New program hopes to connect people experiencing homelessness to jobs

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The City of Albuquerque is working on a new concept to help get people experiencing homelessness off the street, into a job, and on the path to success.

It’s called Job Connect and the proposal could be in front of city councilors in just a few weeks.

The idea is for Heading Home, an already established organization, to serve as a temp agency, and get people working for any number of local employers.

Leaders at Heading Home explain how this program is different than anything Albuquerque has ever tried.

It’s a simple idea.

“Let’s get people working,” said Steve Decker, CEO of Heading Home.

But it’s easier said than done for a majority of Albuquerque’s homeless population.

Decker says most deal with some disability from physical, mental, or substance abuse-related – that keeps them from holding a job.

“If they were able to work full-time and hold a job on their own they would not have ended up in the shelter,” said Decker. 

Heading Home is working with the city on a new idea to get them out and keep them out of shelters, and it all starts with a steady job.

“How do we get people off the street? Well they need to learn how to be part of society and employment is the strongest single impact on being part of society,” Decker said. 

Decker has been working on the Job Connect program for months.

“Housing is the end goal and jobs are the way to get there,” said Decker. 

The idea is for the nonprofit to serve as the formal employer, almost like a temp agency, and rotate individuals through positions with employers looking for help. 

“It’s really difficult if you have a mental health issue that prevents you working full-time and with this program we can get them working according to what they’re able to do,” Decker said. “Happily in food service and construction people can come in without a whole lot of experience or training and immediately get to work as a dishwasher, as a general laborer on a construction site.”

Decker says this model capitalizes on the workers’ specific abilities.

“You’re gonna have two or three days of clear lucidity you’re able to work you’re able to do things and the rest of the time you might not be able to keep a job, and so we work around those types of issues,” said Decker.

With a steady job, Decker says the sky’s the limit.

“That means more independence, that means going on the path to getting out of emergency shelters or off the street and into permanent housing,” Decker said. “This can change lives it absolutely can change lives.”

City Councilor Louie Sanchez is sponsoring this legislation, and says it could be in front of the full council sometime in January. 

The proposed $100,000 in city funding would cover city transportation for each worker.

If you’re interested in becoming an employer in the Job Connect program, call Heading Home.

Some might remember a similar-sounding program under the Richard Berry administration called “There’s A Better Way,” where people worked under the Solid Waste Department’s supervision.

Mayor Tim Keller ended that program shortly after he took office.

Heading Home says the Job Connect program will differ in a few ways: it won’t be group based, the jobs will come mostly from private employers, and the workers will have case managers to help track their progress.