One of the newest ways we are incorporating the evidence-based Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model is through the Rapid Rehousing Employment Pilot, a new program that incorporates employment goals as treatment and where the Workforce Partnership acts as a liaison between participants and employers to lower the barrier for those with lived experience of homelessness and mental illness who want to work. The goal is to increase the likelihood that participants will have housing and economic security over the long term.
Since we first reported on this pilot in October, we have had 92 referrals from five partners, including the San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC), South Bay Community Services, PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), Home Start, Father Joe’s Villages and new partner YWCA of San Diego County.
Jasmine Gutierrez and girlfriend Zahra McIntosh first learned about the program when their car collided with a Father Joe’s Villages company van in a parking lot. The other driver being a case manager for the organization, they got to talking about Jasmine and Zahra’s situation. While Zahra was working full-time at Walmart and Jasmine was working part-time at Burlington Coat Factory, they were staying at a homeless shelter.
Jasmine was 23 years old at the time and had been homeless for several months. Because of her age and circumstances, she was considered an at-risk youth. She and Zahra had been couch surfing around Chicago, where Zahra is from, before relocating to San Diego.
Jasmine opened up about the conditions in which she and her girlfriend were in—campground-style showers and portable toilets as restrooms and having to worry about having their possessions stolen.
“The conditions were inhumane,” says Jasmine. “There was sexual harassment. We were all just numbers.”
To lower barriers to employment like homelessness, the Workforce Partnership has been working with the Regional Task Force on the Homeless and the City of San Diego on this pilot program. The Workforce Partnership combines funding from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Workforce Innovation Fund and the City of San Diego, employing specialists to reach out to employers, building and maintaining relationships with our partner providers and providing support to clients while executing the IPS model.
The program’s database and web-based referral process have been helpful in bridging these relationships and taking the burden of eligibility off of the client; the pilot is using a secure web form for referring agencies to upload eligibility documents, so clients don’t have to repeatedly bring in their paperwork for assistance.
After Jasmine was referred to the pilot, Employment Specialist Chris Behr connected with her and learned that she was interested in working at an office setting or as a security guard.
Employment specialists usually call the client within 48 hours after referral to introduce themselves and learn more about them. There is a long list of questions that help employment specialists gather information about the client’s history, social and cultural backgrounds, interests and skills. After a client has expressed her or his desire in a field or type of work, the employment specialists begin a job search with help from the business services representatives at the career centers.
Typically, clients are first placed in housing before the employment piece kicks in. Finding a match between clients and available housing can sometimes take a few months.
Zahra and Jasmine worked hard to get matched with housing. With Zahra matched to an apartment, Jasmine now has peace of mind and time to look for a full-time job.
Due to the nature of the work, employment specialists are expected to spend 60 percent of their time outside of the office, in meetings with clients in their communities, working with their clients on their resumes and cover letters as well as practicing interview skills.
Under the IPS model, clients are supported on a “time-unlimited” basis, meaning that even after a person has begun working, they can choose to get support switching jobs or industries as they wish.
“Jasmine was super excited to be in the program,” Chris says. Her enthusiasm to begin a full-time job was clear, and after two weeks of maneuvering the process, she was hired by Allied Universal as a security guard.
Her first assignment? Being stationed at the very same shelter where Jasmine and Zahra had stayed.
This presented a challenging and awkward situation for Jasmine, who says that upon seeing her, the shelter security guards’ facial expressions went from “smile to frown.”
“I thought I would get some congratulations from the staff [at the shelter] on my new job,” she says. “But nothing. I only heard nice things from the little kids who were staying there. They asked me stuff like, ‘Are you going to protect us?’”
Because of difficulties at her assignment, Jasmine advocated for herself with her employer and was able to switch sites to a residential building where she is happily working. She also recently received a pay raise due to the change in minimum wage requirements.
“Wearing a uniform, I feel like a responsible adult,” says Jasmine. “I hold responsibility.”
Of Jasmine, Chris says, “She could conquer anything she wanted.”
Though their apartment has yet to feel like home, Jasmine knows this is a stepping stone. “It’s the bare minimum, but coming off from the street, it was everything. I don’t have to ask permission [to do anything] no more.”
“I’m still struggling,” Jasmine says. “But I feel blessed.”