Service Connector agencies offer view of working with housing choice voucher holders - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Service Connector agencies offer view of working with housing choice voucher holders

Heartland Human Care Services and Centers for New Horizons describe challenges and successes of working with relocating CHA families.

At the Housing Choice Voucher Working Group meeting in May, representatives from two Service Connector agencies, Heartland Human Care Services (HHCS) and Centers for New Horizons, discussed the challenges and successes of serving families who have relocated while their homes are being redeveloped as part of the CHA Plan for Transformation. Mary Howard and LaRhonda Magras of HHCS and Andre Kellum of Centers for New Horizons stressed the importance of workforce development and job placement programs to help residents transition to employment and self-sufficiency. While both agencies have made progress in the communities they serve, engaging residents not familiar with the Service Connector’s mission and those who have multiple barriers to employment are difficult tasks.

In 2006, HHCS became the Service Connector provider for residents in the Kenwood, Oakland and Douglas communities, where 200 households living in CHA developments or with housing choice vouchers (HCVs) are eligible for the program. Data for March 2006 indicate that engagement is lower for households with HCVs (44 percent) than those in public housing developments (66 percent). The assumption is that the longer a household has been using an HCV, the more difficult it is to engage in the program. In addition, many of these households were unaware of the services and opportunities offered through the Service Connector program. As a result, engaging families in scattered sites and those with HCVs requires alternative outreach strategies. To increase participation among these families, HHCS Service Connector staff is available after hours and on the weekends to accommodate residents who are interested in the program but unavailable during regular business hours.

The need for workforce development and employment placement programs is critical for relocating CHA residents. According to Mary Howard, transitional job programs are important for CHA families, who face multiple barriers and are prone to cyclical unemployment. While 55 percent of engaged households are employed, 44 percent of able-bodied residents served by HHCS are unemployed. To assist these households in acquiring sustainable jobs, HHCS realizes the need for training programs, transitional jobs, and partnerships with local businesses. Currently, HHCS works with the bridge program at Dawson Technical Institute to provide residents with job training opportunities. However, additional programs and creative strategies are needed to address the varying needs of residents in these communities.

Similarly, residents served by Centers for New Horizons (CNH) in the Bronzeville and greater Southside communities need Service Connector programs that offer job readiness and skills training, as well as job placement opportunities. In Bronzeville, 36.1 percent of the population is of working age, and 50.8 percent of these individuals are unemployed. In response to the need in this community and the reality that CHA families cannot remain lease-compliant without adequate income, CNH restructured its Service Connector program in 2005 from a focus on social services to an employment placement model. As described by Andre Kellum, the new approach addresses the lack of local business engagement by targeting employers and finding out what their labor force needs are and what they have to offer the community. In implementing this new strategy, CNH discovered there are three chambers of commerce in the Bronzeville community and the major industries in the area are retail, banking, construction, and social services. With this information, CNH now works with “customers” (residents) to find employment appropriate for their interests and skills, and ensure they meet an employer’s requirements. According to Kellum, one of the major challenges CNH faces is “selling the program” to CHA residents, particularly when residents are misinformed about what the Service Connector is and what services and opportunities it has to offer.

Click here to access recommendations and program results from Andre Kellum’s presentation .

When asked about future needs and recommendations, both HHCS and CNH suggested that creative ideas, as well as research of innovative programs across the country, are necessary to adapt current strategies and improve resident services and outcomes. Moreover, additional funding is needed for programs and staff in order to make workforce development a larger component of the Service Connector. Finally, local business support has a major impact on the likelihood that workforce development programs will be successful in communities where CHA residents have relocated. It is imperative that efforts are made to engage local businesses and that these businesses take the initiative to support the task of transitioning community residents to self-sufficiency.

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