A pilot program in western Massachusetts to place homeless people in permanent jobs so that they can eventually leave shelters has far exceeded its first- year goal. The state’s top housing official announced funding will be available to attempt to replicate the program’s success in other regions of the state.
Cindy Ferguson, a single mother of six, was living in a shelter in Springfield last year. Through the Secure Jobs Connect program she got a job at a thrift store which paid enough to help her move to a rent subsidized apartment. She also received tuition assistance and is studying to become a domestic violence councilor.
Ferguson’s experience in the pilot program was one of several success stories told to anti-poverty activists, state and local officials on Friday. Elected officials including a dozen state legislators, representatives from five mayors’ offices, and the state’s top housing official turned out at Holyoke Community College to salute the formerly homeless and the employers who hired them.
The program, which received $300,000 from the Paul and Phyllis Firemen Charitable Foundation, resulted in jobs for 156 parents last year—far exceeding the one year goal of the pilot project to create 61 permanent jobs.
Aaron Gornstein, the Massachusetts Undersecretary for Housing and Community Development said the state will make competitive grants totaling $1 million available later this year in hopes of replicating the program’s success in other regions of the state.
Massachusetts has wrestled with a spike in homelessness. There are roughly 2000 families living in emergency shelters and an additional 2000 families housed in motel rooms.
Pamela Schwartz, director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness, said the jobs program has received funding to continue for another year.
Herbie Flores, president of the anti-poverty agency Partners for Community said the key to the success of the program is collaborations involving educators, workforce development and housing specialists, a myriad of social service agencies, child care providers, and employers.
Participants in the program are employed in a number of sectors including retail, manufacturing, banking and health care. The average wage rate is $10.20 per hour.