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Western Massachusetts homeless families to get support finding jobs through pilot program


JERREY ROBERTS
Pamela Schwartz, Ward 4, waits for results at City Hall Tuesday.

JERREY ROBERTS Pamela Schwartz, Ward 4, waits for results at City Hall Tuesday. Purchase photo reprints »

An initiative aimed at moving homeless families in western Massachusetts into permanent housing by linking them to job training and employment opportunities is receiving a boost this winter.

The Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness on Tuesday announced a one-year, $300,000 grant that will be used to launch Secure Jobs Connect, a new employment model backers hope will demonstrate how homeless families can become “housing stable with stable employment,” said Pamela Schwartz, the network’s director.

“This is an opening salvo for a program that we have the intention to grow with success,” Schwartz said.

The grant will pay to hire two or more employment advocates who will work with individual families to map out an employment strategy. Job placement at participating businesses will occur in several different ways: on-the-job training in which Secure Jobs Connect reimburses a business 50 percent of the employee’s gross pay for the first four weeks of employment; supported employment work in which an employer receives a transitional subsidy; or directly into a job.

Schwartz said organizers recognize the importance of business participation and they intend to try to expand this aspect of the program over the next year.

The pilot project is one of four supported by the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation, a Boston organization that awarded the grant for the western part of the state to the Corporation for Public Management.

More than 60 political, educational, employment and community leaders talked about the initiative at a Tuesday morning press conference at Holyoke Community College.

In addition to the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness, other partners include CareerPoint and Service­Net. The latter organizations will offer job development services across the four counties.

The program will also tap into experts across public and private sectors — regional housing authorities, child care providers, community colleges, career centers, state agencies and employers — to provide training, support and other assistance to at least 76 heads of households.

“Collaboration is the cornerstone of the success,” Schwartz said. “It really captures what it takes to conquer homelessness.”

Secure Jobs Connect expects to enroll 95 people over the next year and place 76 of them in jobs.

Program leaders hope that 80 percent, or 61, are still on the job after one year.

To qualify, families must be eligible for emergency shelter and have received short-term rental assistance through the state’s homeless prevention program, called HomeBASE.

Initially about 90 percent of participants will be from Hampden County, based on the region’s HomeBASE population. The remaining 10 percent will be families from Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire counties. Schwartz said the program, if successful, could eventually serve hundreds of people from all four counties.

“We feel really optimistic about the growth of this program,” she said. “Everybody recognizes the opportunity here.”

Tuesday’s press conference featured directors from each community college in the region, each county’s regional employment board and career center, and dozens of housing and other nonprofit organizations and area politicians including Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz and state Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton.

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