Editorial: Working one’s way home through Secure Jobs Connect

Last modified: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In the past year, the Secure Jobs Connect program worked with more than 70 homeless people from the area to find jobs — and about 43 of them have landed paying positions. That sort of success deserves to be continued.

The program has been funded by a $304,000 grant from the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation. Secure Jobs Connect could have been a nice, one-year program for the homeless if area groups and state agencies hadn’t stepped up.

Secure Jobs Connect will continue thanks to a $230,000 state grant, an infusion of $1 million for homeless work programs across the state through the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the links Secure Jobs Connect has forged with service agencies such as HAPHousing and FutureWorks Career Center in Springfield and CareerPoint in Holyoke,

This is good news, for there are many more people who need help. Nearly 8,000 homeless people live in western Massachusetts. Hampshire County is home to 350, according to 2013 estimates from the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness, and 130 live in Franklin County.

People wind up homeless for a variety of reasons. According to a report on emergency homelessness assistance in Massachusetts, 37 percent said they needed help because they were in “irregular” housing situations. The next most common reason for seeking services was to escape domestic violence.

Losing home-based rental assistance and living in places not meant for human habitation were other reasons cited. Of respondents, 7 percent said they became homeless after losing a job.

And once someone becomes homeless he or she can wind up in an employment Catch-22: They’re homeless because they don’t have jobs, and they can’t get jobs because they’re homeless. Employment barriers include a lack of access to clean clothes and showers, physical and mental health disabilities, unreliable transportation options, child care costs and the stigma some employers may have against hiring homeless people.

The trend of employers using criminal background checks and credit scores to weed out applicants — even for low-level jobs — can impact homeless people’s ability to find work.

Secure Jobs Connect helps provide a range of job skills training, including paying for a person’s coursework and testing to receive necessary certification. It offers help with writing and perfecting resumes, basic computer literacy and job interviewing skills.

We hope the project can continue its work for years to come.

Of course, many homeless people do already work. Local studies were unavailable, but according to a September article in the New York Times, of that city’s homeless population living in shelters, 16 percent of individuals held jobs. One out of four families in shelters included at least one employed adult.

For many homeless, the solution isn’t just finding a job, it’s finding the right job, or two. That’s what Secure Jobs Connect was able to do for Bonnie Dirth, a 29-year-old single mother living in Holyoke.

Dirth parlayed two part-time jobs into full-time work in the food service industry at Highland Valley Elder Services in Florence and at Outlook Farm in Westhampton. The steady work allowed her to move out of a shelter and pay for her own apartment in Holyoke as well as a car.

In a Gazette article about Secure Jobs Connect, Brad Morse, co-owner of Outlook Farm and Dirth’s employer, puzzled over this: “It’s kind of interesting that you have somebody who is such a good worker who doesn’t have a job.”

She may just have needed a little help.


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