Skip to main content

Case study: San Francisco Homeless Workforce Systems Alignment

Collaboratively designing better connections to employment services for San Franciscans experiencing homelessness

Through this participatory research project, we collaborated with San Francisco agencies and community service providers across four systems of care (housing, workforce, social services and public health) to identify strategies to better connect people experiencing homelessness with employment services.


After a thorough literature review of national best practices, we conducted one-on-one interviews and focus groups with players across systems to better understand their unique context. Then we embarked on a collaborative design process in partnership with community-based organizations and persons with lived experience of housing insecurity, including ongoing co-design sessions and three pilot programs.

Every project deliverable maintains a direct feedback loop with providers and City sponsors to ensure that the project’s recommendations map to the unique needs and context of San Francisco.


Through community engagement, research and systems analysis, we identified locally-informed best practices, successful referral models, trauma-informed care principles, and opportunities to create cross-system learning and resources on supporting people experiencing homelessness.

We learned that effectively connecting people to appropriate services requires human connection through a “warm hand-off.” In addition, while there are many benefits to integrating employment, housing, health and public benefits, there are also many critical and intersecting barriers to address. Finally, we observed that the most effective service connectors bring cultural understanding, trauma-informed care, and continued case management.

Based on these learnings, we recommended three effective pathways (or “service delivery models”) to integrate the four systems and facilitate connections to employment and training services for adults experiencing homelessness: 1) referrals between multiple organizations, 2) co-management between two complementary organizations and 3) in-house wraparound services.


One of the project’s deliverables is a comprehensive Job Interest and Referral Toolkit that we rigorously developed and tested with stakeholders. The Toolkit resulted from a need identified through conversations and various pilot programs, which allowed us to test best practices and capture learnings in real time.

In order to facilitate referrals and system connections, we also created a San Francisco Program Inventory – a list of programs that are available to people experiencing homelessness across systems, including information about services offered, languages spoken, program requirements and much more.

Throughout our project journey, we nurtured trust among players, identified opportunities for ongoing resource sharing and collaboration, and reinforced successful efforts already underway.

“This has been a tremendous effort and exceeds expectations of what I expected we’d be able to accomplish through your involvement in this planning grant. This may change the game when it comes to connecting our unhoused to workforce services that can set them on a path to stability.

Noelle Simmons Chief Deputy Director, San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing