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Realization Project

Demonstration Employment Project for Preventing Homelessness

Overview

The Realization Project is a pilot initiative to prevent persistent homelessness through employment. It addresses chronic homelessness as a problem of racial injustice as well as a problem of inadequate income by providing comprehensive services and skill development that lead to jobs that will pay for rent and a decent life for community college students who are likely to be persistently homeless.

The project was convened by the Economic Roundtable, the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Thirty organizations that participated in planning the project came from organized labor, the nonprofit sector, and state and local government.
All 30 participating organization unanimously agreed to five core principles:

  1. Homelessness is a problem of inadequate income as well as of unaffordable housing.
  2. Employment is an important tool for providing income, dignity and housing for homeless individuals.
  3. Employment interventions should be provided at the onset of homelessness, before individuals are severely harmed by prolonged homelessness.
  4. Interventions should be targeted on employable individuals who want a job but will otherwise become persistently homeless.
  5. Employment interventions should provide comprehensive help, including temporary housing, behavioral health services, job training, and access to high-road employment.

Approach

The Realization Project uses two predictive screening tools developed by the Roundtable to identify community college students who are likely to be persistently homeless.

This approach jumpstarts the current model of giving progressively more help to individuals the longer they remain homeless. Re-employment opens a new line of attack by addressing homelessness as an issue of economic opportunity and human potential. Employment can provide income, dignity and housing for homeless individuals.

Participants receive individually tailored support with a staff-to-participant ratio of one-to-ten. Services include housing, mental health therapy, team building, vocational assessment and mentoring, career planning, access to apprenticeship training for union jobs, academic advisement, coaching on obtaining and keeping a job, and post-employment support. The project’s cohort model fosters a sense of community centered around promoting the achievement of personal goals for employment, housing, and education.

Participants demonstrate remarkable resilience, drive and possibilities for success but they struggle against formidable and unfair obstacles. There are solutions to each person’s problems, but no single solution. The difficulties they are overcoming include poverty, lack of family support, foster care experiences, discouragement, anxiety, depression, gaps in educational knowledge, criminal justice records, and unfamiliarity with living wage occupations.

Culturally Collaborative Framework

The Realization Project employs a participatory approach, viewing all involved parties (the so-called “staff” and “clients” are collectively known as participants, colleagues, or cohort members) as part of a larger ecosystem. Each one in the ecosystem is influenced by internal drives such as a unique sense of purpose, and external contexts, such as lived racial inequities. As stakeholders collaborate to solve common problems, each diverse constituency brings inherently invaluable gifts, perspectives, and voices to the collective dialogue. The design of the project, the delivery of services, and the services themselves have been continuously invented, adapted, and refined based on what has been learned through intensive action and reflection with participants. The project is an ongoing laboratory for successfully serving high-need, high-barrier individuals from historically marginalized communities.

Spiritually Relevant Approach

The project’s curriculum addresses homelessness as an issue of economic opportunity and restoration of the human spirit. Deeply damaging trauma that is profoundly devaluing and confidence-shattering is universal among participants. When participants heal core emotional wounds, they can achieve a personal renaissance. The project operates at a level of fundamental human equity and inherent worth more essential than sociological labels. The project engages spirituality and cultural imagination to awaken these possibilities.

Spirituality is about healing, interconnectedness, authenticity, and/or connection to a higher power. While spirituality does not require religious or sectarian adherence, it is typically engaged through some aspect of cultural imagination. Honoring and promoting diverse entry points into spirituality not only assures cultural relevancy, it facilitates greater self-awareness, confidence, and wholeness across demographic lines. Trauma informed care and unconditional positive regard lay the groundwork for intense discourses on topics including justice, meditation, emotional intelligence, self-esteem, fear, and forgiveness.

Project Methods

The Realization Project’s current recruitment pipelines are the Workforce Development and Basic Needs programs at Long Beach City College. Pre-screened homeless candidates undertake an interview that begins with an explanation of the nature of the project, then determines their probability of becoming chronically homeless using predictive screening tools, and assessing their fitness and motivation to advance in the workforce. Upon signing a project agreement, willing and qualified applicants are welcomed into a cohort.

Once screened, assessed and accepted, participants receive immediate housing and mental health support, and access to the full array of project services. Project staff and participants join in a process of vocational discernment leading to the formulation of participant employment plans. Tenets of community-based research and equity are continuously sharpened through ongoing dialogue with homeless service providers, workforce development experts, faith leaders, elected officials, and other diverse partners, advocates, and stakeholders.

Participants have two weekly group sessions and engage a curriculum focused on professional employability as well as individual psycho-emotional development. Topics, themes, and concepts include resume writing, job searching, home economics, and mock interviews as well as emotional intelligence, self-expression, meditation, and focus. Housing and personal development plans are workshopped for ongoing participant execution. Participants join in a process of vocational discernment leading to employment plans, provide prioritization, benchmarking, and accountability for each other’s goals, and are encouraged to help teach curricular modules.

Research Design

The Realization Project is the only project of its kind in Los Angeles or the nation: an equity-based employment-program providing housing, therapy, and resource services that is rooted in love and evidence-based research. The Economic Roundtable Institutional Review Board will oversee an evaluation, using anonymized data, that documents and analyzes equity-centered practices that enable homeless people of color to avoid chronic homelessness. Data elements for analyzing the project will be documented using CaseFlow case management software and include: 1) referral source, 2) information used for predictive screening, 3) predictive screening probability of persistent homelessness, 4) demography, 5) personal history, 6) homeless history, 7) trauma assessment, 8) personal barriers to stability and long-term employment, 9) employment history and interests, 10) personal goals, 11) vocational assessment results, 12) career plan, 13) housing plan, 14) academic performance, 15) services received, 16) attendance in cohort activities, 17) pre- and post-project Hope Scale scores, 18) individual case management and social work records, 19) type of project exit, 20) duration of participation, and 21) employment and housing outcomes after project exit and at six months.

In keeping with the community-based, equity-driven approach of the project, participants will engage in critiquing the project and identifying challenges, lessons learned and crucial strengths.

Research Report on Best Practices

Findings about project outcomes, methodology and lessons learned will be documented in a report on best practices for whole-person, justice-oriented, employment-based homeless intervention.

Wider Implications

The costs for these “heavy touch” services are offset by avoiding ongoing high public costs that would be incurred if the participants were not helped and became persistently homeless. These net cost savings make the project scalable through linkages with public systems for employment services, public assistance, health care, and the justice system.

Underwriting

The project has been funded by the California Community Foundation, the Weingart Foundation, and the Long Beach City College Foundation.

Project Team

Seth Pickens, MDiv,  EdD, Project Director

Ana Alvarez Amaya, MSW, DSW, Social Work Director

Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi, Strategic Consultant

The project director is Seth Pickens. He can be reached at: seth.pickens@economicrt.org. The social work director is Ana Alvarez Amaya. She can be reached at ana.alvarez@economicrt.org. The strategic consultant is Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi. He can be reached at kokayi@economicrt.org.