Resurrecting Dreams: Focusing on Employment To Support Recovery

The Jericho Project’s Workforce Opportunities program helps people in New York City’s supportive housing programs secure jobs that pay above minimum wage.

In the early 1980s, with the crack cocaine epidemic was in full swing, many in the nonprofit world and government deemed people who used crack and were experiencing homelessness as hopeless. But the Jericho Project, an early provider of supportive housing that was founded in 1983, disagreed, and took a recovery-oriented tack. Staffers understood that for those who have been struggling with substance use and experiencing homelessness—often for decades—recovery and having a place to live opens up a whole new world to them.

“We’ve stressed that working is part of people being productive and having self-esteem,” says Executive Director Tori Lyon. “So from day one, we’ve always focused on people finding meaningful employment.”

Program Growth and Success

With some 500 units of supportive housing—and a new residence in the Bronx slated for late 2015—the Jericho Project has quadrupled the number of people it serves since 2011, including opening 80 units of scattered-site housing for veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The average length of stay in its housing is 2.5 to 3 years.

As with many other service providers, the Jericho Project’s objective is to be a stepping stone to a better way of life for the 1,600 adults—including 550 veterans—and children it serves annually: 90% of the residents in recovery from a substance use disorder have maintained their sobriety. In addition, each year 10% of the population moves out of Jericho Project units and into their own housing—about twice the rate of other supportive housing programs in New York City—which means the Jericho Project is able to help more people. Transitioning 30 to 50 residents annually is like building a new supportive housing residence every year without spending a cent, Lyon says.

What separates the Jericho Project from other organizations in greater New York City are the high rates of employment, engagement, and job training among those it serves, says Lyon. People in its Workforce Opportunities program are invited to participate in a variety of workshops and make use of several computer labs. In addition, career counselors are embedded at each of the Jericho Project’s seven supportive housing residences in the Bronx and Central Harlem. With some 160 job placements at an average starting salary of $12 to $13 an hour, the program is a success.

How to Tailor Employment Services

This population can be difficult to serve, Lyon says. “A lot of people, by the time they come to us, are in their 40s and 50s, and they often don’t have a lot of recent employment history.” She’d like to see a greater focus on employment-related offerings among all service providers and is adamant that not having a place to live shouldn’t disqualify anyone from getting a job. That’s why everyone who comes to the Jericho Project is enrolled in its employment services.

“They might not be employed, but we’re not in the business of saying, ‘That person’s not employable,’” says Lyon. “They might have disabilities, they may not be able to work a full-time, 9-to-5 job, but we have people who volunteer at local daycare centers, who work part-time, or are entrepreneurs—they make their own candles or fragrances. We don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach here.”

That’s not just a tagline. When a woman whose family had once owned a funeral home told Lyon and her staff that she wanted to be a mortician, they helped her enroll in a program to earn her associate’s degree in mortuary science; she’s now a practicing mortician.

“That’s what we realize, that people had dreams at one point,” says Lyon. For those who, like the aspiring mortician, need more education, Jericho Project has established relationships with colleges and universities and job-training programs citywide; in addition, the state’s Office of Adult Career and Continuing Education Services provides scholarships for people with disabilities to attend training programs. A number of nonprofit workforce development training programs are also available free of charge to individuals experiencing homelessness or living at low income levels.

More specialized assistance has come through a Department of Labor grant for employment programs for veterans and the Home to Stay program, which provides time-limited employment, financial management, and parenting support for families that experience homelessness episodically.

This article was originally published to highlight the April 2015 theme of Employment.

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Sarah Zobel
Last Updated: 07/31/2019