THE BLOG
06/02/2014 02:05 pm ET | Updated Aug 02, 2014

In DC's Fight Against Homelessness, Employment Must Go 'First'

Faced with a surge in the number of people experiencing homelessness in the city, D.C. service providers, advocates and funding organizations need new solutions to manage the growing demand for services and financial assistance from its citizens. Housing resources are one response, but clearly work force development, in particular job placement, must be a part of the formula.

The 2014 Point-In-Time study for the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area surprised many: Despite advocacy and a robust service network, homelessness in D.C. grew by 13 percent since last year, bringing the total to 7,748 persons.

Examining the data more closely shows that, homelessness among single adults rose by 7 percent, while family homelessness climbed 20 percent: 1,231 families were homeless on the day the study was performed in January 2014.

In response to crisis-level demand from families last winter, city administrators unfolded an initiative to house 500 families in 100 days. A similar initiative has had excellent results in the city with veterans, and the new 25 Cities initiative combines this effort with the goal of ending chronic homelessness by 2015. These two initiatives will expedite the rehousing process for most homeless people in the city, with the exception of underage youth, an underserved segment of the population.

The DC Council has agreed to fund more permanent, supportive housing and additional services, including rapid rehousing. Along with other rapid solutions, like homelessness prevention and employment, rapid rehousing has the potential to move the field forward and end homelessness for thousands of single adults and families countrywide.

One area of improvement for Washington and other cities, is the way they foster and fund employment initiatives. The war is on poverty, not just homelessness, and employment is the only way up for many people living in homelessness.

These folks neither qualify for nor need long-term services. What they need is a hand-up: help getting a job.

To end homelessness in DC, employment must go to an "Employment First" model, just as "Housing First" did a few years ago.

This means that all barriers to employment are removed as soon as possible. It also means that the focus must be on job placement, which is after all, the desired outcome of all vocational training.

"Employment First" rests on the belief that everyone is employable and builds on individuals' strengths to facilitate quick hires. Training and other facets of the service delivery are expedited to put participants in jobs as soon as possible.

The employment first services are most effective when paired with homelessness prevention or rehousing assistance to ensure job retention. Newly employed people with a comfortable living situation are more likely to do well on the job. Once people are employed, they can access training for professional advancement. In this respect, employment first reverses the order of training and job placement by putting the most urgent goal, the acquisition of a job and wages, first.

So how about it DC, are you ready for "Employment First"?