By Janette Kawachi, Director of Innovations and Research, CSH
Individuals living in supportive housing often have long histories of homelessness and face a multitude of complex challenges like a serious mental illness, substance use disorder and other chronic health conditions. For these individuals, housing provides a critical platform for the delivery of various health and social services. It establishes a stable environment from which to reclaim their lives and begin their road to recovery from homelessness, illness and trauma. At CSH, we believe that a well-paying and quality job is not just the strongest defense against homelessness but also an essential factor in supporting the recovery process.
Employment provides more than a paycheck; it is a way for individuals to meaningfully engage in their communities and to socially connect through productive activity. It builds a sense of self-direction and belonging that paves the way to long-term recovery. Research confirms that most residents in supportive housing, including those with serious mental illnesses, have both the desire and the capacity to work when given the opportunity and supports to do so.
Supportive housing is an ideal platform for delivering a wide array of services that help formerly homeless individuals connect to jobs and successfully maintain employment over the long term. Affordable housing with access to critical services, such as ongoing behavioral healthcare, transportation, child care, crisis intervention and housing stabilization increases the likelihood of being a successful employee.
Innovative providers in the field are demonstrating how supportive housing can be successfully paired with employment supports to increase job opportunities for tenants.
Central City Concern, a nonprofit agency serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness in Portland, provides supportive housing connected to a robust array of employment services including a co-located one-stop job center, transitional jobs, supported employment and in-house employment. Their workforce program served 757 homeless jobseekers in 2014 and over 60 percent found employment. In addition, half of their own employees, or about 375 individuals, self-identify as people in recovery and 25 percent have first-hand experience with Central City Concern’s programs. Jericho Project, a non-profit agency serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness in New York City, employs a team of Career Counselors and Employment Specialists that help place residents into meaningful employment opportunities. Over 80 percent of Jericho’s housing residents participate in their Workforce Opportunities Initiative and employed residents have an average wage of more than $12 per hour.
On the horizon, a number of promising policy trends could significantly bolster efforts to increase employment for residents of supportive housing. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which modernizes America’s workforce training and services system, contains provisions to increase employment opportunities for jobseekers facing barriers, including those experiencing homelessness. There’s also growing awareness and accountability within the homeless services system around the importance of employment and economic opportunity for people experiencing homelessness.
Despite promising federal and state trends, realizing our goals for increasing employment among tenants in supportive housing will require providers to take action to transform our service culture and offerings to prioritize employment as a valuable goal, and encourage and support tenants to willingly take steps toward greater independence. Providers should embrace comprehensive employment programming and services that include job training, skill development, benefits counseling, job coaching, and strong linkages to employers and public workforce agencies. Providers should also connect these efforts to “Moving-On” initiatives that supply housing vouchers for those who become successfully employed, and who can and want to move on to more independent housing.
CSH is committed to elevating the supportive housing industry to new levels of innovation with a focus on moving beyond stability. What this means is leading an industry-wide agenda focused on tenants above all—strengthening opportunities for recovery, personal growth, economic advancement and lifelong success. Increasing access to employment is the cornerstone of our strategy to move supportive housing and our tenants to the next level, and beyond an identification solely based on their homelessness or other challenges they face.
We know that supportive housing isn’t just about ending homelessness, it’s about ending hopelessness. It’s about realizing one’s full potential. It’s about recovery. And when it comes to recovery, jobs and economic stability play pivotal roles in ensuring success.