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Second-year Master of Rehabilitation Counseling student Alma Maciel assists a H.O.P.E. Employment Clinic participant in completing an online inventory of employment interests. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP Communications

H.O.P.E. Clinics Helps Homeless Individuals Get Job Ready

Finding a job can be difficult for people experiencing homelessness. For example, many documents requested by potential employers, such as a photo identification card or social security card, require proof of residency.

“When it comes to employment, there are a lot of barriers that individuals who are homeless experience, like not having an ID card,” explained Kristin Kosyluk, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Master of Rehabilitation Counseling (MRC) program at The University of Texas at El Paso. “It’s important to address those barriers, but it’s also really important, especially from a rehabilitation counseling standpoint, to recognize that people also have strengths and interests that can be used to help them develop training and employment goals.”

With this in mind, Kosyluk collaborated with 11 community partners to prepare 93 residents at the Opportunity Center for the Homeless in El Paso to become job ready at the first H.O.P.E. (Health Opportunity Prevention Education) Employment Clinic in summer 2016.

The clinic was the first of three planned phases aimed at addressing unemployment among individuals who have experienced homelessness. Participants focused on identifying barriers to employment, such as limited skills or work experience or a lack of transportation, and how to overcome them.

“For the population of individuals served by this clinic, a job means more than a paycheck and a potential way out of homelessness; it also means hope, dignity and a sense of purpose,” Kosyluk said.

Community partners including UTEP, the Opportunity Center for the Homeless, Workforce Solutions Borderplex, the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), Goodwill Industries, San Vicente Family Health Center, Freedom Janitorial Services, Dismas Charities, Sin Fronteras, Villa Maria, Project Amistad and the GI Forum provided employment-related information and referrals to clinic participants. They also helped perform intake functions and assisted participants in navigating through the clinic’s 15 stations, all designed to offer assessment, information and referrals for employment services to clinic attendees.

“This initiative reflects a need within our community, and counters the opinion that all homeless are job ready,” said John Martin, fund development director at the Opportunity Center. “We as a community need to be in a position to assist and support federal initiatives to end homelessness … They want to work – they need the skills and resources to do so. The community needs to be engaged in this effort.”

The clinic also provided a valuable community-engaged service learning opportunity for UTEP graduate students. They applied much of what they had learned to date in the classroom about rehabilitation counseling, assessment and employment to help individuals who have been homeless move toward job readiness.

Under the supervision of Kosyluk and Assistant Professor Erin Barnes, Ph.D., in UTEP’s rehabilitation counseling program, 22 MRC students conducted assessments to help participants identify barriers, strengths and interests related to employment.

“I am honored to be part of a community of professionals that continuously contribute their knowledge and expertise to make events like these possible,” said Antonia Ostos, a second-year UTEP MRC student. “It’s great to have the support from the local business franchises who generously donated food and financial support to help provide hope to the home-free population in finding employment. I hope to see and I encourage other college departments and local businesses to participate in upcoming events. It is a rewarding and priceless experience.”

Moving forward, Kosyluk, Martin, and Ray Tullius, executive director of the Opportunity Center for the Homeless, will work with Workforce Solutions Borderplex to develop a series of group interventions targeted to help people to move forward in their readiness to pursue employment.

The initiative is based on the WorkFirst model developed by Pine Street Inn, an agency serving homeless individuals in Boston.

These group interventions will focus on activities such as identifying skills, strengths and goals related to employment, learning how to search for jobs, building a resume, and practicing interviewing skills.

The final phase will involve two job fairs organized by Workforce Solutions Borderplex in partnership with the H.O.P.E. employment clinic planning partners: one in late September and the other in early October.

Tullius said he hopes the next two phases in the process will help people move beyond homelessness.

“I was pleasantly surprised – not at the power, expertise and enthusiasm brought by the participating partners, but at the excitement the clinic generated in our homeless people,” Tullius said. “I can see this initiative developing into a long-term process of bringing employment possibilities to the homeless within the Opportunity Center for the Homeless.”

Kristin Kosyluk, Ph.D., contributed to this story.

Author:  Laura L. Acosta – UTEP Communications

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