Innovation in the Spotlight:
hopeFound’s WorkFirst Demonstration Project
In November 2009, hopeFound launched WorkFirst, a three-year demonstration project that seeks to engage recently housed, formerly homeless, individuals in employment services with the goal of job placement, housing retention and social integration. WorkFirst, like Housing First, debunks the idea of “readiness” and assumes that everyone is “ready” for something. WorkFirst integrates specialized employment services with the supports of local Housing First programs. Over the 3 years of the project, hopeFound will work with 140 newly housed men and women, many with histories of chronic homelessness, in this innovative employment program.
hopeFound brings 15 years of experience in employment and homeless services together with evidence-based participant engagement strategies to provide comprehensive services to their program participants. Services are informed by the Stages of Behavior Change Model (Prochaska and DiClemente), and are participant centered, strengths based, and non-coercive. Services provided as part of WorkFirst include:
· Counseling for participants in all stages of employment readiness, including the pre-contemplative stage
· Practical coaching to develop an employment plan, including how work will affect public benefits
· Mobile employment counseling model though home and community visits
· Placement in short term job training with stipends and internship opportunities
· KeyTrain curriculum and WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certification
· Job search and placement supports
· Career resource room, email, voicemail, PO boxes, clothing and transportation assistance
· 18-month job retention support, including on-site job coaching
These services are provided in a low-threshold environment that meets participants where they are in terms of “readiness” for employment. Unlike other employment programs Work First is a truly participant-centered program that does not just place individuals in a job but works with them to discover their interests and helps them acquire the skills needed to not only enter that field but to build a career advancement track.
The Work First program is designed to have minimal eligibility requirements. There are only three criteria for participation:
1. Participants must be newly housed for under 90 days
2. Live in housing without prerequisites or restrictions (Housing First)
3. Participants must be receiving case management
This approach to “screen in” participants means Work First will serve a variety of men and women with unique challenges such as CORI, immigration issues, and a lack of a work history. WorkFirst tackles each of these challenges one at a time with a individualized solution for every challenge.
Participants are typically referred to Work First by Housing First and shelter providers such as HomeStart, Pine St. Inn and hopeFound’s shelter programs. When a chronically homeless individual working with one of these providers is housed, the provider alerts WorkFirst who then begins to engage with the participant. In no way is participation in WorkFirst a requirement of any of these Housing First providers.
WorkFirst aims to work with 140 individuals over the next 3 years with an average budget of $6,400 per participant. WorkFirst is funded with a combination of private and public dollars. They receive funding from 4 private funders and from the Boston ICHH Regional Network through a contact with Pine St. Inn.
Since this demonstration project is just beginning, they do not have outcome data yet. Since November 2009 WorkFirst has enrolled 17 participants, all of whom are in the job search stage. hopeFound has plans for an extensive evaluation of this demonstration project that will evaluate:
· Efficacy – Are immediate, intensive, employment services effective?
· Timing – Does the timing between start of employment services and housing matter?
· Cost effectiveness- Do employment services lead to cost offsets from participant rental contributions?
The outcomes from this evaluation and the participant level data collected will help inform both the homeless services and workforce development fields.
Information for this article was provided by Deborah Putnam and Wendy Lauser of hopeFound and from hopeFound’s organizational literature.
For more information on hopeFound or Work First please contact Deborah Putnam at dputnam@hopeFoundboston.org