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HOMELESS EMPLOYMENT REPORT:
Findings and Recommendations

August, 2009
Julia Acuña and Bob Erlenbusch

INTRODUCTION:
Inspired by the Homeless Employment Survey conducted by the House the Homeless, Inc in December, 2007, which led to the May 21, 2009 statewide forum, “Let’s Get to Work Forum and Initiative,” the Employment Committee of the Sacramento Ending Chronic Homeless Initiative [ECHI] decided to administer a similar skilled-based survey [click to download]

The Employment Committee has a goal of 500 surveys on homeless men, women and families.  This report covers the results of the first 182 surveys administered to homeless men and women at the 2009 Sacramento Homeless Connect, held on May 29, 2009.
The goals of the survey are three-fold:

  1. Educate policymakers, including the Mayor, City Council, Board of Supervisors and members of the Ending Chronic Homelessness Policy Board and Interagency Council to break down the stereotypes of homeless people as well as educate them about the work skills homeless people possess as well as the barriers that keep them from working;
  2. Use the results of the survey to help inform the agencies that work with homeless people to change or expand their employment services to homeless people to better meet their needs;
  3. Use the results of the survey to help inform the ECHI in its next iteration of the “10-Year Plan to End Homelessness” to include employment and income recommendations as part of a holistic approach to end and prevent homelessness in the Sacramento region.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:
This report covers the results of 182 homeless men and women respondents that were a random sample of the over 700 homeless people attending the Homeless Connect event.
The goals of the survey were three-fold:

  1. Educate policymakers and the public regarding stereotypes of homeless people, i.e., the high percentage that want to work either full or part time, the job skills they posses and the barriers they face to employment;
  2. Help craft recommendations to nonprofit and government agencies to make employment services more readily available to homeless people;
  3. Use the results and recommendations to help shape employment and income recommendations to the next iteration of the “10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.”

Key findings included:  Top 10 findings include:

  1. Demographics: 69% were between the ages of 21-50 with 30% over the age of 50; 60% were people of color with the largest percentage being African-American [25%]; 60% male and 40% female;
  2. 70% stated several economic reasons why they were homeless - 38.9% had insufficient income and 31.1% lost their job; while over one quarter [26.1%] stated a disability contributed to their homelessness
  3. Over 40% were homeless for more than two years while one-third [29.5%] were homeless for six months or less;
  4. Over 90% were not currently working, however, 87.4% wanted to work either full [70.9% of this total] or part time [20% of this total];
  5. Nearly 60% needed accommodations for their disabilities in order to work either full or part time;
  6. Barriers to work:  Almost 65% cited either a disability [37.6%] or health issue [37.3%] as significant barriers to work; 60% stated they could not find work or had given up looking; 43% cited a combination of lack of training and education as barriers to work; over 40% indicated that being homeless was a major barrier; 40% indicated lack of appropriate clothing and/or appearance was a barrier; while one third [30%] stated lack of transportation was a barrier to finding work;
  7. Job Skills:  40% of those surveyed had a license or certificate for their job skill. Over 40% of the homeless respondents had job skills in either warehouse; while over a third had computer, hospitality; construction and/or retails skills.  This was reflected in the job sector they would prefer, with one quarter preferring to be employed in the construction, warehouse or the food service industry sector.
  8. Education and Training:  81.3% stated they wanted to go back to school to receive additional training, with one half wanting to attend either a four-year college or technical school [27.7% and 22.6% respectively] and over one-third wanting to attend community college.
  9. Agencies that were helpful:  Homeless service agencies were the most helpful [22.4%]; one-third stated that the welfare office [Department of Human Assistance (DHA)] was helpful, divided between General Assistance [18.8%] and CalWORKs [14.3%] followed by the Social Security Administration [18%], and One-Stop Employment Centers [17.3%]. The Employment Development Department and Veterans Administration were the least helpful [14.5% and 10.3% respectively. [Note:  we did not ask respondents a specific question about their veterans status.]
  10. Reasons for lack of help:  Several barriers to receiving employment assistance were noted.  31.6% indicated that they were denied services because they were homeless.  30.6% stated they were unaware of services available to homeless people, while about 25% stated lack of transportation was a major barrier to employment. Other significant barriers included being disabled or having a criminal background. Bureaucratic barriers included long waiting lists, red tape and lack of agency follow-up.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  1. Expand permanent, affordable housing;
  2. Homeless Employment Summit;
  3. Expand free and/or affordable and accessible health care for homeless and low-income people;
  4. Launch an education and public relations campaign;
  5. Increase education and training opportunities to homeless people;
  6. Address disability issues;
  7. Create a Mobile Employment Service Van;
  8. Expand transportation opportunities;
  9. Expand mail, email and voice mail services;
  10. Expand the current Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness by including youth, families and employment and income recommendations.

METHODOLOGY:
The Homeless Employment Survey, conducted by the Sacramento Ending Chronic Homeless Initiative [ECHI],  was modeled after a similar survey conducted by House the Homeless, Inc in December, 2007, which led to the May 21, 2009, “Let’s Get to Work Forum and Initiative,” sponsored by House the Homeless, Inc., Texas Homeless Network and Ending Community Homelessness Organization. 
In addition, at the May 13, 2009 Employment Committee of ECHI we added a range of questions to the Texas survey to expand its scope and then field tested the survey at Women’s Empowerment [an employment program for homeless women] during the week of May 18, 2009. 
Based on the field test, we altered several questions for clarity and we administered the survey at the 2009 Homeless Connect event on May 29, 2009.  Prior to administering the survey, we trained ten of the survey takers in the administration of the survey to ensure reliability.
The survey was completed by 182 homeless men and women responding to the survey questions administered by our survey team.  The respondents were a random sample of the over 700 homeless people attending the Homeless Connect event.

RESULTS:

  1. Demographics:
  • Age: 69% of the survey respondents were between the ages of 21 and 50 years old, with almost 37% being between 41-50 years old.  In addition, over 30% were over the age of 50, with 5% over the age of 60. 
  • Ethnicity:  Almost 60% [58.3%] of the respondents were people of color, with over one-quarter being African- American, with Native-Americans [5.6%] over represented in the homeless population.  Nearly 42% identified themselves as Caucasian.
  • Gender:  Almost 60% [58.3%] were male, 40% female, with about 1% [.7%] identifying themselves a transgender. 

2. Reason homeless?
The top five reasons that respondents identified of why they are homeless are:

  1. Insufficient income [38.9%]
  2. Lost their job [31.1%]
  3. Other [29.4%:  These answers ranged from being kicked out by parent; incarceration; divorce; housing burned down and death of a loved one.]
  4. Disability [26.1%]
  5. Substance abuse [20%]

Note that taken together [insufficient income and lost their job], 70% of the respondents identified economic reasons why they became homeless.
Additional significant reasons were eviction [14.4%], health issues [12.8%] and foreclosure [6.1%].

3. Length of homelessness?
Almost 40% of the respondents were homeless over two years, with almost one-third [29.5%] being homeless for six months or less.

4. Currently working and do you want to work?

Over 90% [91.7%] were not currently working; however, almost 10% [8.3%] were working.  Of those who were working, 44.4% were working full-time, the same percentage working part-time, and 11.1% worked day labor jobs.

Significantly, nearly the same percentage, 87.4%, indicated they wanted to work. 80% [79.9%] wanted to work full-time and 20% wanted to work part-time.

Needing accommodations:  Significantly, again reflecting the high percentage of homeless people who are disabled, nearly 70% stated that in order to work either full or part-time, they would need accommodations at the work place to facilitate their employment, while one-third [33.3%] responded that they did not need workplace accommodations.

5. How long unemployed?
Almost 60% [57.3%] were unemployed for two years or longer, coinciding with the length of many respondents homelessness, with nearly one-quarter [24.1%] homeless for a year or less, potentially reflecting the recent downturn in the economy and increasing unemployment rate regionally.

6. Barriers to working?
Respondents identified a wide range of barriers to securing employment.  The most significant reasons included:

  1. Almost 60% stated they couldn’t find work or gave up looking [44.5% and 14.7% respectively];
  2. 43% stated some combination of lack of training [12.6%]; educational level or lack of education [8.4% and 13.5% respectively] and lack of interview skills [9.6%];
  3. 42% stated that the most significant barrier to working was being homeless;
  4. Almost 40% [39.6%] stated that either lack of appropriate clothing or concern about  appearance [23.6% and 14% respectively] were barriers to work;
  5. 37.6% stated that their disability prevented them from working;
  6. 37.3% identified health issues as a barrier to work;
  7. Almost 30% [28.1%] stated that lack of transportation was a significant barrier to finding work.

Important barriers, but fewer responses, included lack of identification or documentation [16%]; convictions [11.9%]; lack of tools [11.8%]; SSI rules, or the perception of not being able to work while receiving SSI [11.8%]; and age [i.e. too old at 6.2%].

Finally, “other” responses to barriers to work included chronic pain, full-time student, mental illness and retirement.

7. License or certificate:
Importantly, 40% either had a license or certificate for their particular job skill, indicating a high percentage of the homeless are a skilled workforce.

8. Job skills:
As the following results indicate, homeless men and women possess a wide range of job skills:

  1. Over 40% indicated they possessed either warehouse or labor skills or people skills [both with 41.1%];
  2. About one-third stated they had computer [33.5%]; hospitality [32.8%]; construction [32.2%] and retail skills  [29.1%];
  3. About one-quarter of the respondents stated they had either service [27.4%]; office or sales skills [26.1% each]; repair [22.8%]; or healthcare skills [20%];
  4. “Other” responses included  stockbroker; cook; cosmetology; firefighter; union construction jobs, iron worker; landscaping; nurse and truck driver.

9. Top employment sector choices:
These job skills also correlate with the employment sector choices that respondents stated they would like to work, including:

  • About one-quarter indicated they wanted to work either in the construction sector [26.1%]; warehouse or the food service industry [both with 24.2%];

Additional significant responses included the human service sector [19%]; administrative or clerical sector [16.6%]; customer service [15.7%]; or the installation and repair sector [15%].

10. Education and training:
81.3% stated they would like to go back to school to receive additional training. 
Of these, over one-third [35.8%] stated they would like to go back to community college to receive additional training; while half [50.3%] stated they either wanted to attend a four year college or technical school for additional education and training [27.7% and 22.6% respectively]. 
Significantly, over one-third [34.1%] stated they would like to receive their GED or receive vocational rehabilitation training [18.8% and 15.3% respectively].  Finally, nearly one-third responded they would like to receive continuing education, adult education or take courses on-line [11.7%, 10.2% and 8% respectively].

11. What agencies [government and/or nonprofit] have been helpful?
Homeless respondents indicated that overall nonprofit homeless programs [22.4%] where more helpful than any single government agency. 
Overall, about one-third stated that the welfare office [Department of Human Assistance (DHA)] was helpful, divided between General Assistance [18.8%] and CalWORKs [14.3%].  Additionally, about a fifth of respondents [18%] stated the Social Security Administration [SSA] was helpful, while 17.3% indicated that that the One-Stop Career Centers where helpful. 

Finally, the Employment Development Department [EDD] and the various programs the Veterans Administration were least helpful [14.5% and 10.3% respectively]. [Note:  we did not ask a specific question about their veterans status.]

12. How have these agencies been helpful?
Of the nonprofit and government agencies that were helpful, nearly 40% [37.7%] of the respondents received help with resume writing and almost one-third [29.9%] received the benefit for which they applied.  In addition, about one-quarter received assistance with transportation [27.3%], the provision of an address to receive mail, or assistance receiving email or voicemail [27.3%]; found employment for the respondent [27.3%]; received interview skills [26%] or helped the respondent enroll in school [22.1%].

A much smaller percentage of respondents received help enrolling in a job training program [19.5%]; received computer training [16.9%] or received on-the-job support [15.6%].

13. Why have they not been helpful?
About one-third stated they were denied services because they were homeless [31.6%] or they were unaware of services available to homeless consumers [30.6%].

In addition, over one-quarter [27.6%] did not have transportation to the agency to receive assistance.
Significant responses of why they did not receive assistance included:

  1. Disabled [18.6%];
  2. Criminal background [17.5%];
  3. Long waiting list [15.3%];
  4. Too much “red tape” [14.3%];
  5. Turned away from agency [14.3%];
  6. No follow-up from agency [11.2%];
  7. Lack of computer skills [10.2%]

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  1. Permanent, affordable housing:  As this survey clearly indicates, one of the major barriers to homeless men and women finding employment is safe, decent, affordable permanent housing.  In order to stabilize lives, both in terms of overall health as well as securing and retaining employment, to end and prevent homelessness, policymakers must find the political will to create enough permanent and affordable housing for all in the Sacramento region.

  2. Homeless Employment Summit:  The Policy Board, in partnership with the Interagency Council and Chamber of Commerce, needs to convene a Homeless Employment Summit whose purposes include addressing  the economic reasons why people become homeless [i.e. Lack of a living wage; job loss, evictions and foreclosures].  In addition, to advocate to remove barriers of government agencies to employment of homeless people with the goal of creating full access for homeless people to receive these services as well as to work to create living wage jobs for homeless and low-income people.  These include, put are not limited to :
    • Ensuring that the federal stimulus funding, including the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing funds, and Community Service and Community Development Block grant [CSBG and CDBG] funds are fully integrated to avoid unnecessary duplication as well as ensure that the housing system and the employment system in our community are working together for the same goal: to end and prevent homelessness;
    • Expanding “On-the-Job Training” and “On-the-Job Support” for homeless people;
    • Create a Homeless Apprenticeship Program in partnership with trade unions [primarily the construction, warehouse and food industry trades as this survey indicates] the City and County and private industry to expand job opportunities for homeless people;
    • Create a Homeless-Community College Partnership to expand the educational and job training opportunities of homeless people.

  3. Access to free or affordable health care:  Again, as the survey indicates, a major reason why people become homeless as well as a significant barrier to securing employment are health issues.  The County must restore funding and expand access to preventative mental and physical health care to homeless people to help them overcome these barriers.

  4. Launch an education and public relations campaign directed by the Policy Board of the Ending Chronic Homeless Initiative to educate policymakers, city and county officials, employers and the public to help diffuse the stereotypes of homeless people.  As this survey found, almost 90% of homeless people want to work; 40% have a license or certificate; the homeless population has a broad range of marketable and employable skills and over 80% want to return to school or receive additional training.

  5. Increase education and training opportunities to homeless people:  Overwhelming, over 80% of respondents, want to go back to school or to receive additional training to increase their education and skill level to increase their employability.  Since few homeless people in the survey indicated receiving computer training, these opportunities include dramatically closing the “digital divide” between homeless and housed people to increase the competitiveness of homeless people in the job market. 

  6. Address disability issues:  Work with disability advocates and employers to fully address the disability barriers to employing homeless people, focused on the need for creating accommodations at the workplace, which 70% of respondents indicated they needed to work either full or part time.  In addition, expand the purview of Sacramento County Disability Advisory Commission to include issues facing homeless people.  In addition, educate homeless people about SSI rules and employment services.  As this survey indicates, homeless people do not know if they can or cannot work if they receive SSI, while about one-third were not informed of the various employment services in the community.  Thus, we recommend a Peer-to-Peer model, hiring a team of five homeless consumers to educate other homeless individuals about these rules and services.

  7. Mobile Employment Service Van:  Create a Mobile Employment Service Van that performs employment outreach to homeless people.  In addition, equip the van with computers and cell phones so that homeless people can perform job search, write resumes as well as follow-up on job interviews.

  8. Expand transportation opportunities:  Clearly, lack of transportation is a major barrier for homeless people to seek, secure and retain employment.  We recommend either free or deeply subsidized light rail and bus vouchers for homeless people who use this transportation for employment purposes.

  9. Expand mail, email and voicemail services:   We recommend universal coverage of a mailing address, email and voicemail services for homeless people to dramatically increase their chances for employment.

  10. Include Employment and Income recommendations in the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.  The 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness was fairly limited in scope, focused on ending homelessness for “chronically” homeless people and was void of any employment and income recommendations. We strongly urge the Policy Board and policymakers in general to expand the vision of this plan and include youth and families in the plan as well as a full range of employment and income strategies focused on ending and preventing homelessness in our community.

CONCLUSION:
This is the first in a series of reports on the employment issues facing homeless men, women and families.  Again, this is a preliminary, and hopefully very instructive, report on the employment skills and barriers to employment faced by homeless people based on 182 surveys of homeless men and women attending the Homeless Connect event in late May, 2009.

We will be adding additional survey results from the same survey administered by the Downtown Partnership Street Team, again focused on homeless men and women in downtown Sacramento.  In addition, we will be adding survey results of homeless male and female residents in the homeless programs Mather Community, Sacramento Area Housing Emergency Center, SERNA and Cottage Housing, and Women’s Empowerment, an employment program for homeless women.

Finally, we plan to perform additional statistical analysis to this data to see if there are any significant difference in employment, skills and barriers depending on age, ethnicity and gender.

Finally, the driving goal of this survey is to ensure that Sacramento fully embraces this results of this survey and focuses on the skilled-base and asset-based results and uses these results to integrate a housing first with an employment and income-ready approach to ending and preventing homelessness.

APPENDICES:

    1. Survey instrument
    2. Data results:  Tables and Graphs
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