How Do The Homeless Find Employment?

A lot of people want to know how exactly Thrive DC helps clients find a job.

It can be an intimidating process: our clients have a lot of obstacles (homelessness, long term unemployment, etc) and it’s not obvious that anyone would be willing to hire them.

So we sat down with Kiyara Zerbager, Thrive DC’s Job Developer, to ask: how exactly do you do what you do?

Kiyara ZerbagerSo when someone comes to Thrive and needs a job, what’s the process?

Kiyara: As an initial screening, we first ask if they have official identification like a social security card or DC ID.

If they don’t, then we show them how to get those documents and ask them to come back when they have them.

Why do they need ID?

Partly because of a grant requirement, but also to prove that they are legally allowed to work in the US.

Unfortunately we are not able to help people who are undocumented. But we can help people who have their permanent residence card or green card.

OK, they show you their ID. What’s next?

Intake process. This is our interview where we assess whether someone is job ready or not. We use the Economic Security Scale Assessment (ESSA) as our guideline, and review their current or past work history.

What’s a passing score, and what if they don’t pass?

There’s no “passing score.” Either you’re at risk, in crisis, or you’re stable.

At risk means that you “lack basic necessities, housing, transportation,” etc, or you have a risk factor of education, mental health or physical health, or some other “risk circumstance.” These are things that could prevent you from working. The list can go on and on.

In crisis means one of these things is actively preventing or blocking you from working. It’s a fine line between the two.

So what do you do at each step?

If they’re in crisis, we’re going to work with them as much as possible and connect them with other agencies that can dive more deeply into their barriers. But we’re also going to get them started  in our Foundational Workshops which build their job readiness.

There we focus on communication skills, Do’s and Don’t’s of the workplace, financial management, and other skills you need before you can start working.

What if they’re at risk?

Same thing. What we’re looking for are people who are job ready or not job ready. If you’re not ready to start work immediately, we’re going meet you at your level to get you working as quickly as possible and get you stable.

If you ARE job ready, then you’re directed to the job developer (me) who then helps you create or update your resume and cover letter.

If someone is job ready we discuss what they are looking for. We want to match their interest with their current skills and experience. From there, I will contact employers I have relationships with or create new relationships if what the client is looking for isn’t in our network.

Kiyara discussing job opportunities with a client.

Kiyara discussing job opportunities with a client.

What if they want something unrealistic?

It happens. What I do with those clients is have a very frank conversation about their qualifications and experience. We go through their resume line by line, and doing that helps them realize that it’s good to have a goal, but it’s also better strategy to start with short term attainable success.

What kind of jobs are you helping them get? Are they part-time, full-time? Are they a living wage?

The jobs we help people get are full-time and range from $13/hr – $20/hr. We want people to go after employment that is worth their time; it’s not helpful to anyone if they get a job but can’t keep it.

Do you help them figure out what kind of job they need to get? Like “my bills are X, so I need to make Y?”

That discussion is more a part of our Foundational Workshops, but I do make that part of our employment case management.

So what about Real Opps (Thrive DC’s job training program)? How do people get involved with that?

People come to Thrive DC either to find a job or to be part of our Real Opportunity Job Training Program (Real Opps). Real Opps is for people who have a passion for cooking, a passion for food, and know that once they complete the program this is the field they want to be in.

Real Opps is six weeks of hands on training at Thrive DC, and then three months externing at a professional restaurant. While they’re in the program we give them $5/hr at 20 hrs/wk. But while they’re in Real Opps they are also required to attend our foundational workshops each week.

Real Opp Graduates

Real Opp Graduates

What other kinds of assistance do you have to help people get employment?

Every Tuesday and Thursday from 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM we reserve the computer lab for one-on-one job search with our staff and professional volunteers. They help revise resumes, write cover letters, and review job applications prior to submission. They even help clients look for jobs online.

It may be surprising, but a big part of this time is also helping clients check their email. Many of the people we’re helping find employment aren’t very computer savvy. That’s part of what’s holding them back.

Do we have any financial assistance to get to a job or interview?

Yes and yes. We’ll give people two bus tokens for an interview, and then once people show us an offer letter from an employer, we’ll give them a SmartTrip card with $45 on it to help them with transportation until they get their first paycheck. Once they show us their first paystub, we’ll provide them with another week of transportation.

After that, we provide clients with small incentives as they continue to prove they’re sustaining employment. We want to make sure people stay employed and reward their success.

What else? What else do you want to talk about?

Focusing on clients is one aspect of the employment program, but the other is working with employers and other nonprofit agencies. We provide employment orientations at nonprofit partners to let their clients know about Real Opps and opportunities with our employer network.

In the employer community we reach out to private companies and franchises. Our goal is to build relationships with their HR departments and hiring managers so our clients who are employment ready can have a direct path to a job.

What kind of clients are you recommending to these businesses? Because obviously you don’t want to burn bridges.

The ones I refer are people who have great work ethics: they’re on time for appointments, complete assigned tasks, and are eager and passionate to start working. If they’re ready to work and want to work, we’re going to get them a job.

Is that successful?

Absolutely. 85% of the clients I refer get interviews, are offered employment, and do a great job. Our business partners know the people we are sending them have some barriers, but are ready for financial independence and a new start.

What kind of businesses are you working with specifically?

We refer people to custodial, restaurant, supermarket, hospitality, security, and administration jobs. Some of our partnerships include Melwood, Hyatt, Perpetual Shine, Amsterdam Falafel, Giant, &Pizza, and Target.

Thrive DC client at work in a restaurant.

Thrive DC client at work in a restaurant.

What makes a good business partner?

The best partners are privately owned businesses. They have less bureaucracy, and are more ready and willing to give our clients the new start they’re looking for. It’s much easier to build relationships with the people who can make decisions.

What about clients who are returning citizens or don’t have a GED?

Those are definitely two of the most difficult situations to find employment in. A GED is effectively the minimum requirement to get a job.

And for returning citizens – someone who’s been incarcerated – most employers don’t want people with that kind of history.

But it’s an uphill climb and there’s no getting around that.

Especially for certain convictions.

If someone doesn’t have a GED, we refer them to Ballou Stay, which is a high school program that helps people get their degree. It usually takes people around three months to study for and pass the GED exam, but individuals’ progress will vary. While they’re studying for the GED we work with them in our Foundational Workshops to make them more employable.

Employ Our Clients

If you’re an employer and are interested in working with our clients, you can contact Kiyara directly at 202-503-1532 or [email protected] to get started.

Help People Get Back To Work

There’s a lot that goes into helping our clients find employment. If you’re not an employer but want to help our clients, please consider either signing up to be a volunteer in our employment program or making a donation.

$45 will provide bus fare for the first two weeks of a client’s new job.