A workforce development program for homeless families has been launched in western Massachusetts with the help of a major grant from a charitable foundation.
A one- year pilot program aims to create a coordinated system to help families who have been homeless, or are at risk of becoming homeless get the help they need to gain stable employment. The project is funded by $300,000 from the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Foundation. Susanne Beaton, the Director of Special Initiatives for the foundation called it a test run that will point to the best ways to use increasingly scarce resources on the problem of homelessness.
The pilot program, called Secure Jobs Connect, will serve a very limited number of the roughly 500 homeless families in western Massachusetts. Pamela Schwartz, director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness said the goal is to place 76 participants in jobs and keep at least 61 of them employed by the end of the one- year grant.
Denise Rios, a mother of two , who is currently receiving rental assistance through the state’s homeless prevention program, has been enrolled in the workforce development pilot project. She’s currently in training to become an emergency medical technician
A wide array of agencies throughout the four western counties are part of the project, including employment specialists, community colleges, housing authorities and child care providers. Heriberto Flores, the president of the Corporation for Public Management, the lead employment and training agency for the project, said collaboration is needed to remove the many barriers to employment the homeless face.
Employer participation is critical to success. The program offers businesses payroll subsidies for on-the-job training or will help cover the costs of the payroll tax, workers compensation and liability insurance. Glenn Walulak, a manager with the thrift store chain, Savers, is an employer who is participating in the pilot program.
A top housing official with the Patrick administration, Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein, endorsed the pilot program, at a press conference to announce the grant award from the Fireman Foundation.
Gornstein said Gov. Patrick in his proposed state budget has requested more money for homelessness prevention. Homelessness rose sharply during the recession, but now the number of homeless families is decreasing. The number of homeless families sheltered in motels in western Massachusetts has fallen from 513 at the end of July to 283 as of March 1st