A "Jobs First" Approach to Ending Homelessness



By Abby Rolland


As part of harp-weaver’s mission, we seek to provide information about issues in the nonprofit sector and share specific nonprofit/s working on the issue.


For this post, we’re focusing on the concept of “jobs first” or “work first.” A jobs-first approach to ending homelessness builds on the notion that steady paid work provides dignity. These jobs help individuals earn money that can then be used to pay for housing and other necessities. Improving access to employment and economic opportunity for homeless jobseekers empowers them to strive for their aspirations and become self-sufficient. It also can provide purpose and meaning in everyday life, especially as an individual is redefining their life post reentry, in the midst of an addiction, and/or during recovery.


A study focused on Baltimore (with intriguing findings pertinent to Philadelphia) found that “more than 2/3 of people experiencing homelessness expressed interest in looking for employment.” However, the study notes that jobseekers facing housing insecurity report many obstacles in obtaining and sustaining employment due to instability and stigma. Challenges are “exacerbated by insufficient wages, untenable schedules, and the lack of career advancement opportunities.”

All told, the challenges facing jobseekers make the concept of “jobs first” difficult, but necessary, to implement.


One of harp-weaver’s clients funds an organization providing a “jobs first” program. Pathways to Housing is piloting an enterprise called “Good Haul,” Philadelphia’s only nonprofit junk hauling business. Individuals within their rapid rehousing program can apply for and earn a job at Good Haul. Good Haul services commercial properties (e.g., storage units, offices/businesses, rental units, real estate junk removal and property clean-up) and residential homes.


Valerie Johnson, Vice President of Advancement and Special Projects at Pathways to Housing PA, shared more:


We launched Good Haul as a direct result of the needs we saw from our community. One such need was for wage-paid transitional employment positions; our Work First program operates out of the Philadelphia Furniture Bank (PFB), and positions are limited based on the size of our operation. As Good Haul launches, we are able to double the number of positions available. Another need was to keep items out of landfills; PFB already keeps more than $1 million worth of furniture out of landfills each year, and with Good Haul we are able to rescue even more furniture, in addition to reusable household items, technology, clothing, and other items that are donated to nonprofit partners and recyclables like metal and plastic. Finally, there was great demand from the community for furniture donation pickups, and limited capacity to accommodate those pickups by PFB. Good Haul is able to address all of our community needs in one easy and simple operation as Philadelphia only nonprofit junk hauler.


In addition to offering supportive employment to individuals with significant employment barriers, the revenue generated by Good Haul supports furnishing more than 1,400 homes annually through the Philadelphia Furniture Bank. Donated items are tax deductible and pricing for removal is lower than for-profit competitors.


Recyclable items go to recycling, usable items are given to various nonprofits, and only non-usable, non-recyclable items are taken to be trashed. In essence, it’s a social and environmental win – not only is the junk removed at a fair price and recycled or reused if it can be, but employees who are experiencing homelessness can save money and build safety and security for themselves and/or their families.


The same harp-weaver client has also invested in First Step Staffing, a nonprofit temporary staffing agency that was founded in Atlanta and has an affiliate in Kensington. The company helps vulnerable populations, such as jobseekers who are recently experiencing homelessness or reentering the workforce, find open positions with First Step Staffing’s corporate customers.


The work pays a decent hourly wage, and First Step Staffing handles the interviewing and hiring aspect of the work as many companies don’t have the capacity to do so. Temporary employees often convert to full-time employees. First Step Staffing also offers the jobseekers wraparound services, including job coaching and transportation, throughout their time employed.


Similar to Good Haul, First Step Staffing and its model provides individuals the opportunity to earn money, build skills, and provide for themselves and/or their families.


Through First Step Staffing and the Good Haul program, people who have faced barriers to employment can and build lives for themselves. A “jobs first” or “work first” program/organization provides critical resources to individuals who need support to empower themselves in the long-term. harp-weaver is proud to work with clients who see the potential for these programs, as well as organizations committed to hiring people in jobs that will help get them back on their feet.

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