Housing and Employment Navigators

Housing and employment navigators work to increase access to employment opportunities for adults in families that are experiencing homelessness and housing instability by developing tailored plans for services and bridging the gaps between housing, workforce services, and work support programs and systems. Navigators work one-to-one with families to help them access and make the best use of available resources by facilitating connections to housing, workforce services, education and training, and other support services.

Problem or Challenge:

Many families who experience homelessness have incomes far below the federal poverty level. Adults in these families are often unemployed or under-employed, working in jobs that offer low pay, few benefits, and little job security. Families may be able to move into housing with time-limited assistance. To prevent a return to housing instability or homelessness, they will need to increase their incomes in order to pay rent if they do not receive ongoing rental assistance.

Mainstream workforce development services, TANF work supports, and education and training programs may be available, and may offer programs designed to meet the needs of adults who have limited skills or other barriers to employment. Homeless service providers and families experiencing homelessness are often unfamiliar with all of the employment and training services, work supports, and other resources that are available from workforce, TANF, and education systems. The people who work in those systems are often unfamiliar with the needs of families experiencing homelessness or the programs that assist them.


With funding from the Workforce Investment Act and the Washington Families Fund, the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County and Building Changes have provided support since 2010 to the YWCA of Seattle, King County & Snohomish County. The YWCA hires homeless housing andemployment navigators—specialized case managers who facilitate connections between the homeless assistance and workforce development systems, including post-secondary education and training programs. Beginning in 2011, a Housing and Employment Navigator program was launched in Pierce County, in partnership with Workforce Central, the WIA-supported One-Stop for a broad range of workforce development services that are available through the Tacoma-Pierce County Employment and Training Consortium.

Navigators offer individualized and flexible support to help parents use the services available from WorkSource One-Stop locations (WIA-funded employment services), WorkFirst services for TANF recipients, and other options for education and training, jobs, and workforce development services.

Navigators are often mobile, meeting with clients in their housing to facilitate access and success for people with disabilities or other complex barriers. They are based in One-Stop Career Centers, and they convene a team that also includes the housing case manager, TANF case manager, and other service providers as appropriate. The navigator takes the lead in integrating services, goals, and resources for each family.

 Navigators are familiar with the resources and requirements of workforce development and training programs as well as financial aid or other work supports that can support client participation. They are sensitive to challenges that may be related to disability, trauma, or the experience of generational poverty. They can offer individualized assessment and planning, coaching and service coordination, facilitating connections to counseling, mentorship, and other services as needed to address personal challenges and facilitate retention. They also help clients to understand and meet the rules and expectations of training programs or employers. 

Implementation Steps/Tips:

Navigators have expertise and skill sets combining housing, social service, and workforce systems: including: 

  • Knowledge of educational, sector, and job training programs including financial aid options, enrollment procedures, and connected career opportunities
  • Knowledge of employment resources and vocational services including vocational assessment and career planning; job readiness assistance; and job search, placement, and retention services
  • Knowledge of homeless housing resources and social services including mental health, domestic violence. and drug and alcohol treatment
  • Knowledge of public benefits (TANF, food support, child care, Social Security, and subsidized housing) and the impact of earned income

Dedicated staffing available to provide intensive case management services targeted at meeting the complex services needs of families experiencing homelessness with the goal of job placement, retention and transition to permanent housing: Navigators work one-to-one with participants to develop individually-tailored plans and services. They help to establish a culture of ability and high expectations for families, while offering the flexible, individual support they need to succeed. Backed by cross-system partnerships, navigators have the abilityto engage and coordinate multiple systems and organizations to participate in an integrated services model to meet the diverse needs of homeless families.

Flexible and mobile services are co-located and delivered onsite at housing programs, WorkSource centers, job training programs, and local businesses: Navigators can be most effective if they work side-by-side with partners. This allows them to build pathways between systems and programs while also building the knowledge and facilitating connections among workers in homeless assistance, housing, workforce, education, and training programs.

Partnership commitment: Integrated service planning, interagency communication, and cross training among services partnerswho are committed to achieving the cross systems outcomes of stable housing, full employment, and reduced reliance on public benefits are all keys to the success of housing and employment navigators. Partner roles are documented in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

Training provided by the Washington Families Fund for housing and homeless assistance programs also helps to redefine the role of homeless service providers and to embed the expectations, practice, and service delivery of employment in all facets of program operations.

Housing and employment navigators linked to time-limited housing assistance programs such as rapid re-housing or transition-in-place housing models can facilitate connections to and successful participation in workforce, education, and training services for families who must increase their incomes in order to maintain housing stability.

Target Population

Housing andemployment navigators can have the biggest impact by assisting parents in homeless families and other homeless individuals, including youth, who need to increase their incomes but face significant barriers to accessing and effectively using mainstream workforce, education, and training services.


As of October 2012, the Navigator programs in King County and Pierce County had served 115 participants. Nearly half of them became employed. In addition, a significant number have been participating in occupational training programs, which require more time to complete prior to job placement.

In 2012, the US Department of Labor awarded Workforce Central a grant from its Workforce Innovations Fund to provide for the expansion, replication, and evaluation of the Housing and Employment Navigator Program, starting in January 2013. Three workforce development organizations serving Whatcom, Skagit, Pierce, and Yakima Counties will partner with the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services, Building Changes, local housing providers, and colleges to engage 360 families who have experienced homelessness and are being served by housing programs. The grant includes an evaluation to assess the program’s impact. 

Contact Info for Follow-up:

Nick Codd
Senior Economic Opportunities Specialist
Building Changes | 2014 E. Madison, Suite 200 | Seattle, WA 98122