For Chicagoans Experiencing Homelessness, There’s a New Destination: Jobs

By Leiha Edmonds, Research and Policy Assistant, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity


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An initiative of our new National Center on Employment and Homelessness (NCEH), the Connections Project fosters innovative systems-level collaboration efforts that aim to increase employment and economic opportunity for homeless jobseekers in five communities across the country, including Chicago. With 46 percent of people experiencing homelessness in Chicago reporting that not having a job played a significant role in leading to their homelessness, our Chicago-based Connections Project Site, Destination: Jobs, is working to better integrate the workforce development and homeless services systems. As part of our blog series highlighting our Connections Project Sites, this month we’re talking with Destination: Jobs’ team leader, Carrie Thomas, about why it’s important to ask the right questions about employment when people enter the homeless system—and then to have referral paths to direct people to the resources they need to succeed in work and exit homelessness.

National Initiatives: To start, could you tell us about Destination: Jobs and the work you’re doing to better connect Chicago’s homeless services and workforce systems?

Carrie Thomas: Destination: Jobs is working with a group of frontline homelessness and workforce development service providers to create a set of basic questions about a person’s employment status, job interests, and employment background. We hope that these questions will be incorporated into intake assessments used by homeless service providers. With good data on employment, organizations that work directly with individuals experiencing homelessness in both the workforce and homeless system will be better equipped to address their participants’ employment needs.

National Initiatives: Why do you think that employment is part of the solution for preventing and ending homelessness?

Carrie Thomas: Studies show that 46 percent of people experiencing homelessness in Chicago say that not having a job played a significant role in leading to their homelessness. In Chicago, on average, only 9 percent of people exit the homeless system as a result of increased income. There’s a disconnect between the expressed need for employment and an individual’s ability to access quality job opportunities, and that shows that those of us in the workforce development system need to do more to connect our work with the work of service providers in the homeless system.

National Initiatives: In addition to incorporating an employment assessment into homeless service providers’ intake process, what else will Destination: Jobs do over the next three years to better integrate the workforce development and homeless systems?

Carrie Thomas: Over the next three years, we also hope to help bridge homeless and workforce systems’ understanding of each other’s work. We’ll be giving webinars on topics like “Workforce 101” so there will be a shared understanding of the terms, definitions, and practices used by the workforce and homeless systems. We also want to help create referral paths that will match people experiencing homelessness with the right programs for their needs, including employment programs. This will help frontline staff provide more comprehensive services to their participants—and, we hope, will help a greater share of Chicagoans experiencing homelessness succeed in jobs and exit the homeless system due to increased income.

Like what you read?
Learn more about our National Center on Employment and Homelessness and the Connections Project.
Take a look at our resource, Getting Families on Their Feet: Steps for Integrating Employment Programming into Homeless Services.
Explore our Working to End Homelessness Toolkit.

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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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