A Healthy Workforce Is A Housed Workforce

February 6, 2024 - by Jennifer Paradis, Beth-El Center

I had the most wonderful experience last week. In partnership with consultants of the South Central Regional Council of Governments, we organized a tour of homeless response services in the greater New Haven area for community developers, elected officials, city planners and business professionals.

My initial interest in this effort was genuine curiosity. What happens when long-established silos are lifted for three hours, as 30 decision-makers of urban, suburban and rural communities ride a bus, eat lunch and talk about what it means to solve homelessness locally?

Many connections were made. Folks in communities without local homeless services shared admiration and gratitude for their municipal neighbors, understanding the reliance one community has on another. A consensus was built on the following:

  • People become homeless for many reasons, not just because they have substance use issues or mental illness.
  • People become homeless in every municipality in our region but are served in just a few of the towns.
  • The people staffing these agencies are often overworked, underpaid and underappreciated.

I have no qualms about the conclusions noted above. However, I would add one more finding to this list: as homelessness is a housing problem, community developers, city planners and municipal leaders are the most effective people to support long-term, sustainable solutions. Further, how each municipality addresses homelessness also speaks to the wellness and resiliency of that community.

The greatest example I can think of in this intersection between housing and community resiliency is workforce development. Connecticut was one of only two states in the Northeast that experienced a decrease in the civilian labor force in the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Connecticut experienced the greatest absolute decrease in the civilian labor force, second only to New Hampshire in terms of percentage. In navigating through and out of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers have reconciled wages, benefits and worksite flexibility only to meet the same conclusions as the homeless response system. We are all dependent on the accessibility of our housing market, and the availability of affordable housing is essential to a growing workforce.

Of the households served by Beth-El Center, 80 percent have income; 40 percent of these households fall into the category of “earned income,” while others receive income through Social Security and/or Social Security disability benefits. The 40 percent of households who are currently employed reflect our general population; they are our emergency first responders, our teachers, our child care workers, and our nonprofit employees.

Most recently, an emergency room nurse reached out to Beth-El Center for housing assistance as she is struggling to maintain housing in Milford while working her “dream job.” According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition 2023 Out of Reach Study, earners must make at least $35.19 per hour for a one-bedroom and $41.15 per hour to afford a two-bedroom rental in Milford. The average ER nurse salary in Connecticut, according to Salary.com, is $83,247, or $40 per hour.

Workforce development and affordable housing are inextricably linked, and I find it totally amazing that on our SCRCOG tour last week, representatives of these key systems sat next to each other, learned from one another and focused their attentions on the most vulnerable in our communities. For those three hours, we dreamed of the same future – one where every community is equipped to solve homelessness.

Jennifer Paradis is the executive director of the Beth-El Center in Milford.


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