People who are homeless or precariously housed rely on a variety of resources (homeless shelters, housing providers, drop-in centers, and other social service programs) to access the services they need to gain stability in their lives. Shelter and housing providers serve as a vital safety net for people who have temporarily lost stable housing. The strength and efficacy of this safety net is ultimately dependent upon the quality, knowledge, and skills of the staff that operate the programs.
Service providers have often described challenges in training and retaining quality staff. These challenges have come in the following areas:
- Internal Organizational Capacity. Currently, housing and shelter providers do not have the internal organizational capacity to provide on-going training for their staff. Over the past few years, most housing and homeless shelter providers have seen dramatic cuts/zero growth in Federal and State funding. Cuts have come most severely in services and operational funds. Providers have responded by laying off staff, cutting staff salary, decreasing services and hours of operation, and limiting spending on other “non-essential” items like staff development. As a result, providers are finding more difficulty in retaining quality staff, leading to a decrease in their quality of service.
- Unavailability of Customized Training. Trainings customized to the needs of staff who serve people who are homeless are extremely limited due to the uniqueness of this population. Direct service staff have consistently expressed frustration with trainings that are limited in their applicability to their work.
- Information/Service Model Isolation. The inadequate frequency of training for direct service staff limits the opportunities for such individuals to enhance their skills and knowledge, receive new information (trends, service models, resources), and discuss service issues/concerns within a larger community. Lack of training opportunities can lead to feelings of isolation among staff and a substandard quality of service for people in need as staff work with outdated information, service strategies and resources. Ultimately, this lack of information leaves direct service staff—those who have historically led the way in informing and advocating for better housing and homeless policies—ill-equipped to fulfill this vital role.
MESH provides a vital role to the metro housing continuum’s efforts to end homelessness through our community trainings. Direct service organizations, community based nonprofits, county social service, corrections, and public health departments, faith based organizations, and others, all benefit from the sharing of best practices and learning from the experts in the field, and contribute to the creation of solutions to end homelessness. It is at the intersection of community education and homelessness that MESH has the opportunity to increase community awareness of local homelessness and to define the community’s role in ending it. Through the coordination of Homelessness 101 & 201 (MESH’s community education program), we have the opportunity to ensure that each metro county, each partner organization, and the public, all have a clear and accurate understanding of the knowledge, skills, best practices, capacities, and tools necessary to end homelessness.