Creating A Homeless Workforce: The Heartland Alliance and the Federal Bonding Program Suggest Opportunities

By: Tim Houchen
October 1, 2018 —

It has been a long-time personal goal of mine to become actively and collaboratively engaged with stakeholders locally in the creation of a jobs program for persons experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, this idea has been somewhat of an enigma for me mainly because I have spread myself too thinly over a broad range of issues relating to homelessness. Most often, when prioritizing tasks according to the levels of urgency, I find myself focusing more on saving lives than trying to improve the lives of the people I’m trying to save.

To be a true advocate for the homeless, you really have to willingly subject yourself to the very worst perceptions of the general public. Attending community meetings or town hall meetings on homeless issues is not my idea of fun at all. Some of the most hateful things I have ever heard were directed at homeless persons and even homeless advocates during these proceedings. I sometimes have to force myself to address issues that often erupt in the comment sections of local online news articles relating to homelessness. Still, I am compelled to do these things.

Town hall meetings and comment sections give me no entertainment or amusement, but they have done a world of good for my patience. Although humbling, patience didn’t come until I understood the value of listening. If you can find a way to wade through the rhetoric and hateful crap, you can begin to drill down on the real underlying doubts and fears that the general public has about homelessness. I have found in this process clues that might appease the wishes of homeless naysayers. Maybe.

One of the common threads of discussion that I hear in the background nearly every time that public perception and homeless reality meet, is the topic of employment. In all of my experience, almost nothing that rolls from the mouth of the general public makes more sense. Yes, homeless people need to get jobs, but what is it that we could do to really help them?

I know, many persons experiencing homelessness are already working, but doors need to open to greater opportunities in the future. There absolutely must be a pathway to future self-sustainability or even better through employment and there needs to be a way for homeless workers to be housed. If we intend to create programs either publicly or privately, perhaps bridge housing would be a better solution than homeless shelters. Any employment program should be aimed at establishing goals for homeless empowerment rather than homeless entitlement.

I have numerous other ideas, but I want to save them for a larger discussion with a larger audience that is dedicated to creating a path to success for homeless persons that choose to be successful. My goal would be to create a model for best-practice so that it would benefit many homeless persons and perhaps re-shape some of the negative perceptions that the general public has pertaining to homelessness.

For the past several years I have gathered information regarding employing the homeless from the Heartland Alliance. In July, I attended the National Conference on Homelessness in Washington D.C. where I did successfully network with many people involved with employment programs for the homeless through the Heartland Alliance. Heartland Alliance is an organization in support of people in poverty by advocating for housing, health care, justice, jobs, etc. They offer more information and resources regarding employment for persons experiencing homelessness than any single organization that I am aware of.

Be sure to visit the Heartland Alliance website to get more information regarding several different national initiatives that they are involved with. Anyone looking for information regarding employment for people experiencing barriers to finding and keeping their jobs because of being homeless, having poor credit history or having criminal records, should look at the Employer Engagement Toolkit.

My research with the help of Heartland Alliance, has led me to other resources that are available and will amount to being critical to any employment program that plans for the success of people experiencing homelessness. There are two such resources found at Heartland Alliance that I recommend that you take a look at. The Federal Bonding Program is a no-cost means for businesses to mitigate the perceived financial risk of hiring individuals with barriers to employment. Also, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) offers cost savings to employers who hire individuals with barriers to employment.

So, please look at these links and let’s see if these or other resources at Heartland Alliance will be helpful in moving forward with a homeless work program here locally in Orange County or if you are not local use this information and be sure to share what you have gained from the information.

I have created a group on Facebook dedicated to helping homeless people to find work and as a platform for discussion among advocates in creating a model employment program. Please join my Homeless Work Program Policy Group on Facebook.


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About the Author

Tim Houchen
Tim Houchen was homeless and living at the Santa Ana Civic Center between 2011 and 2015. He began advocating for the homeless community there while he was still homeless as a founding member of the infamous Civic Center Roundtable. The “grass roots” organization was composed of homeless individuals living at the civic center and Houchen was elected to serve as the groups first official spokesman in 2014. Tim is now in permanent supportive housing and lives in the City of Anaheim where he serves as a Commissioner of Housing and Community Development. Tim is also a member of the Orange County Continuum of Care and serves as Co-Chairman of the Homeless Providers Forum. He founded the nonprofit, Hope 4 Restoration, in 2017 and serves as Executive Director of the organization. Houchen created this site as a vehicle to share his knowledge, information and most of all, his experience which allows him to view the current homeless crisis in Orange County from a different and very unique perspective, a “Homeless Perspective.”

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