Baltimore’s Connections Project Applies a Racial Equity Lens to Economic Opportunity for Homeless Jobseekers

By: Kyle Pierce, Research and Policy Assistant, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

father and daughters

To wrap up our Connections Project blog series, the National Initiatives team chatted with Hannah Roberts, who coordinates Baltimore’s Journey to Jobs project. Looking at homelessness through a racial equity lens, Journey to Jobs aims to increase economic opportunity for homeless jobseekers by tackling two barriers to employment that disproportionally impact people of color: criminal records and child support payments.  In our conversation, Hannah shares how she’s working with Baltimore’s Connections Project team to develop savvy partnerships, gather data, and shape system-wide collaboration to expand employment and economic opportunity for Baltimore’s homeless jobseekers.

National Initiatives: Why do you think employment matters when it comes to preventing and ending homelessness in Baltimore?

Hannah Roberts: It’s been my experience that individuals experiencing homelessness can and do want to contribute to their communities in meaningful ways. Providing support and viable opportunities to engage in the workforce is an important way to help people experiencing homelessness address self-identified goals and leverage strengths and capabilities to increase self-sufficiency. In Baltimore, we’re struggling with the dual impact of poverty and unaffordable housing. More than half of Baltimore’s renters live in housing they can’t afford.  For both individuals and families experiencing or at-risk of homelessness, there’s a critical need to provide sustainable employment solutions, including a livable wage.

National Initiatives: You’ve been in your role as Journey to Jobs Coordinator for the past six months. What are the project’s accomplishments so far, and what are you learning?

Hannah Roberts: I’ve learned that not only is there a huge amount of passion and interest in providing great services to people experiencing homelessness, but there’s also an eagerness to find innovative and improved strategies for solving homelessness and connecting people to the right resources. So far, we’ve focused on an initial assessment of the available data of the intersections among homelessness, unemployment, and barriers linked to criminal justice system involvement and child support payments. We know that each of these issues significantly impact individuals and families in Baltimore, and that policies and practices have had a disproportionately negative impact on people of color.

National Initiatives: As stated, Journey to Jobs’ focus population is homeless jobseekers who are involved in the criminal justice system and have child support arrearages. Why did you choose to focus on this population?

Hannah Roberts: We chose to focus on this population because there’s growing momentum on the city and state level for criminal justice and child support reform. At present, there are nearly one million expungable criminal cases in Baltimore with approximately 38,700 of cases from 2015 considered expungable. With this new data, there’s an opportunity to raise awareness about why having a criminal record is a barrier to employment and to streamline expungement assistance. At the same time many programs and initiatives are exploring innovative solutions to reduce the negative impact of child support debt on jobseekers’ capacity to obtain and maintain employment. We know that having large child support arrearages is a barrier to employment, and want to gather more data to see how many people experiencing homelessness also have child support arrearages. We have a hunch that it’s a common barrier, especially among homeless jobseekers who have been incarcerated. We’ll want to work with expert partners to determine a child support reform strategy moving forward, but it’s clear that there’s great opportunity at multiple levels of government to improve policy and practice in child support enforcement and criminal justice—and that doing so could help homeless jobseekers overcome significant barriers to employment.

National Initiatives: Looking ahead to the next year, what are you most excited about when it comes to the Journey to Jobs Project?

Hannah Roberts: In addition to collecting new and valuable data about the scope and scale of homeless jobseekers that have criminal records and child support arrearages, we’re really excited to build cross-sector collaboration that will go beyond the traditional silos that exist.  In both the homeless service and workforce development worlds, there is an incredible appetite to address these barriers in a holistic way. We’ll also need innovative and collaborative approaches across sectors to elevate homeless jobseekers who haven’t been well-served by more traditional service delivery systems. Building a multifaceted service framework to help reduce these barriers to employment for homeless jobseekers is challenging, however it’s exciting to realize this work is in motion.

Photo credit: OnPointPress

Like what you read?

Learn more about our National Center on Employment and Homelessness and the Connections Project.
Check out our
slides on innovations in child support policy and practice.
See how employment, reentry, and child support arrearages are
interconnected.
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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