In Chicago, less than 20% of individuals who exit the homeless service system experience increased income from employment. There is a great need to ensure that unstably housed clients have access to the resources that will help them take advantage of job opportunities that contribute to increased housing (and economic) security.
Destination: Jobs is part of The Connections Project spearheaded by the National Initiatives division of Heartland Alliance to address the employment needs of homeless job seekers by better aligning workforce development and homeless service providers. One key way it aims to do that is by focusing on employment earlier in the homeless services delivery process to give clients the help they need in getting a job that will support their housing costs.
Recently, the Plan 2.0 Employment Task Force sent out a survey to workforce service providers that assessed their ability to serve homeless clients. The survey received 28 unique responses, with some respondents being a part of the same organization. Responses revealed the difficulties of serving homeless job seekers and highlighted existing opportunities that can be seized to better support this population:
60% of agencies reported that up to 25% of their clients receiving employment services are experiencing homelessness or facing housing instability. 16% of agencies reported that over 50% of their clients receiving employment services are experiencing homelessness/housing instability.
The most commonly-cited strength of organizations providing employment services to unstably housed clients was that they offer a variety of supportive services that help individuals overcome barriers to success. Such services include transportation, clothing, and financial literacy training.
There were three sets of barriers organizations often encountered in providing services to individuals without stable housing. The first set, cited by over 50% of respondents included the inability to have reliable communication with clients, a lack of supportive services, and a criminal background. The second set, cited by over 30% of respondents included a lack of documentation for eligibility determination, substance abuse, and inadequate mental health services. The third set, cited by over 20% of respondents included low literacy, a lack of dedicated resources for homeless job seekers, and a lack of skills and job readiness.
The Destination: Jobs survey offered a lay of the land of the local workforce development field and how it serves homeless clients. However, the survey’s findings raised further questions about the specific services offered by providers for homeless clients and how homeless clients fare in their eventual employment outcomes compared to other clients. They also raised questions about the kinds of relationships that exist between the workforce and homeless service systems and how those relationships can be harnessed to improve the outcomes of unstably housed clients. Following up with responding agencies may help reveal the unique employment barriers homeless individuals face and the tailored solutions necessary to help them overcome those barriers. Follow-up interviews with a select group of survey respondents will try and answer these deeper questions.