Meaningful and sustainable employment is the key to creating and maintaining housing stability. Unemployment, underemployment, and low wages relative to rent are frequent causes of homelessness and burden millions of families with the risk of becoming homeless. At the same time, individuals experiencing homelessness face obstacles to finding and maintaining employment.
As a result, connecting people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness with job training and placement programs is critical to ensure they have the tools they need for long-term stability and success. Facilitating access to work supports like childcare subsidies and transportation assistance can help increase the likelihood that individuals will be able to retain employment.
Barriers to Employment
Many members of the homeless population have to combat barriers that can be almost insurmountable in such a competitive environment. Such employment barriers include:
- Low educational attainment levels
- Having young children with no access to child care
- Limited or no past work experience or marketable job skills
- Mental health or substance abuse problems
- Chronic health problems or disability
- Lack of access to transportation
- Bad credit (which can make both finding a job and a house difficult)
- Criminal histories
These barriers can decrease the types of employment available to an individual. Lack of access to technology also serves as a disadvantage for the homeless individuals searching for work. In this job market, some knowledge of computers and technology is essential for every field. Mainstream employment programs, where the homeless are a minority population, may meet some basic needs of some homeless individuals, but they struggle to encourage employment or provide adequate income and support. According to an evaluation of the Job Training for the Homeless Demonstration Program (JTHDP), successful employment programs provide access to a wide variety of services, including housing, and assistence to help homeless individuals overcome employment barriers. The evaluation concluded that for employment programs to be most successful, they must directly target homeless individuals or those at risk of becoming homeless.
While employment and training programs geared to homeless people have proven to be effective in helping homeless persons obtain work, successful completion of an employment program by a homeless person does not necessarily end his or her homelessness. He or she still needs a decent job and a place to live.
Ending homelessness will require closing the gap between incomes and housing costs. In such an equation, jobs that pay a living wage are critical. Government, labor, and the private sector must work in concert to ensure that all Americans who can work have an opportunity to obtain a job, which pays a living wage, and the necessary supports, such as child care and transportation in order to keep it. You can get involved by advocating for:
- Workforce Services - The Public Workforce Investment System was established to help all Americans prepare for employment and re-enter the workforce. While some programs do reach people who are homeless, serious impediments limit this population’s access to the mainstream workforce system. We need to remove barriers to workforce services for homeless and other hard-to-employ people during reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act.
- Transitional Housing Programs - By giving families and individuals a place to live, homeless persons appear to be better able to maintain employment and find permanent housing. In 2007, in the Sound Families program in Seattle, employment upon entry into the transitional housing was 27%; upon exiting the program, their employment rate was 50%.
- Transitional Jobs - Under the Recovery Act, temporary jobs were subsidized for some individuals receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. Compensation for work allowed individuals to build their skills and experience in the job market, and many employers would hire their transitional employees after the initial job placement. Those not hired still left with a valued skill-set as they looked for their next job.
- Opening Doors Employment Model - Opening Doors model is focused on supporting homeless services providers in helping men and women experiencing homelessness in their quests for employment and/or job training. Additionally, the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) reinstated federal work programs and called on every state to create a strategic plan for helping vulnerable men, women, and adolescents to secure employment.
Publications and Fact Sheets
- United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) - Creating Economic Opportunity for Homeless Jobseekers
- National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) - Employment and Homelessness
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - Employing People Who Have Serious Mental Illnesses and Who Are Homeless