Resource Promotes Employment Despite Homelessness, Mental Illness
By Jon Bowen
People with mental illness who are homeless often realize that having a job would
improve their lives dramatically, and most service providers know that finding employment
for them is a crucial step in their journey from lives of dependency and despair to
lives of independence and hope.
Day to day, however, individuals who are homeless often are derailed by the debilitating
effects of their mental illness, and service providers are faced with ongoing challenges
to find adequate resources.
help, SAMHSA has published a new guidebook that provides a blueprint for increasing
employment possibilities. Work
as a Priority: A Resource for Employing People Who Have Serious Mental Illnesses and
Who Are Homeless is designed to help service providers, as well as policymakers,
program managers, case managers, and employment specialists, make informed decisions
as they guide people who are homeless and have mental illnesses into employment. This
new guide offers practical guidance for assisting individuals in finding jobs through
employment service programs.
In preparation for this guidebook, providers of services for mental health and homelessness
across the Nation were surveyed. Text includes summaries of innovative programs that
readers can use as models to create new programs. One example is New York City-based
Project Renewal, a program committed to showing people who are homeless and who have
serious mental illnesses how to make the transition. The organization's Culinary Arts
Training Program, a 6-month tutorial in commercial food preparation, has graduated
40 people since it opened its doors in 1995. The program's job placement rate is 85
addition to its culinary program, Project Renewal provides clients with a variety of
tailored employment services and training in life skills necessary for getting and
keeping a job.
Another program, Life Link in Santa Fe, NM, created its own business advisory committee
to stay attuned to the training and hiring needs of local businesses and to facilitate
employer-employee match-ups. LAMP, Inc., a homeless services agency in the Skid Row
district of Los Angeles, has made a commitment to hiring graduates of its programs
to work within the agency. Approximately one-third of staff members are former guests
First-person testimonials illustrate how important work is to individuals with serious
mental illnesses. One woman writes, "The thought of employment seemed far-fetched
and out of the question for me. But my mind was changed by seeing other tenants working
at various jobs within the building. I thought to myself, I can do that."
guidebook includes a review of the relevant literature, a summary of promising employment
programs, and a discussion of policies and laws addressing employment support services
for people who are homeless and have serious mental illnesses.
The information is presented in seven chapters:
What We Know So Far
This chapter contains a brief review of writings and research studies on employment
for people who have serious mental illnesses and are homeless. Findings presented in
this chapter demonstrate that mental health recovery and homelessness reduction are
directly linked to an individual's ability to obtain and retain a job. This chapter
also outlines the critical elements of successful employment programs, with case studies
provided as examples.
A Recovery-based Foundation
Many people who are mentally ill and homeless view employment as crucial to their recovery.
This chapter presents a framework for providing recovery-based employment and outlines
specific program elements that work. Cultural and environmental factors are also discussed
in this chapter. Health practitioners are encouraged to build their awareness of cultural
differences among the individuals they serve.
For the past two decades, a number of best practices have been developed to increase
employment success for people with serious mental illnesses. This chapter summarizes
a variety of proven employment models. The evidence supports that "long-term
worker role recovery" happens through employment that provides work at competitive
wages, offers the opportunity to work with non-disabled co-workers, and offers
long-term, post-placement support. Information in this chapter can help service
providers plan and establish programs that are designed to facilitate recovery,
provide marketable skills, and expand opportunities needed for successful employment.
The Impact of Homelessness
Many housing programs are not equipped to provide job training and assistance for people
with serious mental illnesses. This chapter addresses personal, program, and system-level
challenges to employment. Case studies provide examples of how to meet these challenges.
Joining the Workforce
Service providers cannot use a "one-size-fits-all" approach to meet the employment
needs of people who are homeless and have serious mental illnesses. This chapter highlights
agencies across the Nation that use flexible and innovative programs to coordinate
employment services. The chapter also describes how collaboration with area businesses
and public housing authorities can help service providers expand and enhance the employment
opportunities they provide. Key factors for developing successful employment services
are also included.
The State Office of Vocational Rehabilitation
State departments of vocational rehabilitation (VRs) can be powerful allies in the
effort to find employment for people with mental illnesses who are also homeless. This
chapter provides an overview of VR services, discusses their effectiveness in meeting
the employment needs of people with mental illnesses, and considers ways to create
collaborations between mental health and VR systems. The chapter describes how selected
VRs are working with people who are homeless and who have serious mental illnesses,
as well as recent VR/mental health integration efforts.
The Right to Work
Several Federal statutes provide a foundation to help people with disabilities find
jobs. This chapter highlights those statutes, including the Americans with Disabilities
Act, the Workforce Investment Act, and the Ticket to Work/Work Incentives Improvement
For a print copy of Work as a Priority: A Resource for Employing People Who Have
Serious Mental Illnesses and Who Are Homeless, contact the National Mental Health
Information Center at P.O. Box 42490, Washington, DC 20015. Telephone: 1 (800) 789-2647
or 1 (866) 889-2647 (TTY). Online, the publication is available through SAMHSA's National
Resource Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness at www.mental
health.samhsa.gov. For more information on homelessness, visit www.samhsa.gov.
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