St. Joseph Center. Image courtesy of Yelp.

By Va Lecia Adams Kellum, Ph.D.

Over the last four years, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reports that more than 32,000 people have moved off the streets and into housing throughout Los Angeles County. As we prepare to implement another year of Measure H, which provides unprecedented resources to prevent and combat homelessness, many people want to know: is this sustainable? How can we make sure that 32,000 of our neighbors remain housed, despite the many challenges that cause homelessness?

St. Joseph Center’s approach is grounded in empowerment—for us, education and vocational training are critical to ensuring sustainability for many formerly homeless men and women.

Our Culinary Training Program, Snap Inc.-funded Codetalk (a web technology vocational program) and Employment Development specialists give us the multifaceted tools to tackle our clients’ barriers to reentering the workforce. We offer multiple paths to self-sufficiency that prevent recently housed men and women from falling back into homelessness. This approach allows people like Tao Seals to receive a sustainable and consistent income, despite rising costs of rent and the constant threat of eviction in LA County’s red-hot rental market.

Tao Seals has a bright future today – she is in college and works full-time at Chez Tex, a small restaurant in Venice Beach, to pay for her education.

But things did not always feel so hopeful. In 2007, her family’s peace was shattered when they were evicted after their landlord’s death. Suddenly, the family was homeless; they felt alone and scared.

That is when they turned to St. Joseph Center.

Our staff acted immediately: we helped the family find a new home and Tao’s siblings enrolled in our Culinary Training Program. When Tao was old enough, she did the same.

Based in Venice, St. Joseph Center’s Culinary Training Program is a 12-week long job program for low-income and previously homeless adults who have barriers to employment, such as a lack of recent work history or past encounters with the justice system. The program provides a much-needed opportunity for people who want to get back to work. Approximately 75% of graduates are hired in the Culinary Industry within 90 days of graduation – including Tao.

The Culinary Training Program changed Tao’s life, who asserts, “St. Joseph Center helped my whole family find our way back.” Thanks to the support they received, Tao and her family can look forward to 2019 with a peace of mind.

Tao’s story is just one from over 8,000 clients St. Joseph Center serves annually. Of the nearly 800 people we helped move off the street, more than 90% remain in housing today.

We also believe that in order for our efforts to be sustainable, we must offer tailored services that address the unique needs of each client. Education and vocational training does not always make sense for people with severe mental health or medical barriers. For them, “permanent supportive housing,” which combines affordable housing with ongoing supportive care, may be the needed resource to improve their quality of life while reducing the financial impact on community services like emergency room visits.

Still, that segment of the homeless population represents a minority of the people moving into housing. For the majority of people, low wages and lack of employment opportunities are a catalyst for homelessness. It is therefore imperative for us to provide job training, skills development, and transform networks into growing employment fields that offer decent wages, such as the technology and culinary industries.

Community members can join us in this effort by supporting local vocational training programs like those at St. Joseph Center and Chrysalis with donations, volunteer work, or helping connect graduates to the job market. Encouraging local business to become hiring partners and supporting those already active in this mission, can also help expand job opportunities for previously homeless individuals.

To responsibly and sustainably address homelessness we must empower people to become self-sufficient. At St. Joseph Center we do this by helping our clients find and maintain a job with a livable wage. The vast majority of people who are homeless want to get back inside and want to get back to work – together as a community we can give their chances of success a tremendous boost.

Va Lecia Adams Kellum, Ph.D. is President & CEO of St. Joseph Center.

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