Imagine you’re suffering prolonged financial hardship. You’ve been struggling, maybe relying on the local food bank for extra groceries. Then, finally, when you’ve almost given up on the search, you find a job.
Your new manager tells you that you can start once you buy a pair of steel-toed boots.
A pair of boots may not seem like a huge barrier to employment—it’s an investment in your future earnings. But when you’ve been without a job for an extended period of time, it can be hard to pull together the $30 you need to start working and earning money.
Working together to reduce barriers for the local homeless population
Almost two percent of Johnson County residents are unemployed. While a lot of this can be attributed to a low number of available jobs, some of it comes down to that last big financial barrier: scrubs, work boots, tools, uniforms, or even bus passes.
A collaboration between Shelter House, the local homeless shelter nonprofit, and a Crisis Center program helps people make the connections and buy the items they need to start a new job.
The Crisis Center has had a work-enabling program for almost 15 years. In FY17, The Crisis Center provided 200 work-enabling assists. So far in FY18, it has provided 279. Emergency assistance coordinator Danielle Winter said this change is largely due to an increase in referrals from Shelter House.
Shelter House’s employment support program includes a job lab that helps individuals with things such as applying for jobs, preparing for interviews, and traveling to interviews. Employment case manager Jeremy Endsley said Shelter House assisted 600 people in 2017 through this program.
Partnering with Shelter House to supply work clothes
Endsley said Shelter House shifted its services from a general service model to rapid rehousing over the past year. This change brought a loss of the budget for work items like steel-toed boots or work uniforms, and thus an increase in referrals to places that do provide these things, such as Stuff Etc. and The Crisis Center.
“I don’t have any budget for anything basically anymore,” Endsley said. “The only way that we are able to supply clothes is through donations that we take to Stuff. We’ve supplied about $3,000 of work clothes in 2018 in that way.”
If an individual needs more specialized work equipment, such as steel-toed boots or special non-slip shoes, Endsley said Stuff Etc. is not typically able to meet their needs.
“[Shelter House] helps someone gain employment and then we help to begin the job because it’s so expensive,” Winter said. “We get them the items they need to begin work while they await their first paycheck.”
Winter noted that employment start-up costs add up quickly. Individuals who are homeless likely have none of the items they need to get started, such as scrubs or bus passes. Some new employees can face $60 in costs before starting work and seeing their first paycheck.
An individual must have a dated letter from their employer stating that the items are required to begin working in order to be eligible for help purchasing work-related apparel through The Crisis Center. Emergency assistance interviewers such as volunteer Nancy Pacha have one-on-one conversations with the client to determine their needs.
“When we can help a person toward solving a daunting problem, we see the expressions of relief spread across faces and we see tense shoulders begin to relax,” Pacha said. “Calmer, more positive feelings start to take hold.”