Four Ways You Can Be an Employment Champion for Homeless Job Seekers

By Caitlin C. Schnur, Workforce Research & Policy Fellow, NTJN

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Health Care for the Homeless – Baltimore (Photo courtesy of National Health Care for the Homeless Council)

In the National Transitional Jobs Network’s (NTJN) recent article in the Institute for Children, Poverty & HomelessnessUNCENSORED magazine, we showed why employment is critical to ending family homelessness and gave homeless service providers recommendations for integrating employment strategies into their programming.  We know, however, that many homeless service providers already offer consumers quality employment services and believe that employment has an important role to play in ending homelessness—so, what’s next? Here, we shift the focus from building better programs to building systems that prioritize employment as a pathway out of homelessness and are well-equipped to serve homeless job seekers.  If you’re a service provider looking to channel your experience and expertise toward ensuring that more homeless job seekers have access to employment and economic opportunity, this blog offers four actionable strategies to jumpstart your advocacy work.  Ready?  Go! 

Advocacy Strategy #1: Know Your Community’s Plan to End Homelessness—and Get Involved In It

Hundreds of communities across the country have created and implemented strategic plans to prevent and end homelessness.  While local strategic plans are tailored to each community’s strengths and needs, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) urges local plans to align with the themes and objectives of Opening Doors, the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. Importantly, the federal government recognizes that increasing economic security via meaningful and sustainable employment opportunities for people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness is essential to helping people get and stay housed.

To find out if your community has a strategic plan that acknowledges and prioritizes the role employment can play in addressing homelessness, take a look at the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ (NAEH) online database of local plans. Plans to end homelessness should identify the stakeholders involved in crafting the plan, and you can contact these stakeholders to find out how to become involved in determining and implementing the plan’s priorities.  No local plan to be found?  The database is from 2010, so things may have changed.  Reaching out to your state’s USICH regional coordinator may yield more information.  USICH has also created this toolkit, which provides practical steps about how a community can develop an effective plan to end homelessness.

Advocacy Strategy #2: Educate Your Local Workforce Investment Board about the Employment Needs and Interests of Homeless Job Seekers

With the (very) recent passage of the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA), now may be  a good time to identify and reach out to your Local Workforce Investment Board (LWIB) to educate its members about your area of expertise: the employment interests and needs of homeless job seekers.  Each LWIB is responsible for developing and delivering employment services in local communities, and under WIOA the local boards will need to make sure that career services such as job training and education account for the needs of people with barriers to employment, including people experiencing homelessness.  With your knowledge of the homeless community, you can help local workforce decision makers understand employment strategies that help people experiencing homelessness get and keep jobs.

If you’re looking to plan a conversation with your LWIB, the NTJN’s Working to End Homelessness (WEH) Initiative best practice briefs provide a range of useful information about service delivery principles and techniques and employment program models that are effective for diverse populations of homeless job seekers (you may want to leave some of our briefs behind as LWIB resources!).  If you’d like to familiarize yourself with how the workforce and homelessness systems are already collaborating in innovative ways across the country, the NTJN’s recent paper with NAEH can give you plenty of ideas.

Advocacy Strategy #3: Make the Case for Employment in the Local Media

You believe that earned income through employment plays a critical role in preventing and ending homelessness in your community—but do your neighbors?  Writing a letter to the editor is one way to share and amplify your opinion, and having your letter published may spark discussion about effective ways to address homelessness in your community or an invitation to write a longer op-ed piece.  The Community Toolbox—a free, online resource for advocates looking to bring about social change—provides an overview about how to write and place a letter to the editor.  For more tips on how to craft a successful letter to the editor, check out The Opportunity Agenda‘s Social Justice Communications Toolkit.  If you’re looking for ready-made talking points, the NTJN’s WEH Initiative offers compelling reasons why it’s important to highlight employment-related solutions to homelessness.  And finally, since using statistics or data points in your letter can help make your case, you can draw from USICH’s State Homeless Resources Map for state-level homelessness data or the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress for national, state, and some local homelessness data.

Advocacy Strategy #4: Lift Up What Works to the National Level

Why not go big? Inviting your member of Congress to see how you’re helping their constituents who are experiencing homelessness succeed in work is the perfect opportunity to show them how employment can mitigate homelessness and spur economic growth in their districts—and remind them why it’s important that they champion employment services and policies targeted at disadvantaged job seekers. Legislators will be home in August and September, so now’s the time to set a date for a visit.  If you’re ready to go ahead, here’s where you can find your member of Congress, contact information for their district office, and the names of key staff members (including their scheduler).

If you’re looking for more information before you get started, check out our resource, “Tips for Scheduling & Conducting Successful Program Site Visits with Elected Officials,” to learn more about how to set up a top notch in-district meeting.  The NTJN is also happy to help out with the details; just send us an email.  We’re confident that members of Congress are persuaded to take action on federal policy when they understand the direct impact that policy has on real people in their communities, so go ahead and show off—you can have a national voice in advancing employment solutions to homelessness without even leaving your office!

Like what you read?
The NTJN periodically leads policy advocacy days on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., with employment program participants, lifting up their voices to their elected officials.  You can read about two of our recent visits here and here.  Think your program might be interested in doing something similar?  Email us and let’s talk! 

Learn more about the NTJN’s Working to End Homelessness Initiative.

Read the NTJN and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council’s (NHCHC) paper, Work Matters: Employment as a Tool for Preventing Homelessness and Improving Health, to learn how health care providers serving people experiencing homelessness can integrate employment-related services into their work.

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About National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity is dedicated to ending chronic unemployment and poverty. We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and support themselves and their families. Through our field building, we provide support and guidance that fosters more effective and sustainable employment efforts. Our policy and advocacy work advances solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment.

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