Politics & Government

Jobs for the homeless is the goal of Pierce County lawmaker’s bill

People experiencing homelessness who are eager to get back into the workforce face several barriers, state Sen. Hans Zeiger says.

“For some, it may be a criminal record that has kept them from a job. For others, it may be the sheer difficulty of getting in for a job interview or the logistics of applying for a job, or proving qualification when there are gaps in a resume,” said Zeiger, the Puyallup Republican.

Zeiger is sponsoring SB 6385 that requires the state to create a jobs program for individuals without a home.

At two recent legislative committee meetings, employees of a nonprofit group in Tacoma, Valeo Vocation, urged lawmakers to approve the bill, which they did. Valeo is a staffing agency, approaching companies that need workers and charging a fee to provide them. That revenue is then used to help those experiencing homelessness as they move toward getting homes and full-time jobs.

Sherri Jensen, the group’s chief executive officer, said employment is not the sole solution for homelessness.

“I believe that housing is a human right and Washington needs better access to more housing. Not everyone who is homeless can work. However, there is a subset of the homeless population who with wrap-around support and case management can change their circumstances permanently and their experience with homelessness,” she said.

Last year, the Legislature included $200,000 in the state budget to test a grant program that cities could tap to help people who are homeless get jobs. So far, the state has awarded the city of Vancouver $180,000 and the state Commerce Department is using the remaining $20,000 for administrative costs.

The Legislature reopens the budget in even-number years and Zeiger said he wants to get more funding for the program.

“By providing these grants through the [state] Department of Commerce to encourage cities to do this work, I think we’ll be doing a great service and moving the needle on homelessness,” he said.

The city of Tacoma for 18 months has contracted with Valeo to provide employment training with social services for 30 people per year from Tacoma’s Dome District stability site, the multi-million-dollar tent city. The contract pays Valeo $160,000 per year.

Zeiger said he is impressed with Valeo’s three-tiered approach, which is designed to move those experiencing homelessness from initially picking up debris from encampments, to learning skills in how to get a job, and ultimately getting long-term housing and full-time jobs.

“Valeo was created as a tool to combat homelessness. We have seen tremendous success with both our model and the program that we have created to reduce barriers to full-time employment,” Jensen said.