the average wage earned by IMPACT clients, which rose from $11.01 in 2007 to $11.48 in 2008, but then slipped to $11.30 in 2009. IMPACT is responding to these challenges by proactively seeking new partnerships with employers and increasing the skill level of applicants by directing greater numbers of program participants to job training programs, GED courses, and college. GOALS FOR 2010: 1. Enroll 350 individuals in IMPACT Employment Services 2. Of those enrolled, 210 (60%) will find or upgrade employment. 3. Of those employed, 15% will earn at least Boston's living wage of $12.79 for 2010. 4. Of those employed, 60% will retain their job for more than 6 months. 5. Of those who exit the program, 65% will have housing. MEASURING SUCCESS hopeFound has a strong commitment to continuous improvement within its programs and services by measuring and monitoring successes and challenges. Program outcomes are set annually as part of hopeFound's agency-wide outcomes measurement process, which is based on a model developed by the United Way. Senior managers review progress toward goals quarterly and data is aggregated to inform organizational planning, including regular Board reports. When goals are met, best practices are discussed and shared. If goals are not met, an analysis is conducted, revealing deficiencies in funding, a change in the client base, a lack of outreach or a shift in needs. hopeFound has been using this outcomes measurement system for the past five years and now has long-term trend data, which is especially useful for measuring and monitoring program challenges and successes. The key tool to capture and analyze data is Efforts to Outcomes (ETO), an agency-wide database used by many human service providers.
  • 5. Program outcomes are linked with an Employee Performance Review system, with all staff held accountable for program performance. Employees are reviewed annually, with performance reviews based on client outcomes. The result is a competency-based organization that is grounded in the need of each client while striving toward the larger goal of ending homelessness. APPLYING LESSONS LEARNED IMPACT uses outcomes measurement data as a key tool for strategic change and program improvements. They have helped IMPACT improve performance in the following ways: 1. ENROLLMENTS: A recent review of referral data led to the recognition that some referral sources were not making appropriate referrals (the clients were not homeless). These same clients were being pressured by their referral source to find any job - as opposed to a job with a living wage - and therefore their job retention rate was not very good. A meeting was held with the referral provider where program eligibility and job placement philosophy were clarified. A written memorandum of understanding was also signed, reinforcing the partners’ agreements. 2. LIVING WAGE JOBS: IMPACT is dedicated to helping clients find and keep living wage jobs. To better understand where clients succeed, we recently analyzed a year of employment data. The data revealed that the food service sector was by far the leading employer of hopeFound clients, yet the majority of food sector jobs paid less than a living wage job. Within the food service sector, however, we identified a handful of employers (including Legal Seafood and Dunkin Donuts) with a strong track record of not only employing hopeFound clients but also retaining them for more than 6 months. We also found that the highest hourly wages were in the marketing, health care, and building maintenance sectors. Another sector that employed many IMPACT clients, frequently at jobs above the living wage, was temporary staffing. IMPACT Employment Counselors reviewed this data collectively and are using it to steer clients to employers and sectors with a strong track record of living wage jobs and job retention. ______________________________________________________________________ For more information call 617-983-0351 or visit www.hopefoundboston.org Mary Nee, Executive Director Ext. 312 Wendy Lauser, Workforce Development Director, Ext 271