February 8, 2014; Boston Globe

Most of us understand that stabilization requires a secure source of income, likely a job with sufficient hours and benefits to allow for children and health issues to be well taken care of. This kind of situation takes time to develop, and when you are coming from homelessness, there is a lot to be put together.

The Fireman Fund, with a $170 million endowment, was founded in 1998 by former Reebok chief executive Paul Fireman and his wife, Phyllis, and it has long been interested in what homeless families say they need to become stable over the long term and in funding pilots that can act as models to the state. The foundation has, to date, granted $1.5 million to Secure Jobs to encourage statewide collaboration among agencies focused on housing, employment, and social services, with all of that aimed at helping women get into housing and into a job with a future. This year, another $1 million will follow.

Susanne Beaton, who is a longtime advocate for homeless families and the interim director of the Fireman Foundation, says services are now so uncoordinated that a mother might secure a housing subsidy but then be forced to wait a year for a child care.

The pilot program funded by Fireman is sited in five regions: Greater Boston, Greater Lowell, southeastern Massachusetts, the South Shore, and Western Massachusetts. It is meant to exhibit a new model of working with families. “This program has been a way of inviting legislators to see that if you want people to get to work, there are some important partnerships that have to be melded together to make it work,” said Beaton.

The agencies participating in the pilot design jobs programs based on the needs and employment opportunities in their regions. Statewide, 506 formerly homeless parents have been enrolled, and of these, 315, or more than 60 percent, have been placed in jobs.

Tashea Coles, a 23-year-old mother of two, had lived for 18 months in a motel in Waltham before she received a housing subsidy through Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership. That agency referred her to Secure Jobs at Jewish Vocational Services, which helped her get a part-time position as a security guard in downtown Boston. Coles said that she sees that as a healthy start toward a better paying, full-time position. She says the biggest benefit of the program is the ongoing support from JVS.

“They motivated me, they helped me get back into wanting to work, they got my confidence up,” she said. “People not forgetting about you, that’s what makes it better, the constant not forgetting.”—Ruth McCambridge