Employment Supports for People Experiencing Homelessness

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.

EMPLOYMENT SERVICE MODELS

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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Year 2 Updates: The National Homelessness Social Work Initiative

The National Center just completed Year 2 of the National Homelessness Social Work Initiative (NHSWI). We are now a consortium of 19 partner schools of social work across the U.S., with six partners serving as Regional Hub Leaders. We are excited to announce that (as of January) leadership of the National Center has transitioned to the University of Texas at Austin, where center director Heather Larkin is now a faculty member. As a key partner, the University at Albany will serve as national collaborator in support of ongoing activities, coordination, and partnership development.

As we kick-off Year 3, we want to share some of our major Year 2 accomplishments. Below are brief summaries, with links to pertinent resources for additional information.

Regional Hub Leadership

Six regional hub leader schools play a critical role in advancing regional efforts to inform policymaking, support university-agency partnerships, and apply knowledge for practice and curriculum development. Each hub leader’s plan is unique to regional needs and includes goals specific to that school’s expertise. To learn more about the regional hub leaders, read these blog posts: California State University, Long Beach; Hunter College; Indiana University; the University of Maryland; the University of Southern California; and the University of Texas at Austin.

New York-New Jersey Regional Network

To increase the collaboration and coordination of the schools in our NY-NJ Regional Network, we created a formal leadership team to facilitate the development of goals and implementation plans. Elizabeth Bowen (University at Buffalo) took on the lead role of facilitating the regional network, with support from Dan Herman (Hunter College) and Amanda Aykanian (University at Albany). A current priority is developing plans to advocate for adequate funding for housing and evidence-based services for homeless populations in New York State. This network serves as a model for other regions.

Supporting Curriculum Integration

In the fall, we worked in partnership with CSWE’s Learning Academy to develop the free, online learning series, “Homelessness in Social Work Education”. Educators can use the series for their own professional development and also incorporate the series or individual modules into course syllabi. Module topics include: Housing First; Mental Health First Aid; Continuum of Care; Critical Time Intervention; Trauma and Adversity; and Trauma-Informed Care.

Veterans Workgroup

We formed a workgroup consisting of faculty from partner schools and representatives from the VA to explore opportunities for infusing veteran homelessness content and successful VA practice models into social work education and expanding field placements for students with dual interests in homelessness and veterans. Specific strategies are still in early development.

SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery Workgroup

Our collaboration with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) Technical Assistance Center has presented new and unique ways to provide students with training that will benefit them in their internships and when they seek employment after graduation. To facilitate this work, we formed a SOAR workgroup to bring together partner schools interested in developing pilot initiatives at their schools. To learn more about these pilot projects, read this blog post.

Research Workgroup

The research workgroup includes National Center staff, faculty contacts from partner schools (including the national co-leads of the Grand Challenge to End Homelessness), and representatives from the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans. Initial goals of the group include: 1) finding out what homelessness research is in progress in the social work community; 2) identifying social work faculty interested in homelessness research; and 3) linking researchers with similar interests. In the fall, the group pilot tested a faculty survey about current and recent homelessness research projects, with broader administration planned for 2017.

Dissemination Activities

We continue to feature National Center and partner school accomplishments at social work conferences, including the SSWR Annual Conference and the CSWE Annual Program Meeting. We also published an invited article in Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Sciences’ special issue titled, “Ending Homelessness: A Grand Challenge for Transforming Practice and Policy”. The manuscript – “Responding to the Grand Challenge to End Homelessness: The National Homelessness Social Work Initiative” – was co-authored by National Center staff and partner school faculty contacts. In addition to these formal dissemination strategies, we continue to use our social media accounts (Facebook and Twitter) and newsletter to share blog posts, connect with schools of social work, and disseminate information to interested stakeholders.

Like this post?
Check out this one to learn more about the University of Texas at Austin.

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Moving On From PSH: Emmy Tiderington and Dan Herman Tackle The “What’s Next?” Question

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) is an evidence-based intervention that combines affordable housing with wrap-around support services in order to end homelessness for individuals who experience barriers to housing stability, such as serious mental illness, substance use problems, and chronic health conditions. Since the model’s inception, the number of PSH beds in the U.S. has increased substantially, up 52% just over the past ten years. Currently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that close to 320,000 PSH beds exist within the federal housing inventory. However, demand for PSH still outstrips supply, and one of the overarching questions for policymakers is how to “right-size” homeless services to individual need and maximize the use of limited resources.

While some service recipients will require the intensity of support services and housing assistance that PSH offers for a lifetime, others may not need this level of support after some time and want to transition from the PSH program into mainstream housing completely separate from supportive services. In fact, a previous study of PSH programs estimated that 5 to 25 percent of PSH residents would be able to successfully move on from these programs and live independent from services.

In recognition of this gap in the homeless service system, several recent pilot programs (commonly called Moving On initiatives) are assisting willing and able PSH residents with the transition from program-based apartments into mainstream independent units using a combination of transitional supports and affordable housing subsidies. Moving On initiatives address the PSH “supply bottleneck” by allowing homeless individuals and families with greater needs to access intensive services, while providing opportunities for those who can move on with the opportunity to achieve fully integrated, independent living in the community in the least restrictive setting possible. However, best practices for the Moving On model have yet to be developed and little is known about the outcomes of those leaving PSH through these initiatives over time.

Dr. Emmy Tiderington (Assistant Professor of Social Work at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey), in collaboration with Dr. Dan Herman (Professor of Social Work at Hunter College), is conducting a three-year study funded by the Oak Foundation of the implementation and outcomes of New York City’s Moving On Initiative (MOI). The New York City MOI is one of the largest in the country, assisting 125 PSH recipients across five supportive housing agencies and a range of subpopulations (e.g. adults, families, and youth who have aged out of foster care) as they move from PSH into independent apartments using Housing Choice Vouchers and various transitional supports.

The aims of this mixed methods study are to: 1) Capture MOI recipient outcomes regarding quality of life, health and recovery, community integration, service utilization, and housing stability, at one year and two years post-leaving PSH; 2) Describe MOI program implementation processes and experiences within and across the five different Moving On provider agencies; and 3) Identify the individual-, program-, and system-level barriers to and facilitators of MOI recipients’ successful transition from PSH programs to independent living in the community. Findings from this study will be used to inform the development of best practices for MOI implementation and broader scale-ups of MOI across the country.

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Dr. Emmy Tiderington

Blog Post Author: Emmy Tiderington, PhD, LMSW Assistant Professor, School of Social Work and Associate Faculty, Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Dr. Tiderington’s research focuses on the implementation and effectiveness of supportive housing and other forms of homeless services as a means for ending homelessness and improving outcomes for service recipients. She is a licensed social worker with extensive direct practice experience working in supportive housing and case management services for adults with serious mental illness. In addition to leading the Moving On study, her research has explored the mechanisms and processes by which homeless adults achieve recovery from substance abuse and serious mental illness. She has also examined the individual, organizational, and macro-systemic barriers to “street-level” policy implementation of person-centered care, harm reduction, and the management of risk and recovery in supportive housing services.

Like this post?
Check out this one written by Dr. Kimberly Bender from the University of Denver.

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NCEHS Regional Hub Leader: Indiana University

In Year 2 of the National Homelessness Social Work Initiative, the National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services (NCEHS) selected the Indiana University School of Social Work (IUSSW) to be one of six Regional Hub Leader Schools.

IUSSW champions social and economic justice causes. For example, the university runs the Student Outreach Clinic [SOC], a comprehensive health clinic, including social work, pharmacy, physical and occupational therapy, legal, vision, and dental services, which functions as a perfect training ground for social work students interested in homelessness.

Michael Patchner, Dean of the IUSSW, has been a leader in social work in several capacities, including during reformations to CSWE educational standards. He has also contributed to National Center dissemination activities, including participating in sessions as the CSWE and SSWR annual conferences.

IUSSW has enfolded its Regional Hub Leader efforts under one main goal: to be part of a national learning community, addressing the Grand Challenge to End Homelessness.  This broad goal will be realized through three activity areas: 1) regional efforts to impact homelessness, workforce development, and policymaking processes; 2) mentorship of regional schools/programs; and 3) implementing a new online course on homelessness. Progress to date has been steady and focused on forming a regional network of social work schools and increasing educational opportunities related to homelessness.

First, in an effort to understand current efforts of social work programs in the region, the IUSSW is currently working on a survey to capture activities to address homelessness, related workforce development, and associated policymaking processes. The survey results will also be compiled in a scholarly paper to be submitted for publication and shared with key policymakers, as well as the lobbyist of the Indiana Chapter of NASW. The survey results will also inform strategies for collaborating with and supporting social work programs in the region. For example, the school plans to provide technical assistance to regional schools and programs to enhance efforts to address homelessness, related workforce development, and policy advocacy. They will also hold regional conference calls on a quarterly basis.

Second, IUSSW is working to create an online course on homelessness to raise awareness among social work students about the nature and prevalence of homelessness as it relates to poverty, mental illness, and other social concerns. The school believes the course will help spark an interest in field placement options and career paths in homeless services.

Finally, a third cohort of advanced MSW clinical social work students began a year of special training to better understand transition aged youth, ages 16 to 25, who are underserved and face a variety of risks including homelessness. The training is part of a $1.4 million grant the school received from the Health Resources and Services Administration. By the end of the project, the school will have provided special training to nearly 100 social work students who each receive a stipend of $10,000.

Like this post?
Check out this one for information on another one of our regional hub schools, CSU, Long Beach.

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NCEHS Regional Hub Leader: University of Texas at Austin

In Year 2 of the National Homelessness Social Work Initiative, the National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services (NCEHS) selected the University of Texas at Austin (UTA) School of Social Work (SSW) to be one of six Regional Hub Leader Schools.

Key faculty are engaged in homelessness-informed practice. Professor Dede Sparks and Dr. Angela Nonaka are working with a local homeless service provider to develop a sustainable program that includes American Sign Language-certified caseworkers and engaging in research to raise awareness of the deaf homeless population. Dr. Stacey Manser and her research team lead an evaluation project for the Health Community Collaborative. Additionally, Dr. Cal Streeter serves on the Board of Directors for the Ending Community Homelessness (ECHO) Coalition, the Continuum of Care lead agency for Travis County, a relationship that has provided opportunities to develop community-based learning projects for students and to stay informed of HUD policy changes and expectations for service outcomes.

UTA’s work this past year has been impacted by the murder of a student on campus during the spring semester. The person arrested for the murder was a foster care runaway identified in the local media as homeless. In response, a number of vocal parents and alumni looked to the university to do something about the homeless/transient population that hangs-out near the campus. UTA’s President asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to conduct a campus safety audit and asked the School of Social Work to take the lead in working with churches in the area, local non-profits, the University, the University police, and the Austin Police Department to develop strategies to appropriately address the needs of the homeless near the campus.

For several years faculty and students from the School of Social Work have participate in the annual HUD Point-in-Time Count for Austin/Travis County. This year the school is leading an effort to expand participation by students and faculty in the larger university, with the goal of helping to educate the greater university about the issue of homelessness and broaden the base of volunteers participating in the count.

In addition to leading these collaborative effort to address homelessness in the campus area and community, UTA maintains both graduate and undergraduate internship with thirteen agencies in Austin that specifically serve the homeless. This year it has developed new homelessness-related field placements for MSW students. The following is a brief summary of each.

  • SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) Pilot Project: This fall, the school launched three new field placements designed to prepare MSW students to complete SOAR applications in an effort to increase access to disability income benefits for adults experiencing homelessness. In collaboration with Austin/Travis County Integral Care and Travis County Health and Human Services, the field placement calls for students to complete the SOAR training and certification and then work with agency staff to prepare applications.
  • Continuum of Care (CoC) Support: In the spring, the school is planning a new internship with ECHO to support CoC work in Travis County. Students will work on projects such as preparation of the CoC grant application, data analysis and reporting, roll-out of a new pay-for-success initiative focused on permanent supportive housing, coordinated assessment, and lobbying efforts at the local and state level.

Like this post?

Check out this one on how the UTA School of Social Work partners with homeless service agencies to create community-based learning opportunities for students.

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NCEHS Regional Hub Leader: University of Maryland

In Year 2 of the National Homelessness Social Work Initiative (NHSWI), the National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services (NCEHS) selected the University of Maryland School of Social Work (UMSSW) to be one of six Regional Hub Leader Schools.

The UMSSW, the largest school of social work in the region, is committed to addressing the needs of vulnerable populations, including homeless families. The school is committed to using its partnerships and student internship placements with homeless agencies to support service delivery to homeless families. UMSSW is also committed to exploring data and tracking trends, causes, and solutions to homelessness – most notably through the management of the Thrive@25 program, a partnership to create an approach to preventing and ending homelessness for youth with child welfare involvement. Committed to advancing new models of practice and policy, the UMSSW recently collaborated with the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and its stakeholders to apply for a Choice Neighborhood Grant as part of the Promised Heights Neighborhood Project.

Dr. Samuel B. Little, Assistant Dean and Director of Field Education, is committed to advancing students’ education in homelessness through field education. Field placements allow interns to have a role in housing and employment assistance, health interventions, behavioral health treatment, inter-agency collaboration, advocacy, and research. Dr. Little has also worked with municipal agencies, local shelters, and community-based programs to help homeless families access affordable housing. Throughout this work, he has forged relationships with key government agencies and advocated for effective supportive housing policies and programs. Dr. Little manages hub activities and serves as the primary faculty contact for the NHSWI. In this role, he collaborated on the preparation of a manuscript, Responding to the Grand Challenge to End Homelessness: The National Homelessness Social Work Initiative (Families in Society, 2016, 97(3), 153-159), and will participate in a panel discussion about the NHSWI at the CSWE Annual Program Meeting in November in Atlanta, GA.

The UMSSW has three main goals in its first year as a regional hub leader: 1) expand its already robust field placement offerings in and around Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, broadening the ability of the hub and its partner schools to deliver services to homeless families; 2) use data to track emerging trends, causes, and solutions to ending youth homelessness; and 3) advance new models of practice and policy, such as the Social Work Community Outreach Service and the Choice Neighborhoods Program, as an education partner to community schools and resource to social work programs.

This year, the UMSSW expanded field placement internships in the Baltimore-Washington region to serve homeless families. The number this semester is 137, up by 9 placements. Conversation is on-going with a new workgroup comprised of Department of Veteran Administration’s field instructors who helped shape the need for a Regional Hub, which includes expanding homelessness-related field placements within the VA.

In September, the school launched a 20-member Advisory Council to implement hub functions and special events at the SSW. The Council will help expand content in the curriculum, plan special events to engage with agencies that serve homeless families, and assist in the recruitment of new field placement agencies. A brochure was designed to promote hub goals and help recruit new placements to serve homeless families.

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Check out this one for an overview of Dr. Samuel B. Little’s work in supporting homeless families.

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Housing is Health: Reflections from Durban, South Africa and the International AIDS Conference

When I talk about what I do, I am never sure if I should describe myself as someone who researches homelessness or someone who researches health issues, including HIV/AIDS. In reality, I do both. Before going the research route, I worked as a social worker in Chicago managing supportive housing programs for people who were homeless and HIV positive. The intersection of HIV and homelessness is still a personal passion, as well as the focus of much of my research.

This July I had the opportunity to attend and present at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa. This conference, held every two years, is a huge gathering of more than 15,000 researchers, health care professionals, activists, policymakers, and government leaders who come together to discuss all aspects of the AIDS epidemic. Presentation topics run the gamut from the development of vaccines and new drugs to the social issues that drive the epidemic, such as the criminalization of sex work, poverty, and social inequalities. It was humbling and exciting to be among this group of people from around the world, with such vast and varied knowledge and experiences.

Initially, I was a little disappointed at what felt like a lack of attention to housing issues in the conference program. My online search of the hundreds of conference presentations yielded only a handful with “homelessness” or “housing” in the title. I soon found, though, that homelessness was in fact addressed in a number of ways. For example, in one session I attended, none of the presenters had made housing and homelessness a focal point of their research—and yet it came up several times. One presenter discussed the HIV risk context of women who were displaced in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and no longer had permanent housing; another described how young injection drug users in Vancouver were more likely to share needles when they didn’t have a stable home base from which to access syringe exchange and other harm reduction services; and a third presenter discussed homelessness as increasing the risk of sexual assault for HIV positive immigrants in France. Hearing all of these examples solidified my belief that “housing is health”—without stable housing, it is infinitely more difficult to feed one’s self, to seek treatment for various conditions, to take medication, to practice harm reduction with regard to sex or substance use, and to protect one’s body.

One of the highlights of the conference was having the chance to visit the Denis Hurley Centre, a nonprofit agency that works with homeless and low-income people in Durban. Like many of the homeless-serving agencies that I am familiar with in the U.S., the Denis Hurley Centre strives to serve people with dignity, to care for their basic human needs, and to give people opportunities for growth and empowerment. It was interesting to me to learn what this looks like in a South African, and specifically a Durban, context. Durban is a large and diverse city that is home to people of many different racial, ethnic, religious, and national backgrounds. The director of the center, Raymond Perrier, mentioned that he wondered if this was the only social service agency in the world that is named for a Catholic bishop but that maintains a halal kitchen, as the agency has a large Muslim clientele. To me, this is a great example of the social work credo of “meeting where the client is at.”

Disturbingly, I also learned from Mr. Perrier that in advance of the conference, the police had “swept” the central business district and forced many of the homeless people staying there to relocate elsewhere. I have heard of such sweeps occurring before major events in U.S. cities and elsewhere, but to do this before an HIV conference with a theme of “access, equity, rights now” seems particularly cruel and ironic. South Africa has one of the world’s largest HIV epidemics, with approximately one in five adults living with HIV, and even higher rates among poor and marginalized groups. Being homeless is hazardous to one’s health, and it’s particularly detrimental to HIV health. When people don’t have a safe, stable place to stay—and when they are forced by police to move from their places on the street—it is very difficult to adhere to lifesaving HIV medications. I knew this to be the case with the clients I worked with in Chicago, and Mr. Perrier described how it is the same in Durban. The idea that the conference would cause even one HIV-positive homeless person in Durban to disrupt their medication adherence is deeply troubling to me.

I left South Africa with the sense that while it is important to acknowledge our geographic, national, and sociopolitical differences, problems like the criminalization of homelessness and the lack of safe and affordable housing for many HIV-positive and at-risk people are truly global in scope. Visiting the Denis Hurley Centre showed me that the solutions to addressing these problems are both local and global. It is one thing to talk about access, equity, and human rights, but it is a far more difficult thing to live out this mantra in a world that constantly denies the rights and the value of so many lives in so many locations.

And yet, there is always hope and work to be done still.

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Blog Post Author: Elizabeth Bowen, PhD

Elizabeth Bowen, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University at Buffalo (UB)-State University of New York. Her research focuses on the relationship between housing and health. She is the UB faculty contact for the National Homelessness Social Work Initiative and co-leads the New York/New Jersey regional network of social work programs.

Like this post?
Check out this one that Elizabeth wrote in April 2016.

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