Chronic unemployment or sudden job loss can lead to homelessness. For individuals able to work, regaining a steady job can make it easier to exit homelessness and can support long term housing stability and financial security. However, homeless people often face many obstacles when searching for and maintaining employment. Many have limited skills, education, and experience, and opportunities for jobs that pay a living wage can be limited. The lack of a car or access to public transportation is an additional barrier. However, research has shown that the homeless, both those who are chronically and acutely homeless, are willing and able to work if given the opportunity. Gary Shaheen and John Rio present a thoughtful argument for the role of employment in preventing and ending homelessness.


Multiple models have been developed to provide employment services to people experiencing homelessness. Several of these models stress the importance of job training in the employment process. For example, the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City has a First Step Job Training Program that provides homeless and low-income women with training, social support, education, and work experience to overcome obstacles to employment. This program offers classes that teach employment skills and an understanding of the labor market and workplace.

Supported Employment is an evidence-based practice that stresses the importance of obtaining employment through a rapid job search as soon as the participant feels ready. Unlike many traditional models, supported employment does not provide lengthy pre-employment assessment, training, and counseling. Rather, evidence suggests that rapid access to jobs is more effective than providing extensive job-readiness training. The most common model of supported employment, the Individualized Placement Support (IPS) model, helps individuals gain rapid entry into the job market, with a job at or above minimum wage, while providing supportive services. These services typically include one-on-one job coaching, on-the-job training and credentialing, mental health treatment, and ongoing reassessment to identify and address emerging barriers. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans successfully uses an IPS supported employment model for the veterans they serve.

WorkFirst is an employment model that draws on IPS principles and is designed to operate parallel to housing first efforts. It prioritizes employment as a strategy for promoting self-sufficiency and long-term housing stability. The WorkFirst model, like supported employment, stresses the importance of rapid access to a job. This model’s philosophy is that “any job is a good job” and that the best way to prepare an individual for work is to have them work, and as quickly as possible. Clients develop work skills and competencies on the job rather than in job-readiness trainings. If one is not able to find employment right away, WorkFirst provides additional services to address factors that impede employment, such as education or training, but these are brief in nature to allow the job search to quickly recommence. A WorkFirst Demonstration Project at the Pine Street Inn in Boston is a great example of how effective this method can be.

In addition to these formal models, communities across the country are developing innovative ways to increase employment opportunities for people experiencing homelessness. For example, the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless in Albany, NY started the Ambassador program, a year-long training program that connects homeless individuals to work in the community while also helping them pursue life goals and gain important skills. The program partners with local theaters and parks to provide homeless people with a job, often their first job, which helps them get a second job in the future and builds their resumes. The There’s A Better Way program in Albuquerque similarly provides access to jobs beautifying the city, such as landscaping and cleaning up litter.

These are just a few examples of employment services and supports for people experiencing  homelessness. To learn more about these and other models, click here for a quick overview or here for a closer look at how employment can prevent homelessness and promote health.

Blog Post Author: Kelsey Whittington, graduate assistant for the National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services.

Like this post?
Check out this one written by Dr. Emmy Tiderington from Rutgers University.

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