Many communities worry that this trend is likely to continue, especially among front-line workers. Discussions with Continuum of Care (CoC) employees point to multiple and overlapping challenges.
Research Reveals That the Underlying Problem Is Not Limited to Wages
The homelessness sector struggled with high turnover rates and a myriad of challenging work conditions before the pandemic. These factors worsened over the past two years, impacting effective implementation of EHVs.
The Alliance study found that contributing factors included high caseloads, trauma or re-traumatization from work, emotional exhaustion, and low wages. Many workers, particularly those conducting outreach and in shelters, faced the added challenge of mitigating the transmission of COVID-19.
The pandemic multiplied the effect of these stressors, leading to issues in the current labor market. Service providers have many open positions, but not enough applicants to fill them and fully staff up to the level of need. High turnover rates were not limited to lower-level staff, but higher-level administrative positions as well.
These issues have impacts that extend well beyond EHVs.
Resulting Management Challenges
While communities are trying their best to increase recruitment and retainment, they face the challenge of training both new and experienced staff. This leads to questions about investments in a group of people that will likely have a short tenure. If providers are constantly onboarding new staff, this leaves much less time and capacity to do the actual work of ending homelessness.
Many CoC leaders expressed having to continuously re-establish communication best practices between PHAs, service providers, and clients, given that the staff of these organizations is constantly changing.
Some communities addressed staffing shortages by offering hazard pay, sign-on bonuses, and more competitive salaries through COVID relief funds. However, these funding sources are limited and will run out. Additionally, salaries may need a significant jump from the estimated average of $30,189 for all employees working in permanent and temporary housing programs (Culhane & An, 2021). Salaries alone will not directly address other pressing issues that create stressful work environments in the field.
The Alliance’s focus groups indicate that more research and action are needed to address the staffing shortage, which has affected the administration of the EHV program. These shortages will likely pose major challenges for future efforts to end homelessness unless addressed soon. The latest study on the sector’s workforce was conducted in 1996, highlighting the much overdue attention we need to give to the people keeping our homeless response system running.
To read more about the Alliance’s findings, view the complete EHV Report.