The City’s workforce development system is spread across 17 different departments that administer nearly 300 employment-related and job training programs, largely under contract with various nonprofits. (Cindy Chew/2008 S.F. Examiner)

Lack of data and growing need intensifies scrutiny of workforce training programs

San Francisco spends more than $100 million a year on job training programs but lacks crucial information to gauge their effectiveness including how well they are serving the homeless population, according to a new report.

The findings have some city officials and advocates calling for a major overhaul of the citywide workforce development system, which is spread across 17 different departments that administer nearly 300 employment-related programs, largely under contract with various nonprofits.

While The City says that 26,142 people participated in the workforce programs in fiscal year 2018-2019, which were budgeted at $150.4 million, the true number of people served is lower since the tally includes duplicates, the same person counted more than once if they participated in multiple workforce programs. Among the total, 7 percent, or 1,736, were homeless.

“The absence of reliable measures of the numbers of homeless and other individuals participating in the City’s workforce development programs makes assessing program effectiveness difficult,” the report said.

Supervisor Sandra Fewer requested the report, which was the subject of a Board of Supervisors Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday evening, to gauge how the workforce programs were serving the homeless and other vulnerable populations.

“I have personally been concerned that job development for homeless individuals is not a strategy that we as a city have been focused on,” Fewer said. “We are essentially writing off homeless individuals as unemployable.”

She asked for the report before the COVID-19 pandemic, but said she now sees how changes to the program could aid in San Francisco’s recovery.

Mary Kate Bacalao, policy director for Compass Family Services, a nonprofit that provides housing and other services for homeless families, called on the Board of Supervisors to increase spending on workforce programs for the homeless.

“Our economic recovery as a community depends on this so heavily,” Bacalao said, adding that “going into the pandemic more than one in four homeless people cited loss of a job as the primary cause of their homelessness.”

“We don’t have a full complete picture of the economic devastation that’s happening as a result of the pandemic but … across agencies like Compass our family incomes have come down by an average of about $500 per month per family, which is a significant share of their prior income,” she said.

Joe Wilson, a representative of the San Francisco Homeless Employment Collaborative, a group of nonprofits that provide job training programs for the homeless, called on the Board of Supervisors to take a more proactive role with the workforce dollars.

“One of the glaring weaknesses to our workforce development system citywide is the marginal role that the Board has played in directing the activities and the investments of our workforce development system,” Wilson said. “We can no longer be satisfied with that. The Board has to get more engaged, more involved as the people’s branch of government in making sure that these investments are made, that the data is collected, that it’s tracked, that someone can compel compliance in some way.

“If we are not tracking the information, we are not reporting the information, it is extremely difficult to tell what’s happening with the funds that are allocated,” he said.

Fred Brousseau, director of policy analysis with the Budget Analyst Office, who authored the report said that “we get limited data on the homeless population compared to some of the others.”

“So we can’t see for the homeless individuals participating what specific programs they are in, how many dollars were actually spent on the programs that they are participating in, and the types of programs provided,” Brousseau said.

The report also noted a lack of data for other vulnerable populations served, finding “that details on participation by priority population was not reported by City departments” for nearly 30 percent of the total participants.

“The absence of this data hinders assessment of program effectiveness by City policymakers and managers, particularly for assessing the relative allocation of workforce development resources among groups,” the report said.

The report also notes that The City funds other workforce programs that are not reported to OEWD but offered by the Department of Public Health’s Behavioral Health Division. Data is lacking for these programs too.

“The number of homeless participants or other vulnerable populations for each program is currently not tracked,” the report said.

The report also suggests the Board require the Department of Public Health to also begin reporting workforce data to OEWD.

Supervisor Shamann Walton said there was a need for improved services.

“I would love to work with OEWD and DPH on specific designs for workforce development programs for our unhoused population,” Walton said. “Obviously they exist to some degree, but there is much more work to do.”

At the conclusion of the hearing, Fewer said it appeared that the workforce system was “not getting the impact that I think we could be getting.”

“This is the start of many conversations,” she said.

Meanwhile, The City has launched a $300,000 effort to hire a consultant to design the best way to connect homeless persons to workforce programs when they are assessed for other services like housing and behavioral health.

The effort, which includes OEWD and the Department of Housing and Supporting Housing, will “entail the development of an assessment tool that will allow for an accurate determination of client ‘job readiness,’ including whether the client requires other stabilizing services before they are directed to workforce services,” the report said.

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