A Pathway out of Homelessness
Bridge House seeks to replicate its award-winning Ready to Work program in the City of Aurora. Ready to Work is based on the nationally-recognized, best practice Ready, Willing & Able program in New York City. In Boulder, Ready to Work provides employment, housing, and support to 44 homeless adults transitioning to independence at a time and has a graduation rate of 77%.
Bridge House’s Ready to Work program is a “work-first” solution to address homelessness. Ready to Work applies a business approach toward solving increasingly difficult and expensive social problems – homelessness, joblessness, and criminal recidivism.
Founded on the belief that when given the opportunity homeless individuals can and are willing to work, Ready to Work creates paid transitional work opportunities as the core element of a comprehensive program providing a pathway to independence for homeless men and women.
Immediately upon acceptance into Ready to Work participants are contributing members of the community. Ready to Work House residents go to work every day, pay taxes, pay room and board and call Ready to Work House home for one year.
Bridge House has researched the opportunity to replicate in Aurora and has confirmed key factors are in place for successful replication – community need for innovative solutions for homelessness; opportunities for partnership with public and private stakeholders; gaps in the service continuum; and feasibility for social enterprise, a cornerstone of the Ready to Work model.
Bridge House is pursuing purchase of 3176 South Peoria Court or another 15,000 to 20,000 square foot property in Aurora to develop communal housing for up to 50 trainees in its Ready to Work paid, transitional work program. The building will house single adults transitioning out of homelessness who have incomes of less than 30% of area median income (AMI).
Ideally, the building will be a commercial property converted to a dormitory residence with shared bed rooms, common spaces, recreation areas, a computer lab, case management offices, and a community kitchen. Residents will stay for 1 year while they participate in Ready to Work program’s employment and support services.
Ready to Work employs participants for up to 29 hours a week of work for 9 months as a stepping stone to a mainstream job. Ready to Work runs social enterprises including a landscaping business and a food service business where participants build a resume, gain work skills and earn an income.
In Aurora, Ready to Work seeks to provide services for the local Parks, Recreation and Open Space Department through supplemental crews to maintain local public spaces. Based on significant experience, this model of contracting with City Departments is mutually beneficial to both the program and the City. Additional paid work opportunities will be developed under the umbrella of Community Table Kitchen, Bridge House’s successful food service social enterprise which offers employment in food production, catering and café operations.
The third element of the program, supportive services, all participants meet with case management and participate in life skill training such as financial management and sobriety support. Ready to Work will fit into the local continuum of care in Aurora for homeless adults by working closely with the City’s Homelessness Program Director as well as with local non profit organizations currently providing services such as those represented by [email protected], including Comitis Crisis Center and the Day Resource Center.
Already Ready to Work has made significant progress developing strategic partnerships and seeks to formalize them as more services are put in place including the local day center.
To be sustainable Ready to Work must earn revenue through social enterprise, contract for supportive services, and fundraise. The program must be supported by private funders and public institutions. Customers of Ready to Work social enterprises fund the work components of the program including wages, supervision, and insurance through contracts and purchases. Housing operations are funded through a modest room and board (not to exceed 30% of income) charged to program residents, as well as through operating support from government agencies who benefit from these individuals not living in other institutions such as shelters or jail. Support services are funded through private support from foundations, businesses, and individuals.
Ready to Work serves a unique and growing segment of the homeless population who are placing significant strain on the community. Over 80% of the adult, street homeless population is un or under employed. 65% of RTW trainees have been incarcerated, 31% of RTW trainees are chronically homeless, 50% of RTW trainees have been homeless for 6 months or more, 58% of RTW trainees self-report a history of substance abuse.
Yet, all participants in Ready to Work have the capacity and desire to get back to work and into independent housing, what they lack is the opportunity and support to get on the right track. These individuals will not be eligible for other housing programs or services.
Currently, prospective Ready to Work trainees in Aurora are living in emergency shelter, on the streets, in cars, or “couch surfing” due to their inability to find work and affordable housing. Many may be able to find employment but most will not be able to maintain it due to barriers of stability, lack of sobriety support and life skills. The Ready to Work model which combines employment; congregate, transitional housing; and program services, such as case management, sobriety support and financial management, is necessary to break cycles of chronic unemployment, homelessness, and incarceration in order to ensure long-term housing success.
Most Ready to Work trainees need to re-learn independent living skills and need a positive community living environment to support their transition out of homelessness through building new relationships, saving money, taking responsibility for their living environment, maintaining regular employment, and learning how to live without drugs and alcohol.
Ready to Work is transitional in nature so not only do trainees seek permanent, full-time employment after nine months working in a social enterprise, they are motivated to seek permanent housing after one year. Trainees are prepared to do so through case management support, financial planning and incentives.
The proposed Ready to Work building in Aurora will accommodate only active program trainees and will allow for rolling entry and exit based on program guidelines. The project will be 100% focused on the Ready to Work program trainees and will, therefore, be affordable in perpetuity.
Trainees are selected on the basis of motivation, ability to transition to permanent, mainstream employment and housing in the specified time period, and completion of a pre-Ready to Work internship program.
The parent non-profit organization, Bridge House, will manage and operate the project. To fully take advantage of the core competencies of the existing Ready to Work program, a direct replication is necessary to ensure success. Business ventures will follow the formula proven to balance business interests with program goals.
Crews will be dispatched in the morning to work sites and will be supervised by staff with experience in the crew format. The residential building will be staffed by experienced house managers who will be responsible for security and program operations. All program participants spend their day working in a Ready to Work venture. Case managers will meet with trainees on site outside of work hours. Trainees will assist in maintaining the property with oversight from the house management team. Residents will be required to stay clean and sober.
On an executive level, Bridge House’s Executive Director who has over 17 years of experience in this program model will oversee program and business operations. A Program Director with ties to the local service provider network and with experience in residential operations will be hired as soon as a property is identified. Ready to Work seeks to develop a local advisory committee with representatives including stakeholders from City Agencies, non-profit agency partners and funders.
Ready to Work is modeled on national best practices and is proven to have a tremendous impact on both the lives of program graduates but on the community. Ready to Work is the only work-first, holistic model in Colorado focused on addressing homelessness. Ready to Work is complementary to other important elements of a homeless service continuum and provides a unique model for sustainability through social enterprise.