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Homeless services workers fall short of living wage


New report from RAND Corp.

Workers employed by nonprofit homeless services agencies in Los Angeles County often do not earn a living wage, creating stress for the workers and making it difficult to retain staff, according to a report released this week by the Santa Monica-based RAND Corporation.

According to the report, salaries are “particularly low” for the most frontline workers who are on the streets reaching out to the homeless, creating health concerns and housing insecurity for workers already facing challenging working conditions.

“From the worker perspective, earning such low wages has material consequences, including stress and housing insecurity–they may worry about becoming unhoused themselves,” said Lisa Abraham, the study’s lead author and an associate economist at RAND, said in a statement. “These challenges make it hard for a worker to develop a career when they themselves may be struggling to make ends meet.”

The study concluded that increasing salaries for homeless response workers could improve the quality of their work by boosting morale, easing stress and reducing turnover.

According to RAND, more than 200 nonprofit organizations in the county conduct homeless response efforts, with roughly 8,000 people working in the sector.

The study’s authors estimated that most frontline workers and even some in management positions don’t earn a living wage. According to the report, frontline workers earn roughly $40,000 to $60,000 annually, while supervisors and managers may earn more. Researchers calculated that a worker would need to earn a minimum annual salary of $64,000 in Los Angeles County to afford a one-bedroom residence, with that amount rising to $82,000 for someone needing a two-bedroom unit or $108,000 for a three-bedroom unit.

The report noted the diversity of the organizations working in the homeless response field, with some exclusively focused on homeless services, while others address issues such as child and family services, health care and workforce skills development.

Despite the 2017 approval of the Measure H local sales tax hike to fund homelessness programs, concerns have persisted about working conditions and high turnover in the sector, according to RAND.

Nonprofit leaders told RAND researchers they had limited authority over setting wages, because salaries are largely dependent on government funding.

“Organizations could work together to publicly advocate for better worker pay and learn from others regarding new resources and support to aid workers,” said Sarah Hunter, co-author of the study and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND.