Jobs and Homelessness: A Message from USICH Deputy Director Anthony Love
"I won’t be satisfied until every American who wants a job can find one, and until workers are getting paychecks that actually pay the bills, until families don’t have to choose between buying groceries and buying medicine, between sending their kids to college and being able to retire in some dignity and some respect."- President Barack Obama, July 22, 2011
The best defense against homelessness is a job that pays enough to afford a place to live. Unemployment, under-employment, and low wage employment are frequent causes of homelessness. The loss of a job leads to homelessness when tenants fall behind on their rent and homeowners fall behind on their mortgages—ultimately leading to eviction and foreclosure. Millions of hard-working, responsible families are at risk of losing their homes as a result of job losses, reductions in working hours, or lower wages. While the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program has successfully kept over 1 million people from experiencing homelessness, it is essential to ensure that individuals and families have the opportunity to earn a decent living.
By unveiling the American Jobs Act, President Obama made it clear that his first priority is to put Americans back to work and put more money in the pockets of working people, including those Americans experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Specific to homelessness, the proposed legislation would create a new Pathways Back to Work Fund that would, among other things, build on the success of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund by supporting subsidized employment opportunities for unemployed low-income individuals.
One of the five themes in Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness’ is to increase economic security. USICH stresses the importance of two strategies to reduce financial vulnerability to homelessness: increase meaningful and sustainable employment opportunities and to improve access to mainstream workforce and income support programs. As the economy improves and Americans return to work, a drop in unemployment rates will undoubtedly reduce the number of people at risk of homelessness. Although we have been gaining jobs since January 2010, we still aren't gaining jobs fast enough and much work remains to ensure that the opportunities that are created extend to the most vulnerable members of our society.
Access to job training and job supports that lead to good paying jobs help families and individuals move from homelessness to housing and financial stability. Programs that are most successful at helping people experiencing homelessness find good jobs are those that make services as accessible as possible, are responsive to the multiple needs of people who are experiencing homelessness and coordinate employment services closely with housing and other interventions. Federal programs like Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work, Department of Labor’s Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and Health and Human Services’ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), can help people experiencing or at risk of homelessness by improving access to work support and ensuring that job development and training strategies focus attention on these individuals and families.