With contributions from Melissa Young.

We hear a lot about housing shortages these days. How common is housing insecurity? Are there geographic areas more deeply affected than others?

By many measures housing insecurity is at epidemic levels across the country. In no state, metropolitan area, or county can a worker earning the federal minimum wage or prevailing state minimum wage afford a two bedroom rental home at fair market rent by working a standard 40-hour week. In only 22 counties out of more than 3,000 counties nationwide can a full-time minimum-wage worker afford a one bedroom rental home at fair market rent.

For example, in California, a household needs to earn $5,665 monthly or $67,976 annually to afford a two bedroom rental home at fair market rent. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into an hourly Housing Wage of $32.68 an hour to afford a two bedroom apartment and not pay more than 30% of income on rent. Right now, the minimum wage in California is $11.00/hour – a long way off from the Housing Wage needed to afford housing in the state.

Based on the point in time count which estimates the number of people experiencing homelessness, over 550,000 people nationally experienced homelessness in 2017. Among those, the majority of individuals were over 24 years old (69.6%.) 60.5% of people identified through the point in time count as experiencing homelessness identified as male. 60% of people identified as a person of color.

How common is housing insecurity for post-secondary students or people seeking job training?

Many college students struggle to find adequate, affordable housing options near their campus. A number of students attend school while homeless. More than 56,000 college students indicated they were homeless on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in 2013—and that figure almost certainly underestimates the true total. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2009 to 2011, 51.8% of students living off campus and not with relatives had incomes below the poverty level. In the largest national survey assessing the basic needs security of university students 36% of university students were food insecure in the 30 days preceding the survey. Housing insecurity affected 46% of community college students in this year’s study. 9% of university students were homeless in the last year. 12% of community college students reported being homeless in this year’s survey,

Based on community-level survey data of individuals experiencing homelessness we know that many individuals experiencing homelessness have a job training certificate or license and/or some training or college experience. Many individuals experiencing homelessness have a high school degree or equivalent. Recent evaluations of sector-based job advancement programs have indicated that almost a quarter of the population served lived in public housing, received housing vouchers, had reduced rents, or lived in group shelters. As implementation data becomes available through the public workforce system under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), we may know more nationally about how many people participating in job training programs face housing insecurity or homelessness.

Lastly, we know that many people are working full time and living in their cars, other temporary living situations, or with others or are at risk of homelessness. As many as 44% of people who experience homelessness earn some income through work. A recent study using Chicago’s Homeless Information System and Chicago Public Schools data found the gap in income between families experiencing literal homelessness or considered at risk of homelessness was razor thin. In the Chicago study, the average monthly income level among families was $1,109 for families experiencing literal homelessness and $1,269 for families considered at risk of homelessness—a difference of only $160.

For funders in the education and job training space, why does housing insecurity matter? What is the link between the two? What are the barriers people facing homelessness encounter when trying to attend school or get job training?

An extensive body of evidence links housing and income stability together. Many individuals experiencing homelessness identify unemployment as a primary cause of their homelessness. Numerous studies find that increased income is a strong predictor of a person exiting homelessness. Loss or sudden fluctuations in income are often a precursor to eviction. Eviction and displacement from housing can lead to job loss and has the potential to trigger a host of negative consequences that can make it more difficult for individuals and families to be successful in work, therefore perpetuating their housing and employment instability.

New research on the propensity of youth homelessness indicates young people with lower household incomes are more likely to experience homelessness; a lack of a GED is a significant risk factor among youth. Research tells us that individuals experiencing homelessness consistently rank paid employment alongside healthcare and housing as a primary need. When parents in families experiencing homelessness are asked to name one thing that would most help get their family back on its feet, the most common answer is employment.

Most people experiencing homelessness or housing instability want to work or may be working already but are not earning enough to make ends meet or keep a stable roof over their heads. As many as 44% of people who experience homelessness earn some income through work. Research on youth homelessness indicates that many youth have work experience but that jobs alone may not be enough to prevent young people from becoming homeless.

The barriers faced by people experiencing housing instability and homelessness include personal, situational, and structural barriers to employment. They may include not having a fixed address or identification; lack of access to safe, consistent, and affordable transportation or child care; or lack of access to a bathroom, laundry facilities, or work appropriate clothing. Additional barriers may include lack of or inadequate education or job skills, inconsistent work history, mental or physical health challenges, substance use challenges, or histories of trauma, violence, or abuse. Finally, barriers to employment may also include having a criminal record or employer discrimination.

What does the latest research tell us about the most effective ways to successfully pair homeless youth and families with job training and education? Can you tell us a bit more about strength-based approaches?

Individuals and families experiencing homelessness and housing instability are not a monolithic group so tailoring employment, education, and job training to individuals’ interests and needs is critical. Evidence suggests that for many individuals, access to paid work opportunities through subsidized employment or transitional jobs programs can be particularly effective at ensuring that individuals have access to income to meet their basic needs, a recent work reference, and opportunities to build peer networks and connections.

For many individuals facing homelessness and housing instability, education and job training are important elements in ensuring access to better jobs. However, we know that many individuals and families cannot afford to participate in training programs without access to income or may lack skills needed to be eligible for training programs. To this end, we’ve seen some evidence that paring approaches that combine contextualized adult basic education and training with subsidized employment and transitional jobs programs can support access to earned income and improve skills over time. Finally, we’ve seen evidence that sector-based training programs can produce significant earnings gains for low-income individuals – not all of whom are necessarily housing instable. Promising practice suggests orienting workforce development programs under a set of principles that include being strengths-based and trauma informed and integrating therapeutic approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing into programming.

Finally, for families experiencing homelessness there may be opportunities to blend employment services with Rapid Rehousing programs in meaningful ways that include wage subsidies and access to training and supports. Our brief illuminates the ways in which Rapid Rehousing models can be enhanced through employment services.

What policies and regulation changes should funders and community service providers be aware of?

One of the most insidious national conversations in the last couple of years has been about applying work requirements to the receipt of public benefits access to housing supports, food, and healthcare. We know that work requirements are ineffective, costly, perpetuate inequity, and serve only to deny people access to benefits that make it easier and more likely that they will be successful in work. Our team has developed an infographic and webinar to help illuminate these issues and spark action. We anticipate that this will continue to bubble up in the next year and we hope that funders and community based service providers will weigh in and find ways to push back against these harmful policies.

On the positive side, there are opportunities within our nation’s public workforce system through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to serve the needs of jobseekers facing barriers to employment—including individuals and youth facing homelessness and housing instability. Our toolkit offers suggestions for a range of stakeholders, including funders, to be involved in local and state planning and implementation efforts. We hope that funders and community based providers lean in to efforts in their own community to ensure that our public workforce system works for all.

Also, there are opportunities within the Child Care Development Block Grant to ensure that families experiencing homelessness get access to child care resources – especially while they are participating in job training. We hope that funders and community based organizations engage with their state to understand how these resources are being used effectively to support homeless families. Also, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant can be used in effective and creative ways to support the employment needs of families experiencing homelessness. Our brief outlines several opportunities for states.

Finally, there’s growing momentum nationally for big ideas like establishing a national subsidized employment program that would ensure that everyone who wants to work has access to employment – including individuals facing housing instability and homelessness. We know that policies like this have immediate and long-term ripple effects for families and children in profound ways. Our team has been working on these issues for over two decades and has a wealth of knowledge and resources. As these policies continue to gain momentum we hope that funders and community based providers will weigh in on the value of these ideas and help build inclusive coalitions to advance them.

What can funders do?

Engage. We hope that funders engage in conversations in their communities about the link between housing stability, homelessness, and employment. In many places across the country, these conversations are developing and funders have unique contributions and can learn a lot by sitting at tables with community based providers, systems leaders, and other stakeholders.

Catalyze. In places where the conversation may not be developed around the intersection of these issues, we hope that funders begin to catalyze them. Funders have a unique role to play in convening stakeholders, asking questions of their systems, and jumpstarting solution-focused conversations.

Innovate, Enhance, and Support. We still have a lot to learn and do in the space of integrating housing and employment, education, and training solutions for individuals and families who face housing instability. We hope funders seek ways to enhance efforts at the systems change level in their community and nationally. This could take the form of piloting housing and employment demonstration efforts, data linking between homeless and workforce systems, improving coordinated access systems, addressing funding flows and performance barriers, or supporting efforts that demystify and educate stakeholders about individuals and families facing housing instability, their needs, and what systems can offer or provide in the community.