Supported Employment program helps homeless find jobs
Two immersion weekends at a homeless shelter that connected with service agencies in the 32 blocks of Skid Row in Los Angeles helped solidify Harrison Husting's commitment to "walk with" homeless people as they overcome barriers and find their way back to lives they want.
Through the Catholic Charities Supported Employment program, Harrison walks with about 30 men and women from many backgrounds as they overcome barriers to employment and find jobs that fit their passions.
The immersion weekends were during his studies of economics and urban studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. After graduating in 2017, he served with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) at the House of Charity in Spokane from August 2017 to July 2018.
He lived and reflected with 13 other Jesuit volunteers at two community houses near Gonzaga University. Others worked with St. Margaret's Shelter, Childbirth and Parenting Assistance, Food for All, Second Harvest, Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, L'Arche and Recovery Café.
At the House of Charity, Harrison served as the resident client coordinator, coordinating the day-to-day operations of a program that supported individuals by providing volunteer opportunities and case management to help clients achieve housing and employment.
"Wanting to be part of the solution, I found work that makes that possible," Harrison said.
When his JVC term ended, he began at the Supported Employment program, one of four parts of Catholic Charities' Housing Stabilization program. The others are Supportive Housing, Opioid Use Disorder Peer Support and Coordinated SOAR (SSI/SDI Outreach, Access and Recovery) Initiatives.
Harrison, who grew up in Woodbridge, a small town near Sacramento, was drawn to the spirituality at Loyola Marymount, a Jesuit University.
From living in both the urban setting of LA and a small town, he finds Spokane is a mix of both.
Catholic Charities' supported employment program began two years ago as part of the state's Foundational Community Supports program under expanded Medicaid. Passages, Compass and Goodwill also do it.
Samantha (Sam) Dompier, director of Catholic Charities' Housing Stabilization, said supported employment and supportive housing seek to have people stabilized in housing and jobs to improve their health and wellbeing, reducing Medicaid and health care costs.
Sam—who grew up in Salem, Ore., and graduated from George Fox University in 2011—earned a master's degree in social work at Eastern Washington University in 2012, married and stayed in Spokane. For two years, she was director of the House of Charity and helped start the housing stabilization program in 2018.
"In the House of Charity and St. Margaret's shelter programs, I saw need for services to support vulnerable families with stable housing," said Sam, who now supports a team of case managers to work with more than 70 households in the community to help them find or maintain housing. Currently, 40 are housed and 37 are looking for housing.
Her department works with social service coordinators to provide support for households living in Catholic Charities tax-credit buildings, which have more than 300 units for formerly homeless households. They are at Father Bach Haven, Buder Haven, Donna Hanson Haven, Pope Francis Haven (for families), or Sisters Haven (for families) beside the former Holy Names Convent.
Two other tax-credit housing units under construction will open in January 2020 and April 2020.
"We partner with Catholic Housing Communities, who provide property management and on-site case management, peer support and behavioral health/counseling services," Sam said.
Supported employment is a service under case management. Its goal is to provide ongoing support, helping people identify goals and plans for themselves.
"In the community, I foster relationships to find potential employers, and connect people with employers," Harrison said.
Harrison learns employers' hiring needs, introduces them to some of the job seekers, matches employers' needs with job seekers' goals, helps with applications and appropriate clothing. Then he does one-to-one job coaching after clients are employed.
"Some need extra time to be trained into a position and support to understand what they are expected to do," he said.
Harrison spends time one-to-one in the Catholic Charities office or homes of clients, with 60 percent of his time in the community, taking people to work sites to see what opportunities fit.
Sam said that it's a unique employment program, because it is individualized and supports people to move into a field of their choice, rather than be placed at a job they may have no passion to do.
"We want people to find long-term employment they want to do," he said. "Support after someone is on the job discerns if it's a good fit. For some, full-time work does not fit, but part-time work does. Some are looking for something to do and find purpose, while others want work to rebuild the lifestyles they once had."
Some he helps did not complete high school or have no work experience. Others have master's and bachelor's degrees, or have worked 10 years in industry. Some have had long gaps in employment or have held many jobs for short periods. Some have struggled with mental health, substance use or domestic violence issues, and have gone through rough patches.
Harrison wants the community to know about the program so employers seeking to expand their employee pool will contact him.
"We hope people who have positions to fill will work with us to see if one of our jobseekers would be a good fit, to share industry knowledge, give facility tours, do mock interviews, tell what they look for in resumes and help us help people get a foot in the door," he said.
"Some employers can help us find a fit for clients: One jobseeker with a disability can do telemarketing. One wants to work outside. A mechanic seeks work. Some want to stock shelves in stores. One wants to be a baker. One wants to teach music. One wants to do construction," said Harrison.
"We want to build a network of people with jobs and connect them with people with a passion to do those jobs," he said. "The program is a way for the community to end homelessness.
Harrison found a description for what he does in Fr. Greg Boyle's latest book, Barking at the Choir. It is "seeing the Divine in every interaction." That approach means he learns from people he encounters who have different experiences.
"I take something from every encounter, aware that every person embodies God and wants someone to believe in them. I believe in them and advocate for them," he said.
"No matter what people do or where they are, I can walk with them and be there for them," Harrison said, adding that's what Catholic Charities does. "We do not ask people to change or make them change, but support them in the direction they want to take to improve their lives.
"I believe economic empowerment helps people live the lives they choose, facing and overcoming barriers as small hurdles," he said. "My passion is to help people gain financial independence, which is key to their health and stability.
"Employment is a way to find purpose. Catholic social teaching says everyone has the right to work and to fulfill a purpose," he said. "I seek to help people regain hope and purpose."
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, September, 2019