Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jobs are fundamental

We've been watching the number of families who have left the transitional housing program for permanent homes decline over the last two years. To figure out why, Senior Director of Programs and Operations Jeannine Short compared the characteristics of the people who succeeded in transitioning to permanent homes to those who didn't, including their self-sufficiency assessment scores. Not surprisingly, she pinpointed unemployment as the most important factor in the decline.

We knew that unemployment was keeping people from "working the program" and it goes without saying that unemployed people aren't likely to get permanent housing.

Jeannine's study revealed that 100% of the families who exited successfully to permanent homes in 2009 and year-to-date in 2010 had jobs. Only 20% of the families who left without a permanent home had jobs. Their stays were also much shorter –13 months for those who exited successfully compared to less than 5 months for those who did not. Our residents don't always have marketable skills and they are competing for jobs with many others who do. Those who give up without a job, pay a high price for getting discouraged.

Jobs aren't the only factor that permanently ends homelessness. Financial education (budgeting), new life skills, coaching and mental health counseling all contribute to building the skills needed to stay living independently. But, jobs, like affordable housing, are fundamental.

In response, we've beefed up our job placement program by creating a computer lab where our clients can access the Internet, write resumes and get coaching (and the kids can have supervised access at night). And, we've been extremely fortunate to find that one of our interns, Norma, is skilled in job placement. In the few weeks since she took over the lab, she's found jobs for three residents we didn't think had a snowball's chance of being hired. Demand is so high, she's having to set up a schedule to accommodate both our outreach clients and our transitional housing residents. There is light at the end of this tunnel.