It’s More Complicated Than, “Just Get a Job.” Why Housing Has to Come First.
Last Updated: 17 Nov 2022
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So, if getting a job isn’t always viable for an unhoused person, what’s the answer? Let’s take a look at why we employ a housing-first model.
When Mark Pitre was released from jail, his first priority was finding a job. It seemed like the natural first step. He was ready and eager to turn his life around, and he knew he needed employment to find housing and start building financial security.
However, finding employment proved to be much more difficult than he expected. To apply for pretty much any job, he needed a photo ID and a social security card, neither of which he had.
He ran into constant roadblocks trying to accomplish this seemingly simple task—he would find a ride to the DMV, only to find it was closed. Certain documents required him to pay a fee, which he couldn’t afford. Certain job applications were online only, and he had limited internet access.
All the while, Mark was staying on the streets or in shelters, eating sack lunches where he could.
“Trying to turn your situation around when you’re living in your car or on the streets is just more difficult to do,” he said. “People assume it’s easy to get a job. But when someone is sleeping under a bridge or in the dirt, getting an application done can be challenging, much less going to an interview.”
So, if getting a job isn’t always viable for an unhoused person, what’s the answer? We believe that being housed is most often the most successful and long-term viable option for someone in this kind of situation, which is why we employ a housing-first model in our Community Services programs.
What is a housing-first model?
A housing-first model is exactly what it sounds like: a homeless assistance approach that places permanent housing as the primary first step towards recovery. It employs five simple, yet crucial components that help our clients not only get back on their feet, but stay there.
1. Immediate access to permanent housing with no strings attached
“The most important part of the housing-first model, of course, is immediate housing with no conditions,” said Brittany Pierdolla, a Navigator within Endeavors’ Community Services program. “We don’t require somebody to get sober first or get a job first. None of those things are realistically sustainable without a roof over your head.”
2. Consumer choice and self-determination
Within this model, it’s crucial that our clients have their own choice when it comes to the place they live. We never hand over a mandated apartment—instead, it’s a process of finding what works for them, keeping their preferences and needs in mind. “It’s important to let them make those decisions. If you don’t, it’s not their life anymore,” said Brittany.
3. Recovery orientation.
Most of the people we work with either have some kind of mental health diagnosis or substance use, or maybe both a lot of the time. So we keep the recovery process at the forefront when using this model.
“We let them move at their own pace and encourage recovery without requiring it. We focus on harm reduction and helping them move step by step without forcing anything on them.” This makes for a more autonomous, self-determined recovery process.
4. Individualized and client-driven support.
Using an individualized, client-driven approach is crucial. “Not everybody needs the same thing,” said Brittany. “Some people need a lot of structure, some people need a more hands-off approach. It all depends on the person.”
5. Social and community integration
Neighborhood connection is vital to make sure the client feels connected to their new neighborhood and part of town. “Sometimes, we’re moving them across town,” said Brittany. “If this isn’t where [the client] started, we get them connected to resources in their new area.”
Why housing-first works
So why does the housing-first model work? We believe that it’s more effective to help provide people with the tools they need to recover from a homelessness experience.
If we were to require somebody to find and maintain a job before allowing them into housing, they might stay unhoused forever. However, if we provide them with the tools to find a job and keep a job, they have an opportunity to climb out of the cycle of poverty.
Endeavors’ supportive housing programs provide permanent supportive housing to chronically homeless adults who have a disabling condition. In these programs, clients who suffer from mental health conditions, developmental disabilities, or substance abuse disorders have access to supportive housing and long-term mental health counseling, employment assistance, educational services, life skills training, and basic needs such as food, clothing, and medical care.
“It’s just not realistically sustainable if you do it any other way,” said Brittany. “If you’re living under a bridge, how are you going to keep a job? We need to get you your number one priority, which is a safe place and safe shelter. And that will lead you to more success.”
“A place to sleep is a precursor to getting a job,” said Mark. “If I was trying to turn my situation around, living in my Jeep or in a car or anything like that, it is just more difficult to do.”
Now a housing services specialist for Endeavors, Mark is adamant that the housing-first model works, because it worked for him and he has seen it work time and time again. “Everybody needs a place to live,” he said. “It’s hard to turn your situation around when you’re out on the street, no matter how badly you want to.”
“Endeavors is a sanctuary that offers wraparound services and a housing-first model,” said Mark. “It’s the key to our clients’ success.”
Endeavors is a longstanding national non-profit that provides an array of programs and services in support of children, families, Veterans, and those struggling with mental illness and other disabilities. Endeavors serves vulnerable people in crisis through innovative personalized services. For more information, please visit www.endeavors.org.