Local agencies get $230,000 state grant to help find jobs for homeless people in western Massachusetts

Last modified: Monday, December 16, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — Some 70 homeless people in western Massachusetts will get help finding jobs thanks to a $230,000 state grant awarded to a network of local human service agencies Thursday.

The employment assistance grant is part of a larger $1.7 million pool of money from the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development that is funding similar programs in the commonwealth.

“Anyone who is homeless will be eligible for this program,” said Ken Demers, vice president of employment and training at the Springfield-based Corporation for Public Management. “We’ll be pulling in referrals from pretty much everywhere.”

The Corporation for Public Management is the lead agency in the Western Homeless Employment Network, a new partnership that includes the Franklin Hampshire Career Center, the Northampton-based ServiceNet, and Construct, a human service agency in Great Barrington. The Corporation for Public Management assists homeless individuals in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties. Demers said the grant will benefit homeless individuals in all four counties in the western part of the state.

The four agencies will use the grant money to address the shortage of employment and training programs for homeless people in western Massachusetts, providing access to career exploration, education, skills training, job readiness training, job placement and support to overcome the challenges homeless people face to achieving self-sufficiency.

Demers said the ultimate goal is get homeless individuals trained in jobs that will pay a living wage, pay their rent and support families.

“The number of families that are currently in motels and family shelters is huge — in the hundreds,” Demers said. “Their need is so great.”

In all, the programs funded by the state grants seek to help 320 homeless people statewide find stable employment.

“Sometimes all it takes is a job for a homeless person to become a self-reliant tenant,” Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary for the Department of Housing and Community Development said in a statement announcing the grants. “Sometimes it takes training and a bit of help for a person to find that job.”

Gornstein said the agencies receiving the grants have done “extraordinary” work over the years, “and I am sure will provide the services and support that their program participants will need to find a job in our growing economy.”

The state grant is administered by the public-private Commonwealth Corporation, and Demers said it also will allow the Corporation for Public Management to continue the employment assistance work with the homeless it already has been doing with partner agencies under a similar $304,000 grant from the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation.

From Feb. 13 to Oct. 31 2013, that foundation grant funded a Secure Jobs Connect program that has enrolled 73 homeless people in the region and placed 43 people in jobs in areas such as health care, retail, manufacturing, and accounting, among others.

Of the 31 participants who began working at least three months ago, 26 are still employed, according the latest progress report maintained by the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness.

“It has been incredibly successful in getting homeless individuals trained and working,” Demers said of the program. “We see it working.”

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.


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