Meet Carl Wiley, Coordinator of the National Center on Employment and Homelessness
On a single night, over 600,000 Americans experience homelessness. People experiencing homelessness consistently name paid employment as one of their primary needs, alongside housing and healthcare. Recognizing the important role of employment in helping to prevent and end homelessness, the Oak Foundation and the Melville Charitable Trust have joined with Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity to launch the National Center on Employment and Homelessness (NCEH).
NCEH seeks to ensure that everyone who wants to work, regardless of the barriers they face, has the support and opportunities to reach that goal, and will work across programs, systems, and policies to ensure that homeless jobseekers have the support and services needed to succeed in employment. One of NCEH’s flagship efforts will be the Connections Project, a three year, place-based, systems-level collaboration and capacity-building project focused on increasing employment and economic opportunity for homeless jobseekers.
To coordinate the NCEH, our team is happy to welcome back Carl Wiley, who previously worked as a graduate student intern with Heartland’s Policy and Advocacy team. Carl recently received his Masters in Social Work from the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and he has extensive experience working directly with populations experiencing homelessness including with youth at Heartland’s Neon Street Dorms.
Carl recently took a break from his busy schedule to share a bit about what NCEH has planned and why he thinks it is important to address the employment needs of people experiencing homelessness.
David Applegate: Carl, welcome back to Heartland’s Research and Policy Department. You’ve only been back for a couple months, and it sounds like there’s a lot coming down the pipeline! Can you tell me a little more about NCEH and what drew you to this initiative?
Carl Wiley: When I first heard about NCEH as an intern with Heartland Alliance, I knew right away that it was something I wanted in on. I’ve been working with social service providers for the past eight years in different contexts, including working with youth experiencing homelessness. During my eight years in direct service, I’ve had the exciting opportunity to participate in efforts to improve homeless services for youth through city-wide collaboration, but I’ve also experienced frustrations and challenges. I’ve seen that so many social service programs and providers want to try new and innovative ideas to better serve participants, but these ideas can fall short due to lack of funding or because providers simply don’t have the bandwidth to accomplish everything they would like to do. Through NCEH, I’ll have the opportunity to take my frontline, in-the-field experience and apply it to the policy arena in order to influence larger, systems-wide change. I hope I’ll make it easier for service providers to help the folks their working with, too!
David: Why does NCEH want to lift up employment solutions for homeless job seekers?
Carl: People experiencing homelessness obviously have a multitude of needs that must be addressed, and we need to take a holistic approach in our fight to end homelessness. As for NCEH’s focus on employment, I believe that a livable-wage job is fundamental to any effort to help people experiencing homelessness secure stable housing. A job can also provide people with confidence and self-esteem, and it can help them gain a renewed sense of self-worth that they may have lost while experiencing homelessness and unemployment. And, obviously, earned income is necessary for economic security and an ability to remain housed.
There are already a lot of organizations working with people experiencing homelessness that realize employment services are crucial to helping people exit homelessness. At NCEH, we are hoping to support and lift up the work the organizations are doing and share their knowledge so that their work can be replicated in other parts of the country. By amplifying the great work that communities are doing at the local level to help end homelessness through employment, we will have the opportunity to drive policy at the national level.
David: What big projects does NCEH have planned for the coming year?
Carl: We’ve got a lot of exciting plans for the coming months and year. One of the main projects we’re spearheading is called The Connections Project. Through The Connections Project, we will identify up to five sites from across the country that will plan, implement, and strengthen innovative systems collaboration ideas aimed at increasing employment and economic opportunity for homeless jobseekers. We’ll offer funding to these Connections Sites, and we’ll increase their capacity through technical assistance and peer-learning opportunities. When the Connections Project wraps up (it’s a three year project!), we’ll have gathered a lot of ideas about what works to help homeless jobseekers succeed in employment. So, if something innovative is going on in your community to help increase economic security for homeless job seekers, we want to hear about it!
David: Wow, this is exciting! How can folks learn more about NCEH or get involved in the Connections Project?
Carl: That is why I’m here! I want to hear from people and know what’s going on in the homelessness and employment field. I definitely encourage people to contact me to learn more about NCEH and our work. At the same time, we’re prioritizing gathering information that pushes the field forward and that includes understanding what is—and isn’t—working in different communities to help homeless jobseekers get and keep employment. So, we want to hear from you, too! Eventually, our plan is to take all that we learn from the field and make program, systems, and policy recommendations that help plug homeless jobseekers into good, stable work.