People want to work. But unstable housing makes that difficult. When people experiencing housing instability seek help to find housing, we want them to get help finding employment too. That’s not the way it works now.

We’ve been working with some great partners through the Employment Task Force of the Chicago Continuum of Care (CoC) to solve this disconnect and make sure that people in need of both housing and work can get access to both.

When we started, we didn’t even know how many people who seek housing also want help finding a job. To find out, the Task Force successfully advocated for an important question: when people are assessed for a housing placement they are also asked about employment.

What did we learn? Over 60% of individuals who complete an assessment also want help finding a job. Not surprising, but it’s the first time we have the data. Now we’re shining a light on other questions, researching how many people are already getting served by both the homeless response system and the workforce system. (Thanks to All Chicago and the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership for helping us answer this one).

The Employment Task Force started as a time-limited working group that made recommendations for the revision of Chicago’s Plan to End Homelessness (“Plan 2.0”). A powerful group of organizations made those recommendations and decided to keep working together and the Jobs Council has been all in since the beginning. The Task Force’s main goal is simple–making employment a central strategy to ending homelessness in Chicago.  

With our partners at Heartland Alliance, Inspiration Corporation, and Center for Changing Lives, the Jobs Council co-chairs the Task Force. Our first strategy together is to get more people experiencing homelessness into workforce services that would help them get a job.

Because of the leadership connecting homeless response and workforce systems in Chicago, we are part of a city delegation to the national Connections Project, which created a learning community with teams from four other cities: Houston, Baltimore, Seattle and Hennepin County/Minneapolis. From the team in Houston, we saw that it’s possible to connect people to services offered by the housing and employment systems at the same time; Baltimore and Seattle have designed employment navigators that we want to replicate; and Hennepin County focused on youth, prompting a new research project in 2019.    

The Chicago Continuum of Care recognized the work of the Task Force when it launched its Action Agenda to end homelessness last year. The Action Agenda incorporates all of the collective work that service providers, the City, All Chicago, people of lived experience, and advocates are doing together through the CoC. Increasing access to employment is–for the first time–a central strategy. And the Jobs Council is helping to lead the way.

Another big win is the ground-breaking research that Inspiration Corp completed this past summer, interviewing over 90 individuals who were assessed for housing and were interested in employment. Their report showed that 74% of respondents had worked within the past twelve months, and 50% percent had at least some college education. The information gathered through the interviews makes visible the experience of the “working homeless” and the limitations of our existing workforce strategies.

We have a long ways to go before everyone in need of housing and employment services can fully access both in Chicago. But we’re proud to have been a part of many firsts on the road to end homelessness in Chicago:

  • The first time we have data for how many job seekers are coming through the homeless response system
  • The first time that increasing employment is one of Chicago’s main strategies to end homelessness
  • The first research on the employment history and experience of people seeking housing

Interested in learning more and getting involved? Please come to the next Employment Task Force meeting on January 11, 2019 at 9:30 am at the Michael Barlow Center at St. Leonard’s Ministries, or contact Carrie Thomas, carrie@cjc.net.