Secure Jobs Connecticut
“I was about to land a job but there was a delay in getting day care…. So the employer moved on to another candidate. I can’t blame him, he wanted someone right away.”
—Mom enrolled in Secure Jobs Connecticut
For many working parents in Connecticut, finding a job is a constant juggling act between dependable child care, reliable transportation, and having enough income to cover small immediate needs. The job hunt may look something like this:
- Take a course to brush up on your skills.
- Write a resume.
- Buy an interview outfit.
- Find a babysitter for the morning of the interview.
- Drive 30 minutes to an interview since buses don’t run often enough.
For families without stable housing, this process becomes 1000x more challenging and more urgent.
A mom with small children who has experienced homelessness may not have easy access to a computer for writing a resume, money to buy clothes for an interview, child care she can afford at the hours or location she needs, or a car that works. And for many families that experience homelessness, these barriers are just the surface issues—parents and small children also may be struggling with mental health issues compounded by the trauma of losing a home.
While Connecticut has dozens of social service organizations that provide supports like emergency shelter, housing, child care, or job training, these essential services are often delivered in isolation from each other with each agency having their own staff, requirements, and bureaucratic process for providing help. The result: Families already in crisis and facing multiple barriers often don’t get the comprehensive help they need.
Secure Jobs Connecticut offers a new approach.
Launched in 2015 by the Trust along with 26 funders and the Connecticut Department of Housing, Secure Jobs Connecticut is a three-year pilot initiative that brings together housing agencies and employment centers to help families exiting homelessness get jobs that will start them on the path to economic stability.
The initiative is modeled after Secure Jobs in Massachusetts, launched in 2013 by The Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation. As Susanne Beaton of the Fireman Foundation explains, “Secure Jobs was based on a simple premise: to make it easy for individuals to access employment resources by placing the burden on the system to deliver in more efficient and effective ways.”
How it Works
Secure Jobs Connecticut operates in four communities around the state. Each regional team is comprised of a collaboration of organizations from employment and housing agencies.
The teams are tasked with identical goals for helping families find stable jobs and maintain their housing, but they are given the freedom to determine the structure of the program and design solutions that work best for families in their community. Overall, the process works like this:
A family in a homeless shelter is matched with a housing case manager though the rapid re-housing program and is quickly assisted to move into housing. The program provides several months of rental subsidy and case management services.
Once they are safely housed, the family is enrolled in the Secure Jobs pilot. Each site has a Secure Jobs Navigator who becomes the liaison between the housing and employment programs. In addition, the Navigator works with the parent, his/her housing case manager and other key service providers to address the unique needs of the family by connecting them to services and organizations in the community.
About once a month, the Navigator and a team from other agencies come together to check-in on the family’s progress, celebrate the family’s success, and strategize how to overcome any barriers they are experiencing.
Each regional team of providers is given a pool of flexible funds that they can determine how to spend to quickly and creatively respond to a family’s need as they arise.
Who is enrolled in Secure Jobs?
161 parents with 285 children, almost half are under six years old.
94% are single moms and 89% are women of color.
$610 is the average family monthly income.
65% graduated high school.
Almost half of the families have been homeless at least twice before.
1 in 3 struggle with mental health issues.
What We Learned in 2017
Relationships come first.
When we began the initiative, we learned that providers working in the same community weren’t always aware of or connected to their colleagues in other sectors. Building these relationships was an essential first step. In each region, staff at housing agencies and employment centers set up a process for sharing information and communicating about their shared clients, learned about each other’s services and what resources they have to offer. As one staff member at a housing agency noted, “I’ve learned more in the past year than I’ve ever known about their [workforce] services.” Staff often brought this new knowledge back to their peers or used it to help clients outside of the Secure Jobs initiative. On the employment side, providers gained a better understanding of the issues facing homeless families and how those barriers impact employment. As one provider remarked, “It’s not that clients don’t want to work. They may need to leave a job many times because their child is suspended from school. These issues were not highlighted prior to Secure Jobs.”
Everyone needs to be at the table.
Once relationships between staff at housing and employment agencies were solidified, Secure Jobs providers realized they also needed the expertise of staff from other agencies such as those overseeing child welfare, mental health, benefits, child care, transportation, etc. to adequately address the complex needs of their families. Providers convened regular case conferences where they could continue to learn, collaborate, and share resources across a broader group of agencies and systems. As one of the providers remarked, “It’s rare to be at a [case conferencing] meeting where DCF (Department of Children and Families), DMHAS (Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services), DSS (Department of Social Services) and BRS (Bureau of Rehabilitation Services) are all in the same room.”
Flexible dollars can solve small problems quickly.
Providers helped parents pay for fill-in child care, bus passes, driver’s lessons and licenses, car repairs, phone bills, work clothes, and other small but essential costs that otherwise would derail their job hunt and threaten their stability. Flex funds allowed providers at cash-strapped agencies to use their creativity to solve problems. As one client noted, “At one point I had no money for my phone. Employers might be calling but I’m not getting the call.” In one region that lacked good transportation, providers used Uber (and some clients even became drivers themselves) to get clients to and from appointments.
Policy changes and small shifts are both needed.
Each of the regions came up against larger policy issues that they were not able to overcome on their own such as:
- Access to affordable child care while job hunting or upon an offer: To receive child care vouchers from the state, families must already have a job. Lack of child care makes it harder for a parent to find and accept a job.
- Minimum wage and irregular schedules: Even when parents got jobs, low wages and changing weekly schedules limited the ability of families to sustain their housing and find better jobs.
At the same time, we learned that sometimes small programmatic changes can address an obstacle. For example, in one region many parents missed appointments at a career center because they weren’t allowed to bring their children with them. The center decided to offer “Child-Friendly Hours” each afternoon so families without child care could participate.
Child care goes hand in hand with a parent’s ability to work
In Connecticut, on average it costs about $11,000/year for one child in day care. For a parent working a minimum wage job at $10.10/hour, child care costs eat up more than half of their yearly income. Access to dependable and affordable child care is one of the biggest factors—if not the biggest—determining a parent’s ability to get a job.
At the end of 2017, we brought together Secure Jobs providers from across the state for a three-day training. In one exercise, the providers were asked to reflect on what they were hearing and learning from their clients. Many providers talked about the immense challenges their clients faced getting jobs and how the program helped. One of the notes simply said, “Top priority is my children.” As we wrangle with big public systems like housing and workforce, and try to figure out new ways to support collaboration, these words remain at the center. The safety, stability, and well-being of young children who have already been uprooted by homelessness is at stake.
Navigating Homes and Jobs
Caitlin and Justin are two of the creative and compassionate frontline staff of Secure Jobs Connecticut. For the past two-plus years they have worked as part of a team to help families transitioning out of homelessness in Fairfield County, CT.
Leaders in the Field: Meet Joel Rivera and Melissa Young
Joel Rivera served as a Secure Jobs Employment and Housing Navigator in the Northwest region of Connecticut. The Trust also supports national organizations like Heartland Alliance and REDF that focus on increasing employment and economic opportunity for jobseekers experiencing homelessness. Melissa Young is the Director of National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity at Heartland Alliance.