A consortium of Workforce Development Councils in Washington State received a Workforce Innovation Fund (WIF) grant to establish the Housing and Employment Navigator Program for homeless families in three regions of the state (Pierce County, Yakima County, and a group of three Northwest counties). The purpose of the grant is to assist the homeless head of a family to pursue a career pathway.

The Housing and Employment Navigator program focused on homeless families in which the head was interested in career development and employment. The program was limited to families that were in sufficiently stable housing situations, and those in which the head of household had no substantial barriers to employment or was actively managing those barriers. The program model is centered on the role of the “Navigator,” an individual from within the local workforce agency who provides intensive case management to homeless families and helping access and navigate other social support, including housing and social benefit programs. The ultimate goal of the individualized services provided by the Navigator was to help household heads achieve living-wage employment that will ultimately support stable housing for their families.

This study evaluated the efficacy of the Housing and Employment Navigator intervention on homeless families in three different regions in the State of Washington. The study employed a random assignment methodology to contrast long-term employment, housing, and public assistance outcomes for families receiving Navigator services through local Workforce Development Council agencies with comparable families who didn’t receive such services. The research team recruited and enrolled 659 participants in the study and gathered primary survey data and secondary data sources on program participants from the program start through a follow-up period of up to 42 months.

Additionally, the study used qualitative approaches to gather data about the implementation of the intervention in different localities and potential impacts of the intervention on the system of supports available for participants seeking employment training and advancement. The research questions in this study focused on the assessment of the short- and long-term differences between the treatment (i.e., Navigator group participants) and control groups.

Major Findings & Recommendations

The evaluator highlighted the following findings:

  • The implementation study found that the Navigator services addressed a range of participant needs, such as establishing career and educational goals, obtaining housing, and working with other agencies to access services. Navigators were successful in both addressing client problems and helping clients with the tools, strategies, and knowledge they needed to address their problems. Program participants were consistent in their praise of the qualities that Navigators brought to their work. Navigators worked successfully with staff at other agencies to further aid program participants.
  •  In the short term, the RCT found strongly positive impacts on participation in education and training programs by nine months after program start. However, the study found no impacts on self-efficacy or family barriers to success within this timeframe. In the long term, the impact study found no impact on rates of achieving permanent housing by 18 months after the program start.
  • The program had no impact on participants’ employment status 18 months after randomization. However, the evaluation found suggestive evidence that the program may increase employment in the longer term, with significantly higher employment rates for Navigator program participants among those who could be observed at least 24 months after randomization. Likewise, the evaluation found significantly higher rates of employment retention within the first 24 months after randomization for the subset of study participants observed through this point.
  • The program had no impact on reducing TANF and SNAP benefit levels. Furthermore, counter to expectations, Navigator program participants received TANF benefits for significantly more months during the first 18 months after randomization.

The researchers did not provide specific recommendations but do provide examples of other Navigator programs that may be of interest to the reader. These begin on page 3 of the report.