Employment Services Change Lives

“Why don’t they just get a job?”

It’s a question frequently directed at those experiencing homelessness. The answer is complicated, and requires a look at some of the systems that make it difficult to get back on your feet once you’ve experienced a housing crisis. To dig a little deeper, we visited Catholic Charities’ Employment Services Specialists, Ren and Mekka, to talk about their work and the relationship between employment and housing.

Employment Services Change Lives

As a core piece of Catholic Charities’ daytime shelter programs, employment services can be accessed in computer labs located at both Saint Paul and Minneapolis Opportunity Centers. Every day, staff do everything they can to connect guests to resources—as Mekka says, “we are goal-oriented to equip our clients with the best skills and resources possible so they can move forward and upward.”

These efforts include holding regular career fairs, computer literacy workshops, and resume editing—but the work doesn’t end there. For Ren, talking to local businesses, canvassing neighborhood Facebook groups, and searching tailored Twitter feeds are all part of her approach.

More Complicated than a Job Application

Still, Ren notes that common struggles with mental health, addiction, or a criminal record can complicate a job search—”with a criminal record, there’s not just a barrier for employment, there’s an invariant barrier to housing.”

If you wake up in the morning without knowing where you’re going to sleep that night, finding or working a job may seem impossible. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been down, but I’ve been down”, says Mekka, “and when I’m down, nothing matters. When people come here in crisis, they don’t care that you have all of these resources.”

Mekka explains that people experiencing homelessness are also navigating a world that can regularly make them feel worthless—“there is a very big stigma against the unhoused population, it’s like you’re frowned upon. It’s like you’re the scum of the earth. Although it may not be said verbally, it’s felt in the community. It’s felt in the way people are treated.”

Navigating Barriers to Employment and Housing

This is the paradox Ren, Mekka, and our guests face daily: you need housing to get employed, but to get employed you need housing. “Housing is the foundation,” says Ren, “because if you really don’t have a place to go home and stay safe at night, it’s really hard to work, and it’s all part of the same conversation—we’re in a housing crisis.”

Maintaining stable communication can also be a challenge for people experiencing homelessness. Bills sometimes can’t get paid, and phones can get lost or stolen if you don’t have a safe place to store them. Ren explained that “this is a huge barrier for people when they can no longer access their e-mail and they may have signed up for Section 8 vouchers—now they can’t access them anymore.” This is one reason why our computer labs are so important, and why we co-locate support staff—guests come for the internet, and end up building relationships with staff like Ren and Mekka.

Hired! Now What?

Despite obstacles, Ren and Mekka are still helping folks find employment. In fact, the first thing you’ll notice in Ren’s office is a big “18” written on her whiteboard.

“I mean, eighteen isn’t that big of a number,” Ren says, “but since I’ve not even been doing this a year, and it’s challenging to convince guests that it’s possible to find work, I think any number above zero is good. Some have even gotten a couple longer-term jobs. I know the one person that moved out is now working as a contractor for Ramsey County with their finance department and another in community engagement.”

You might assume that once you land a job, housing immediately follows—Ren and Mekka would disagree. “What we need are tangible resources,” Mekka said, “I’m not trying to make everybody an engineer or a science guru, or, you know, a rocket scientist. But I do believe that everybody has the right to fair employment with competitive pay.”

Having a place to call home and keeping stable employment go hand in hand, and staff like Ren and Mekka are going to continue providing employment services to make this a reality for more of our neighbors.



Addressing our current homelessness crisis requires all of us working together to:

Support Our Neighbors Currently Experiencing Homelessness

    Contribute financially to programs that provide pathways out of poverty, like the Housing-Focused Behavioral Health Support Team.
    Donate high-need items that help people keep themselves safe & rebuild their lives.
    Volunteer at a program location, using your time to remind others that they matter.

Create Systems that Allow People to More Easily Attain & Sustain Stable Housing

Thank you for your interest — together we can create a better future for all Minnesotans!

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