is hard to find housing if you do not have a job, but there are many
barriers that prevent homeless New Yorkers from finding work. The
Coalition for the Homeless’ First Step program helps homeless women
break out of that Catch-22 and get a good job that can be an
important step toward permanent housing.
First Step started in 1991 in the basement of a small church and has
grown over the years to have a full-time staff serving 150 women per
year, having already graduated 1,350 women over the life of the
First Step works with women in New York City shelters or low-income
housing and helps them build the skills and confidence they need to
succeed in the workforce. “The self-esteem building is just as
critical to the services that we are providing as the resume
building,” says Tim Campbell, Deputy Executive Director for
“A lot of the women coming in have a nice skill set and work
experience, and yet they are not able to find employment,” says
Elizabeth Henderson, Director of the First Step Job Training Program.
“An individual’s self-esteem can be quite battered when going through
homelessness, including what led to becoming homeless – which far too
often involves a history of trauma and domestic violence among the
women First Step serves.”
The First Step program has three phases across 14 weeks. The first
includes Microsoft Office instruction, professional development,
skills building workshops, and case management support. Next,
students are placed in an eight week internship with a partnering
non-profit or company. The final phase is an advanced job search,
where participants are given the support to apply and interview for
the job that is right for them.
Throughout the process, women also have access to support services to
deal with the day-to-day challenges of homelessness. Clients have a
case worker, but also receive critical support from each other.
Students build bonds with their classmates and become the support
network that many lack outside the classroom.
Graduates often take administrative positions in corporate offices or
even in the social service agencies where they have been clients in
the past. “Our students want to work in those systems to be able to
give back,” says Henderson.
As the Coalition for the Homeless looks toward 2016, the organization
is hoping to expand its corporate partnerships to offer even more
off-site opportunities for students, including additional corporate
days and mock interviewing events.
With homelessness at the top of the political agenda, it is an
important moment for the Coalition for the Homeless and its First
Step program. Through its twin missions of advocacy and direct
service, the Coalition is fighting for policy that gives hope to
homeless families while creating programs that show what success