The past few years have seen a revolution in the way many jurisdictions approach the problem of homelessness. It’s called “housing first,” and it operates under a simple assumption: When someone doesn’t have a house, what they need is … a house.

Now there’s a corollary in the world of unemployment: job first.

“In a nutshell, the job-first model is that we believe we can just help a candidate get a job with the skills they already have,” said David Vicenty, who oversees a program called AimHire at District charity Friendship Place. “We do our best to place someone in a job in 90 days.”

Vicenty said the traditional model for helping chronically unemployed people who are experiencing homelessness is to enroll them in a training program for a specific career. About nine months later, they start their job search.

But when a person needs a paycheck right away, Vicenty said, that’s too long to wait.

He has firsthand experience with the issue. “I lived in my car for almost two years in Baltimore,” Vicenty said. “That was a very great learning experience.”

He received public assistance from Howard County and on his own found two jobs — as a server and as a cashier — enabling him to improve his situation.

AimHire is open to anyone in the Washington area. The process begins with an orientation, held every week and, during the pandemic, conducted during a conference call. Then participants are matched with a Friendship Place job specialist.

People aren’t thrown into job searches unprepared. Candidates often need assistance, even if that doesn’t mean committing to a months-long HVAC or medical assistant course.

“Almost everyone needs help, a better way to sell themselves,” said Richard McKey, an AimHire job developer. “A lot of participants have been traumatized. Most participants come into interviews feeling like they need to explain job gaps or need to explain why they were terminated.

“It’s a very defensive position, because they feel as if the hiring manager can see all that. We say, 'Don’t look at the hiring manager as another gatekeeper or barrier. You’re trying to work out if you’re the right fit. They’re a partner in the job search.’ ”

AimHire participants take part in mock job interviews. They brush up on their Zoom skills. They are given interview outfits. Sometimes, transportation is provided to interviews.

While the hope is that a candidate will be connected with a career job, the focus is on getting a steady paycheck. That can include a job in the service industry while they work toward a job with more long-term prospects.

AimHire organizes what it calls hiring fairs. These are different from another employment staple: the job fair.

The traditional job fair has always rankled Vicenty. Typically, he said, when attendees meet potential employers at job fairs, they’re just told to go to a website to apply for any openings. At the Friendship Place hiring fairs, participants can be hired straight away, “pending, of course, a drug screening or background check,” he said.

The help doesn’t stop once the job is landed. “Let’s say you get a job as a server and you need nonslip shoes,” said Vicenty. “When you’ve got proof you got a job, we can buy you those nonslip shoes. I remember one time a lady got a job as a hairdresser. She needed a hair dryer and scissors.”

Friendship Place’s AimHire program will also pay cellphone bills while a participant is seeking employment — gas bills, too, if someone needs to drive to interviews or to work.

Last year, AimHire helped place 126 people in jobs. Most of AimHire’s participants come through Friendship Place’s welcome center, a resource on Wisconsin Avenue NW for people experiencing homelessness.

Vicenty said that after a person has a job, they’re monitored for a year, with AimHire staffers checking in every three months or so and providing grocery store gift cards as an incentive to stay engaged — and as a reward for a job well done.

Friendship Place is a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand, our annual fundraising drive. To support its work with a donation, visit posthelpinghand.com.

To give by mail, send a check to Friendship Place, 3655 Calvert St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007.

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