It’s that time of the year when many of us reconnect with family and friends at community celebrations and holiday parties, getting caught up on the past year and looking forward to the next. Typically, talk turns to work: “How’s the job?” “Where are you working now?” Having a job is an important social indicator in our country. At our jobs we contribute, learn, and form relationships. While the social and intellectual benefits of a job are important for personal development, there is of course the basic assumption that we work to support ourselves and our families. Unfortunately, across the country, many working people today find they are not able to keep up with the costs of maintaining a household. Across the country wages have stayed low or even decreased, while at the same time, the cost of living continues to rise.
For most families and individuals working and living at or near poverty, housing costs are the single most expensive item in the household budget. Nearly all pay over half of their incomes for rent. This leaves limited resources available for food, clothing, child care, and other essentials. The loss of a job can all too easily push a poor family into homelessness. For families with little or no job history, finally getting a well-paying job can be the first step in ensuring stable housing.
As a funder focused on preventing and ending homelessness, we have been asking what we can do to help improve the way education, job readiness, training, placement, and support organizations work together to reduce barriers to employment for low-skilled workers. How can local workforce systems best respond to individuals with “high barriers” to work, those who have histories, education levels, and personal circumstances that may have hindered their progress in finding sustainable employment? And can we create stronger connections between homeless service systems and workforce systems to help individuals and families get housing and work concurrently?
Inspired by similar work by the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation in Massachusetts, the Melville Trust joined with fellow grantmakers throughout Connecticut last month to launch Secure Jobs CT, a two-year demonstration pilot designed to increase the income of families with children exiting homelessness into housing by connecting them to the education, training, childcare, and other supports they need to secure and maintain stable, competitive employment. A collaborative effort between fifteen foundations, several state agencies and nonprofit partners, Secure Jobs CT strives for systems-level change that forges strong connections between workforce and homelessness service providers in new and innovative ways. Cross-agency teams in five regions of the state have been challenged to work together to provide a spectrum of career pathways and creative solutions to families transitioning from homelessness to housing.
The Melville Trust awarded initial planning grants to five regional collaboratives this month. The collaboratives will present their plans to a consortia of funders this spring. Winning regions will have up to $100,000 to implement their visions for achieving an ambitious set of performance targets for employment placement, retention, and housing stability.
At the center of this effort are the families themselves. It is their goals and dreams for safe homes and secure incomes to support their families that drive our collective passion for making Secure Jobs CT a success. We are excited to learn along with our colleagues in the state and hope you are too! Watch this space for more to come.