Help for the Hurdles: Lowering Barriers to Employment and Housing Initiative

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City of Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services





Organization Overview:

The mission of the Office of Homeless Services (OHS) is to provide the leadership, coordination, planning and mobilization of resources to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring in the City of Philadelphia. Homeless Services works collaboratively with more than 60 mostly nonprofit homeless housing and service providers, city, state and federal government entities to comprise Philadelphia’s homeless service system that provides emergency housing and services to people who are both homeless and at imminent risk of homelessness. It includes homelessness prevention and diversion, short and long-term rental assistance both with and without case management.

Within the office, the division of Policy, Planning, and Performance is responsible for maximizing the efficiency, access, quality, and effectiveness of the Philadelphia Homeless Services System.

Project Name:

Help for the Hurdles: Lowering Barriers to Employment and Housing Initiative
Project Type: 
Program evaluation; performance management

Project Overview:

The Office of Homeless Services has received Emergency Solutions Grant funding (ESG-CV) through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the CARES Act to assist Philadelphia during the pandemic. With a portion of this funding, we plan to help participants move out of the shelter system and into housing by lowering barriers to employment and offering employment supports as part of their move on strategy. For this initiative, we have identified cohorts of individuals who would benefit most from this support, as well as Rapid Rehousing funded by ESG-CV. The cohorts are able to work, and currently either unemployed or under-employed. The identified cohorts are: 1) single adults, 2) single youth (18-24 years old), and 3) parenting youth. Research has shown that homeless individuals throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania consistently identify reliable transportation as a barrier to seeking employment. Simply put, many of them have no way to get from their shelter or place of residence to the job site. In  addition, for those who have children, finding childcare that is both quality and affordable can also be a barrier to sustaining consistent employment.  In Philadelphia, we seek to address these barriers for this population by offering financial and employment support for individuals who are experiencing these barriers with the goal of increasing job placements, increasing incomes, quality and affordable childcare linkages and care; and housing through the Help for the Hurdles: Lowering Barriers to Employment and Housing Initiative.

Supports will center around:

  1. Transportation Subsidies: Program participants will be provided with SEPTA KeyCards loaded with TransPasses to assist them with getting to and from their job sites. These passes will be provided for three months upon participants’ acquisition of a job.
  2. Childcare Linkages and Assistance: Participants who have children will be linked to childcare programs that are already subsidized by either the State or the City of Philadelphia. If no slots are available, this program will assist participants to childcare and provide up to 3 months of funds to subsidize private childcare, if no publicly funded childcare can b arranged.
  3. Case Managers & Job Coaches: Case managers will assist participants with employment referrals, navigate the childcare system and assist with completion of childcare paperwork and track supports to ensure accountability, and assist participants to achieve  their long-term career and financial goals.

The goal of this project is to evaluate the barriers to employment faced by the homeless population in Philadelphia; this evaluation would be done through our program. We would like the capstone project to analyze and evaluate the following areas:

  • Effectiveness: How effective is our program at address barriers to employment?
  • Process: How efficient is the process with which this program is run?
  • Scalability: Could this program be scaled up to assist more individuals?

This capstone will partner with OHS staff and its stakeholders to design an evaluation and timeline for this initiative. The capstone will also include research of best practices to determine how to track the supports offered, participant progress and linkages made for participants to evaluate if lowering these identified barriers improves participant employment status, increases income, and helps them reach housing stability. From this evaluation we hope to determine feasibility to scale. We would like to use this evaluation to dig deeper into the data from our program to find out its success rate; namely, we want to know how successful program participants are at keeping their jobs and becoming financially stable. If this evaluation can answer this question for us, we may use a similar program model to assist others with overcoming the barriers to employment. This same evaluation structure can then be implemented then as well.

For those single individuals who consistently attend their employment, they will receive three months of subsidized transportation expenses via a SEPTA KeyCard. The parenting youth cohort would receive an additional benefit of childcare in the form of assistance with placing their child in a free care program or direct subsidies for private childcare. The free childcare option (such as PHLpreK or Head Start) will be prioritized over the private option, and the private childcare subsidies will only be disbursed if publicly funded options have been exhausted. This program will be run jointly with First Step Staffing (FSS), a non-profit staffing agency that is able to connect individuals with jobs quickly and efficiently. FSS will hire one part-time staff member and one full-time staff member to help operate this program, and they will assist with case management and paperwork. FSS will also receive support from the Office of Homeless Services’ AmeriCorps Volunteer, Matthew Skros. Regular check-ups with program participants will ensure they are meeting the requirements of the program, i.e. working at least 20 hours a week at their jobs. These check-ins will also allow us to determine how financially stable the program participants will be once the subsidies end.


  • Evaluate “Help for the Hurdles (ESG-CV Program).”
  • Determine the success rate for program participants – how many of them have kept their jobs and are financially stable?
  • If program participants drop out of the program along the way, what makes them do so?
  • How many participants receive some sort of promotion at their jobs during or after the program?
  • What is the return on investment? I.e. how much money could the City save by offering employment supports to support participants and their “move on” strategy out of the shelters?
  • What paths do program participants move on to, after working with First Step Staffing?

If additional barriers are identified,

  • Identify any other needed supports for participants.
  • Draft policy recommendations on local and State level related to childcare supports for homeless participants based on this initiative.

Project Timeline:
January 2021 – Meet with stakeholders from OHS, First Step Staffing, and shelter providers.
February 2021 – Learn the program process through observation. Work with stakeholders to learn the programmatic flow.
March – Collect data through surveys, focus groups, and other collection means.
April to June 2021 – Analyze collected data and piece together evaluation.
July 2021 – Finalize evaluation.
August 2021 – Deliver product.


Fels Institute of Government

The Fels Institute of Government
3814 Walnut St. 
Philadelphia, PA 19104

(215) 898-7326