Employment for Homeless Individuals
Coalition for the Homeless awarded Workforce Solutions its Bridge Builder award, which recognizes organizations outside the traditional homeless response system that have made a valuable effort to help individuals secure and remain in housing. In addition, the Spirit of Collaboration award was given to Workforce Solutions and several other organizations for their combined efforts in helping individuals experiencing homelessness.
Both awards recognize Workforce Solutions' success in addressing homelessness through the ground-breaking Income Now program.
"At Workforce Solutions, we understand that ending homelessness isn't just about finding temporary shelter for individuals in need," said Mike Temple, Gulf Coast Workforce Board-Workforce Solutions Director. "Breaking the cycle of homelessness means helping these individuals secure the income that will allow them to remain in permanent housing and stabilize their lives. That is the goal of the Income Now initiative."
The Income Now program assists people who are experiencing homelessness by helping them find ways to finance their housing needs. The initiative coordinates services and providers, including Workforce Solutions, to leverage their expertise and resources throughout the Houston community for the benefit of those looking to secure income as quickly as possible.
The program helps individuals create income plans that may involve funding from public assistance programs, supported employment or employment in the public workforce.
Income Now provides intense case management assistance at several of its offices that helps individuals prepare for, secure and maintain mainstream competitive employment that enables to them to obtain and maintain housing.
Since November 2015, Workforce Solutions staffers have been working closely and strategically with area homeless providers, and counselors are even embedded in facilities such as Covenant House, The Salvation Army - Harbor Light, Star of Hope Men's Development Center, The Salvation Army - Young Adult Resource Center and Star of Hope Women and Family Shelter.
A person who seeks shelter at a Houston facility also meets with a staff member who conducts housing and income assessments for that individual. Some may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, while others may qualify for assistance through the Supported Employment option.
Then, there are those individuals who need help finding employment in the region's public workforce. They are connected with Workforce Solutions, which leverages its expertise and vast resources in helping these individuals: People like Crystel, a single mother of two young boys who was a resident at the Star of Hope Women & Family Emergency Shelter when she first met with an employment counselor.
Crystel faced many hurdles in working with her Workforce Solutions counselor to become employment ready. She often felt overwhelmed and trapped in her situation even though she had skills and a work history. Her Workforce Solutions counselor persevered, diligently guiding her through important employment goals with strong encouragement and expert advice.
As she began to positively maneuver through this challenging phase of her life, Crystel's confidence improved. When there was an opening in the Food Bank Work Experience program, she seized the opportunity.
It proved to be a great fit. Crystel has become a well-respected and valued employee - the first permanent full-time hire from the Income Now partnership with the Houston Food Bank. The Food Bank recently opened a new call center and Crystel was hired as a CAP Call Center Lead, earning $15 an hour with full medical, dental and eye benefits, a 401K option and yearly cost-of-living wage increases. The job she loves also has allowed Crystel and her children to move into stable housing.
In addition, Elbert also found employment through Income Now. He worked six years as a security guard, but lost his job due to being sick and not having health insurance. During that time, he and his wife separated, he got a DUI and lost his driver's license. Losing his driver's license also made him lose his security clearance at work, which led to him eventually becoming homeless.
After moving around to various shelters, he was placed at Star of Hope where he applied with Shelter to Shutters, a nonprofit that provides individuals experiencing homelessness with mentorships for careers in property management, along with full-time employment and housing opportunities.
In December of 2016, Elbert was hired through the program to work for Grey Starr Property and is expected to receive a wage increase after he completes HVAC training. He was also able to reconnect with his family.
For Tyson DeLaFosse, he was on a successful career path after graduating from the University of Houston with a degree in advertising, but fell into the habit of using drugs. This led to multiple arrests and ultimately him becoming homeless. He also was placed at Star of Hope like Elbert and joined a spiritual recovery program.
While at Star of Hope, Tyson worked with a Workforce Solutions employment counselor and was accepted into the Food Bank Work Experience program. Through the program, he was able to get a job working in the warehouse at Brighter Bites making $15 an hour.
Individuals who need assistance are connected to Workforce Solutions via the Way Home, the collaborative model to prevent and end homelessness in the greater Houston area. Since 2012, the Coalition for the Homeless has been working alongside more than 100 partner organizations, including Workforce Solutions, to connect homeless individuals and families with services that will end their homelessness.
So far, the initiative has resulted in a 57 percent reduction in homelessness in Houston, Pasadena, Harris County and Fort Bend County and the effective end of veteran homelessness.
The Way Home designed and implemented a system that allows individuals experiencing homelessness to be assessed for housing through a Coordinated Access system.
Individuals can enter local emergency shelters, day shelters, and other drop in facilities to complete an assessment for a housing option that will end their homelessness. They also are connected to Workforce Solutions to begin the process of developing an income plan.
Workforce Solutions staff members worked diligently to overcome any technological, communications or other barriers to reaching out to these individuals and addressing their employment needs. The integration of the workforce and homeless service systems has led to improved service for individuals experiencing homelessness. These efforts earned Workforce Solutions the prestigious Bridge Builder award.
"We have always served homeless and at-risk individuals. But through the Income Now program, we leveraged our systems and resources to better serve these clients," said Mr. Temple. "From the start, these individuals are getting connected to Workforce Solutions and the many services we provide. It's truly ground-breaking."