Big Picture Plans for Jobseekers Experiencing Homelessness in Houston

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

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Big things are happening in Houston when it comes to employment and homelessness – and that’s why we’re excited that Team Houston is part of our Connections Project. As part of our blog series highlighting our National Center on Employment and Homelessness’ Connections Project, this month we’re talking with Team Houston’s Heather Muller and Gary Grier about fostering an “Income Now” culture in Houston’s homeless services system, community asset mapping, and how collaboration between workforce development and homeless services systems will benefit homeless jobseekers.

National Initiatives: Team Houston’s Connections Project focuses on promoting an “Income Now” culture. What’s the idea behind Income Now, and why does there need to be this sort of culture shift in Houston’s homeless and workforce systems? 

Team Houston: In Houston, we’ve already shifted to a Housing First culture where a person experiencing homelessness is matched with the most appropriate permanent affordable housing and supportive services. At the same time, we believe there needs to be a conversation about how someone will maintain that housing and improve their quality of life. Connecting people with earned Income Now, not at some far off point in the future, is key. We all need to shift our thinking and recognize that everyone should have income and a way to support themselves.

National Initiatives: Team Houston has been thinking big picture about coordinating the homeless and workforce systems. Can you tell us a bit about the Team’s systems design work and how it will benefit homeless jobseekers?

Team Houston: Our systems design work is about better blending our workforce and homeless services systems in Houston. Our plan is to bring together the best of the workforce development strategies and the cultural competency of the homeless services system to support homeless jobseekers. To do this, we’ve created 17 new job positions to bridge the gap between these two worlds. We’re also building out Houston’s Coordinated Access hubs and shelters to include public workforce satellite offices.

National Initiatives: You’ve also been working on community asset mapping. How is asset mapping helping you coordinate the homeless services and workforce development systems?

Team Houston: We use asset mapping in two ways. Asset mapping helps us track the flow of people and services in our city and decide where to place workforce development satellites offices and expand social service delivery. We’re also using an asset map created by the city’s businesses and economists on Houston’s overall employment health to assess what types of jobs are in demand in Houston. Using this map, we hope to better match homeless jobseekers with Houston’s employment opportunities.

National Initiatives: Anything else you’d like to add about Team Houston’s work?

Team Houston: We’re making big changes to Houston’s homeless and workforce systems and the only way that happens is through collaboration. For example, leaders from Houston’s Workforce Investment Board (WIB) sit on the  The Way Home’s Continuum of Care Steering Committee. This overlap helps the two systems learn from each other and identify opportunities to better support jobseekers experiencing homelessness. It’s this level of collaboration and the belief that we are all investing in a shared community that is key to making things happen at the scale and pace that they do in Houston.

Like what you read?

Learn more about our National Center on Employment and Homelessness and the Connections Project
See how your community can use our new resource, Community Asset Mapping: Questions to Assess Workforce Services, Supports, and Service Gaps
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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