City News

Local homeless community would benefit from jobs program, report suggests

The Beacon, a resource center for homeless individuals, opened last month in downtown Madison.

Image By: Brandon Moe

With tools at its disposal, Madison is considering public employment programs to combat the city’s homelessness after a recent report highlighted the potential benefits of such a program.

The Day Jobs report, conducted by the the city’s Community Development Division, assessed a variety of potential job programs for the homeless and panhandlers in the Madison area.

These programs were modeled after comparable initiatives in Portland, Maine, Albuquerque, N.M., Denver and Chicago. The CDC conducted field research such as surveys, interviews and community meetings to create the report.

The results found no strong indicators that there should be targeted day job programs for panhandlers because the number of panhandlers in the city has been declining and it would be difficult to access this demographic for work opportunities.

But additional findings noted that transitional job programs, rather than day job programs, would be more effective at creating stable career opportunities. The two differ in that transitional jobs couple wage-paid work, skills training and intensive support services.

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, wasn’t surprised that transitional programs were suggested over day jobs.

“Looking at the conclusions, I’m really not overly surprised at all that our staff is recommending that a so-called ‘day jobs program’ would not really be an efficient use of our resources,” Verveer said. “Largely, it would not be very meaningful to the people that we’re trying to assist.”

However, the report noted significant barriers for the city’s homeless to find and maintain employment opportunities, namely stable housing. Even when housing isn’t a requirement, evidence suggests that it’s vital in successful work participation. Other challenges often facing homeless individuals are substance abuse, mental illness, low employment skills and education.

Verveer was aware of these constraints and said future jobs programs would be built around the city’s “housing-first” model for tackling homelessness.

“Using this housing-first model, there are a lot of supportive services that are needed once people get off the street to maintain their ability to have permanent shelter over their head,” he said.

The city expects that The Beacon, a new day resource center that assists the homeless community in Madison, will be instrumental in implementing some of these services. The Beacon offers a variety of services, ranging from housing assistance to helping with employment searches. The center opened in October after the county invested $2.3 million in its redevelopment.

Verveer noted that like any non-government organization, the city has a set of expectations of expectations for The Beacon laid out in its contract. The report lists a number of performance measures to be used in evaluating its success, such as the number of people who had stable housing six months following the program.

Moving forward, Verveer said he is optimistic about the efforts the city is making to improve life for Madison’s homeless.

“There really is an unprecedented level of collaboration and cooperation amongst the different non-profit agencies that are supporting this population as well as the funders, like the city and the county, all working together,” he said.

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