The Opening Doors Collaborative Aims to Increase Employment & Economic Opportunity Among Homeless Youth
By Caitlin C. Schnur, Coordinator, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity with Leiha Edmonds, Research and Policy Assistant, National Initiatives
Earlier this year, under our new National Center on Employment and Homelessness (NCEH) and with the generous support of the Oak Foundation and the Melville Charitable Trust, we selected five communities from across the country to be a part of the Connections Project. The Connections Project is a three-year, systems-level collaboration and capacity building project that aims to increase employment and economic opportunity for homeless job seekers. This fall, our five Connections Project Sites are launching their innovative systems collaboration ideas—and over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting their exciting work. First up is Minneapolis/Hennepin County’s Opening Doors Collaborative (ODC), our Connections Project Site that’s focused on improving employment access, outcomes, and program options for youth experiencing homelessness.
National Initiatives: The Opening Doors Collaborative (ODC) chose to focus its Connections Project on youth experiencing homelessness. Can you tell us why?
Heidi Schmidt Boyd, ODC Project Captain: Our target population is youth ages 16 to 24 who are experiencing homelessness, with a special focus on parenting youth. In Minneapolis, there’s been an increasing number of families in shelter with heads of household who are 24 years old or younger—and these families make up over 40 percent of repeat family shelter users. Local data also show that 75 percent of homeless youth ages 16 to 24 are unemployed and face significant barriers to employment. We know that one of the best ways to stay housed is to increase earned income through employment—and that these youth need an integrated system and comprehensive services to improve their employment outcomes.
National Initiatives: Tell us about your Connections Project Idea. What will you be doing over the next three years to increase employment and economic opportunity for youth experiencing homelessness?
Heidi Schmidt Boyd: Hennepin County is a “program rich, systems poor” environment for youth experiencing homelessness. Through the Connections Project, we’ll work to re-orient our community toward a system-wide, holistic approach that places youth at the center and establishes a common agenda across diverse stakeholders. We’re planning to draw from SNAP Employment & Training funds, and leverage key changes in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) that place an increased focus on serving out-of-school youth, to make sure that youth experiencing homelessness have access to employment training opportunities. We’ll also uncover and lift up best and promising employment strategies for serving youth experiencing homelessness. Throughout the project, we’ll draw from youth insight to make sure we’re meeting their employment needs and interests.
National Initiatives: The project is definitely ambitious and will be covering a lot of ground! What’s first on ODC’s agenda?
Heidi Schmidt Boyd: Because we know it’s so important to draw from the insights of youth with lived experience, this fall we’ll be meeting with youth who are currently involved in Hennepin County’s homeless system to understand their employment and housing needs. By incorporating youth input from the start, we’ll help make sure that employment and housing interventions draw from their interests and perspectives, which is critical to our success.
National Initiatives: Why does ODC’s work matter?
Heidi Schmidt Boyd: Disconnected homeless and workforce systems leave youth experiencing homelessness struggling to access the services they need to get and keep quality jobs. Greater collaboration among systems means greater opportunities to support youth in overcoming the cycle of homelessness.
Like what you read?
Learn more about our National Center on Employment and Homelessness and the Connections Project
Take a look at our Opportunity Youth Employment Toolkit
Explore our Working to End Homelessness Toolkit