From what we know based on the Saffron Strand experience in Richmond, conventional transitional employment programs tend to pigeon-hole the worker as a landscape laborer, janitor, maintenance “gofer,” etc. Such programs confine the participant’s expectations to the bottom of the hierarchy of needs – food, shelter, and maybe a little “walking around money.”
If a hard-to-employ person does a job just for the money or just to maintain benefits, then he or she is not building the sort of skills that transfer to real-world employment. There is no personal vision of the future beyond meeting very basic needs.
Another approach for the homeless and those at-risk of homelessness in seeking employment may be to contact local workforce development or employment agencies that serve other job seekers. However, the “One-Stops” in Richmond and other Contra Costa communities cannot help the long-term unemployed in the same way they help other low-income clients, primarily because these vulnerable, at-risk clients present many different, often more extreme, barriers to employment. They represent high-risk clients in conventional workforce development and employment programs. From experience, the agencies know that these clients usually generate high failure rates and poor reportable outcomes.
The current paradigm and “top-down” institutional management is expensive and unsustainable in a low-budget, outcomes-focused future. Conventional approaches to transitional employment and workforce development are not working for the homeless, hard-to-employ, and long-term unemployed. Moreover, these approaches are not likely to work in the foreseeable future, especially as funding for these programs becomes increasingly problematic. What is needed is a “paradigm shift” that recognizes the need for the development of the “homeless workforce.”
Development of the homeless workforce requires professionals and others who work with the long-term unemployed – especially the hard-to-employ and homeless – to have the necessary awareness of the issues and the right “tool box” of skills (such as training in trauma-informed care, motivational interviewing, etc.). For this urgent need, Saffron Strand offers the Fifth Annual Homeless Workforce Conference – “Let’s Get Serious: Skills, Jobs, Careers as Paths Out of Homelessness and Poverty.”