Connecting to Jobs

07/27/2016 12:13 pm ET Updated Jul 28, 2017

Individuals living in supportive housing often have long histories of instability - some were without a place to live for years - and face a multitude of other challenges like a serious mental illness, substance use disorder and chronic health conditions. Housing is the first building block to recovery but there are other vital factors that help change the trajectory of their lives. A well-paying and quality job, for example, can be an essential piece for advancing growth and self-sufficiency.

Employment provides more than a paycheck; it is a way for individuals to meaningfully engage in their communities and to socially connect through productive activity. It builds a sense of self-direction and belonging that paves the way to long-term recovery.

Supportive housing is an ideal platform for delivering a wide array of services that help vulnerable individuals connect to jobs and maintain employment. Affordable housing with access to critical services, such as ongoing behavioral healthcare, transportation, child care, crisis intervention and housing stabilization increases the likelihood of being a successful employee.

Innovative providers are demonstrating how supportive housing can be successfully paired with employment supports to increase job opportunities for their tenants.

Central City Concern, a nonprofit agency serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness in Portland, provides supportive housing connected to a robust array of employment services including a co-located one-stop job center, transitional jobs, employment and in-house employment. Their workforce program served 757 homeless jobseekers in 2014 and over 60 percent found employment. In addition, half of their own employees, or about 375 individuals, self-identify as people in recovery and 25 percent have first-hand experience with Central City Concern's programs.

Jericho Project, a non-profit agency serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness in New York City, employs a team of Career Counselors and Employment Specialists that help place residents into meaningful employment opportunities. Over 80 percent of Jericho's housing residents participate in their Workforce Opportunities Initiative and employed residents have an average wage of more than $12 per hour.

Through what is known as the Work Well Initiative, CSH collaborates with the San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) to increase employment opportunities for vulnerable individuals with lived experience of mental illness in San Diego County, CA. As the local Workforce Development Board, SDWP is integral to this work, particularly when it comes to engaging the business sector. SDWP helps empower job seekers to meet the current and future workforce needs of employers in San Diego by funding job training programs, providing targeted employment services, and collecting regional data on workforce trends, in-demand occupations, and high-growth industries.

Despite promising trends, increasing employment among tenants in supportive housing and other vulnerable individuals requires more action to transform our service culture and offerings to prioritize jobs, and encourage and support tenants moving toward maximum independence. We need to embrace comprehensive employment programming and services that include job training, skill development, benefits counseling, job coaching, and strong linkages to employers and public workforce agencies.

We know that supportive housing isn't just about ending instability; it's about ending a sense of hopelessness. It's about realizing one's full potential. It's about recovery. And when it comes to all of these goals, jobs and economic advancement play pivotal roles in ensuring success.