BC Launches Employment Program
In 2006, Building Changes and the City of Seattle Office of Housing led a community planning process to assess the existing connections between the workforce development and homeless service systems. This process began a couple of years into our community's Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness, which included only limited strategies related to increasing economic opportunities for those experiencing homelessness. That process, and the opportunities for action that the resulting report recommended, spurred our community to action. Over the past year, homeless housing and services funders have ramped up their funding, and their expectations, for employment programs serving homeless job seekers. Some homeless housing and services providers have already stepped up to that challenge by developing new employment programs for their clients and tenants or building stronger or new partnerships between mainstream workforce development and educational systems and homeless housing and service providers.
I think that by some measures we're in a better place than we were two years ago - there are new funding resources for this population, and "employment pathways" and other workforce lingo are now spoken and understood by many homeless service providers. However, we don't know exactly how we're doing, because we haven't established benchmarks or coordinated our data tracking systems, and therefore we can't demonstrate whether we are succeeding at the community and systems levels. We also don't know whether the anecdotal successes we've seen so far are sustainable. Are we building capacity, and demonstrating success that can be built upon? Or is this just a blip that may be de-prioritized by funders and providers when we face a funding squeeze in coming years? And how many providers have really embraced and adequately funded the facilitation of work opportunities for their clients and residents?
This past summer, Building Changes launched Community Employment Pathways (CEP). This program seeks to improve employment and education participation, retention, and long-term self-sufficiency outcomes for homeless job seekers by providing workforce development and homeless housing and services providers with the training, tools, strategies, and technical support they need to succeed. We will begin by working in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, and expect to broaden our scope to additional counties and statewide advocacy in 2009. Our activities will focus in three areas: technical assistance, policy/advocacy, and evaluation. We have a strong commitment to "add value", and to not duplicate work being done by our community partners. In King County, for example, we expect to collaborate closely with the Workforce Development Council, Seattle Jobs Initiative, and 2nd Chance Washington (formerly Workforce Education Funding Collaborative), as well as those homeless providers who are already providing job opportunities and training, such as YWCA and now DESC.
We have begun to build our staffing for this initiative. I will direct this program, and Donald Chamberlain (Research, Evaluation, and Policy Strategist) and Ranita Jain (Performance Measurement Specialist) will add their expertise in the advocacy and evaluation aspects of the project. We are also very excited to announce that we have hired our first full-time staff for the program in August: Sarah Cotton, who brings first-hand experience with youth development and workforce programming to Building Changes. Sarah worked for a homeless youth social enterprise in San Francisco and has served as co-chair of the San Francisco Youth Employment Coalition, which represents over 60 public and private non-profit agencies providing employment and job preparation for young people, and graduated with her Master in Public Administration from the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at University of Washington.
You'll be hearing much more from Sarah, Donald, Ranita, and myself over the coming months - so stay tuned!