La Puente 'jump starts' clients for the workplace

Photo courtesy of Sean Weiland Sean Weiland, case manager with La Puente’s Employment Readiness program.

ALAMOSA — When the topic of La Puente — a large, local non-profit with a network of programs serving some of the Valley's most vulnerable people — is brought up in a public forum, a question will sometimes come up regarding what efforts La Puente is making to help people who are unsheltered become more self-sufficient and independent.

The answer to that question is "a lot is being done and with increasingly good results," as was indicated in a recent conversation with Callie Adams, director of outreach at La Puente Home, and Sean Weiland, a case manager with La Puente's Employment Readiness program.

Employment Readiness currently consists of two case managers — the second was hired just two months ago — and is housed and operating under La Puente's Crisis Prevention Resources, formerly known as "Outreach."

The organizational structure makes sense. As stated on their website, "Crisis Prevention Resources currently aims to stabilize families on the brink of experiencing homelessness or assist families already experiencing homelessness with reintegration by providing financial and wrap-around support." Being employed and earning an income is a key component in the continuum to sustaining a stable living situation.

"But it's not just about getting a job," Adams says. "That's part of it, but it's really about much more. There are programs that help people get a job but sometimes they have long waiting lists or are difficult to get into. And now a lot of that is online. When you talk about people who are unsheltered or in crisis more support is needed."

Employment Readiness was designed to interact with people on an individual, in-person basis, learning about their situation and individual circumstances, what they need, and what can be done to support them in becoming successfully employed.

But how they initially connect with people happens in a variety of ways.

Mostly, according to Weiland, people connect with the program when they come into Crisis Prevention Resources asking for help. Others are referred from the shelter or the Street Outreach program. But where things go from there varies from person to person and their skill set.

"When I ask people if they have a resume, some people don't even know what that is," Weiland says, "or they say they haven't worked in years. So, I show them a resume and help them with that and how to look for jobs. And then some people come in with their resume already done and they just want to know who's hiring."

But, as he describes it, the process always begins with establishing a relationship with the person enrolled in the program, not just in the initial interaction but in the case management meetings that follow. And that's where other issues become apparent.

"Sometimes people really just want to get a cell phone and they know the best way to do that is to say that they're looking for a job. We can see that's their motivation before we get too far. But, other times, some people really want to become employed but, the further along they go in the process, they realize that they need to deal with other issues first, like their substance abuse. In those cases, we refer them to other programs like behavioral health. And sometimes, people aren't real sure they want to become employed but the more time we spend with them, the more confident they become."

As he says, it varies from person to person.

Aside from the case management services, which average out at about 5.7 meetings per client, Employment Readiness does those things necessary to "jump start" getting into employment, which can vary from buying non-slip shoes if they have gotten a job where that's necessary or money to put gas in their cars until they get their first paycheck.

Now that there is a second case manager on board, additional support — such as coaching on maintaining a job once a person has been hired and building stronger partnerships with local businesses — will be more possible.

But, if the data is any indication, it is an approach that seems to be working.

Employment Readiness defines client progress, called "positive outcome data," in three different categories — obtaining employment, maintaining employment, and improving employment by getting a better, perhaps better-paying, job.

The program began in 2020, just when the pandemic hit full force. Even against those odds, of the 96 clients they had enrolled in the program that first year, 35% of them obtained employment. In 2021, the number of enrollees increased to 108 with 31% of those people obtaining employment. In 2022, of 145 enrollees, 40% got a job.

And, so far in 2023, 50% of the 66 clients enrolled in their program have obtained a job, and it is still in the first half of the year. And, in one of the best indicators, of those 66 clients, seven have transitioned from being unsheltered to being housed.

When asked for especially inspiring success stories, Adams did not hesitate. She speaks about a man who had been receiving services from La Puente and wanted to start his own business. After several case management meetings and discussion, Employment Readiness invested and bought the man the equipment he needed to get started. Not only was he successful in his venture, but he has also come back to Employment Readiness to hire enrollees who are in the program.

A second story was about a couple who had been unsheltered and living outside for 15 years. After becoming enrolled in the program, the couple both got jobs working together. Adams had not seen them for quite a while but, not long ago, passed them on the road.

“They were driving a car,” she says. “It was a clunker, yeah, but it was running. They never would have thought it was possible to be working and having a car a few years ago.

"This whole program is all about community investment," she says. It not only benefits the people who enroll in the program and, with the support that is offered, become employed, it benefits the community where they live.

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