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Grant to help local homeless find jobs

GREENFIELD — About 20 homeless people from Franklin County will receive free help in finding and securing a job next year.

The Franklin Hampshire Career Center will dedicate a part-time employee to work directly with homeless individuals for 20 hours each week, said Director Michael Truckey. It’s part of a $230,000 state grant awarded to a network of local human service agencies across Western Massachusetts on Thursday.

Service organizations around Franklin County will refer people to the career center, where they’ll then work with a case manager to get training and find placements. Some homeless people living in Franklin County may not be aware of the career center and its services, said Truckey.

The grant will also allow the center to provide additional services, like paying for transportation or new clothes for interviews, he said.

The career center is a part of the Western Homeless Employment Network, a new initiative led by the Springfield-based Corporation for Public Management. The group also includes ServiceNet, a Northampton organization with Franklin County connections, and Construct, a human service agency in Great Barrington.

The network will help about 70 people across western Massachusetts next year, said Ken Demers, vice president of employment and training at the Corporation for Public Management. The ultimate goal is get homeless individuals trained in jobs that will pay a living wage, pay their rent and support families, he said.

Anyone who is homeless is eligible, including those from outside the county living in two Greenfield hotels, although the state is still actively working to move those families back near their original hometowns across Massachusetts.

“The number of families that are currently in motels and family shelters is huge — in the hundreds,” Demers said. “Their need is so great.”

Agencies will use the grant to address the shortage of employment and training programs for homeless people in western Massachusetts, providing access to career exploration, education, skills training, job readiness training, job placement and support to overcome the challenges homeless people face to achieving self-sufficiency.

The state grant is administered by the public-private Commonwealth Corp., and Demers said it also will allow the Corporation for Public Management to continue the employment assistance work with the homeless it already has been doing with partner agencies under a similar $304,000 grant from the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation.

From Feb. 13 to Oct. 31 of this year, that foundation grant funded a Secure Jobs Connect program that has enrolled 73 homeless people in the region and placed 43 people in jobs in areas such as health care, retail, manufacturing, and accounting, among others.

Of the 31 participants who began working at least three months ago, 26 are still employed, according the latest progress report maintained by the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness.

“It has been incredibly successful in getting homeless individuals trained and working,” Demers said of the program. “We see it working.”

Part of a larger state effort

Thursday’s grant was part of a larger $1.7 million pool of money from the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, that is seeking to help 320 homeless people statewide find stable employment.

“Sometimes all it takes is a job for a homeless person to become a self-reliant tenant,” Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary for the Department of Housing and Community Development said in a statement announcing the grants. “Sometimes it takes training and a bit of help for a person to find that job.”

Gornstein said the agencies receiving the grants have done “extraordinary” work over the years, “and I am sure will provide the services and support that their program participants will need to find a job in our growing economy.”

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