On a single night, over 600,000 Americans experience homelessness. People experiencing homelessness consistently name paid employment as one of their primary needs, alongside housing and healthcare. Recognizing the important role of employment in helping to prevent and end homelessness, the Oak Foundation and the Melville Charitable Trust have joined with Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity to launch the National Center on Employment and Homelessness (NCEH).
NCEH seeks to ensure that everyone who wants to work, regardless of the barriers they face, has the support and opportunities to reach that goal, and will work across programs, systems, and policies to ensure that homeless jobseekers have the support and services needed to succeed in employment. One of NCEH’s flagship efforts will be the Connections Project, a three year, place-based, systems-level collaboration and capacity-building project focused on increasing employment and economic opportunity for homeless jobseekers.
To coordinate the NCEH, our team is happy to welcome back Carl Wiley, who previously worked as a graduate student intern with Heartland’s Policy and Advocacy team. Carl recently received his Masters in Social Work from the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and he has extensive experience working directly with populations experiencing homelessness including with youth at Heartland’s Neon Street Dorms.
Carl recently took a break from his busy schedule to share a bit about what NCEH has planned and why he thinks it is important to address the employment needs of people experiencing homelessness.
By Chris Warland, Associate Director for Field Building, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity
Job quality for entry-level workers in the US is pretty dismal. The minimum wage is historically very low when adjusted for inflation, wage theft and other violations of wage and hour laws are commonplace, and employers often limit workers to part-time status or misclassify them as independent contractors in order to avoid offering benefits or paying overtime. New scheduling software allows employers to assign workers for short, unpredictable shifts in a way that maximizes profit but makes it difficult to plan transportation, arrange for childcare, or work more than one job (which is often necessary when you’re limited to part-time work).
We know that just getting a job is often not enough to allow an individual or family to escape poverty in America. There are millions of “working poor” Americans for whom the promise of hard work as a means to stability and security has not materialized. Over sixty-five percent of households living in poverty contain at least one working adult.
If transitional jobs programs succeed only in moving job seekers from chronic unemployment into low-wage, low-quality jobs, we have failed. We are merely adding to the numbers of the “working poor”—and we can do better.