02/06/2014 - Fireman Foundation Finds that Rapid Re-Housing, Economic Opportunity are Key to Ending Family Homelessness
By Susanne Beaton, Director, The Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation
Last year, The Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation launched the Secure Jobs pilot in five regions of Massachusetts. The initiative was the outgrowth of a public/private planning process that aimed to offer employment assistance to families transitioning from shelter into housing with short-term housing support, including rapid re-housing. Because only one in four families experiencing homelessness in the United States will receive a permanent housing subsidy, we saw the need to test an initiative that would quickly move individuals in families out of homelessness and connect them with opportunities to improve their economic wellbeing.
Through our “learning labs exchanges,” which bring together stakeholders from both the State and community level to share best practices, we are crafting our new vision of stabilization for families. Our design embeds better alignment of housing, childcare, and workforce systems to more quickly bust barriers, which leads to a more effective and efficient use of resources. The Foundation focused its funding on achieving outcomes while allowing design creativity to flow from the partnerships on the ground. Our Secure Jobs grantees will be completing their first year of work in March, 2014, so we are pleased to have this opportunity to highlight what we have we learned through our start-up and early implementation work.
Bringing our State partner agencies to the table with designated troubleshooters is making a big difference to rapidly resolve barriers to childcare, transportation, and transitional assistance. Offering quick resolutions so our clients can access these key supports hashelped participants maintain stability so that they can complete training and secure employment.
Building a strong collaboration with workforce-training organizations that have deep relationships with employer partners has strengthened our ability to secure jobs for participants. Through these connections, Secure Jobs participants gained employment with large retailers, hospitals and nursing facilities, hotels and hospitality industries, social service agencies, and manufacturing, among others.
In addition, our shelter and housing providers are learning the language and practice of workforce development. Conversely, our workforce partners have learned that with adequate supports in place, families who have been homeless are not as challenging as they formerly believed and have demonstrated success in employment.
It is no secret that having access to good data matters. In the planning phase, we discovered that the majority of the families targeted for the initiative had a GED, high school level education, and some had college and workforce experience. Having access to this and other demographic data helped us to design and target the interventions and determine budget allocations.
Without a doubt, having some flexible dollars is the key to a family’s success. We saw a need to provide financial help for a short-term training, driver’s licenses, eyeglasses, certifications, and short-term childcare. Our ability to offer this assistance made a huge difference for the participants.
As we assess the first year of our initiative, we have found that the providers love the interaction and the excitement of working with families to secure additional income. And, we are sharing the model with State legislators who like what they are hearing. We are hopeful that this is a first step to get to a new conversation on how rapidly landing families in stable housing can launch them to economic opportunity.
“Interviews with staff and participants show overwhelming support for the model, primarily because of the combination of integrated services, individualized employment plans that respond to each participant’s interests and situations, and a very high level of support for participants throughout the process,” said Tatjana Meschede PhD, the Director of Research at the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University, who the Foundation hired to evaluate the Secure Jobs initiative. “Employer partners have likewise expressed positive opinions of participant employees and a strong commitment to the initiative. Early participant outcomes data show that the Initiative is well on its way to meeting its ambitious goal of an 80 percent placement rate.”
The Foundation will once again join forces with our State partners to allocate a second year of funding. And our community partners are supporting efforts so that we may also receive additional support from the State legislature. Our over-arching goal is that the Secure Jobs model will become the vision at the heart of new rapid re-housing and stabilization services model for families experiencing housing instability or transitioning out of homelessness. The Foundation believes it is imperative that we drive toward more economic opportunities to help families stay housed.