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A path to self-sufficiency in Baltimore

Many of our city's systems are broken — especially those intended to provide mental health programs, addiction treatment, workforce development services and opportunities for self-sufficiency to people living in low-income neighborhoods.

Self-sufficiency doesn't just impact Baltimore's disadvantaged residents; it affects all of us who provide the resources, care and guidance to encourage individual autonomy — whether it's through financial support (paying our taxes or donating to a cause) or through public service like civil legal aid.

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The unrest of April 2015 underscored the idea that things need to change, and with this heightened realization, our city's leaders — including those in the Mayor's Office of Employment Development and Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation — requested and received a two-year grant to launch the One Baltimore for Jobs initiative, known as "1B4J."

The 1B4J initiative targets unemployed Baltimoreans in predominantly African-American, low-income neighborhoods — especially the areas affected by the civil unrest. The program funds 12 community-based nonprofits to provide job training, counseling and placement in the areas of construction, health care, manufacturing and transportation logistics. It is also designed to link participants to a range of critical services, including mental health services, addiction treatment, referrals to social services and comprehensive employment barrier removal strategies, including legal "check ups" to make sure these individuals have the best chance at success. The legal services are being delivered under the direction of the Maryland Legal Services Corporation.

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The ultimate goal is to enroll residents citywide and strengthen partnerships to create a pathway to hiring at least 80 percent of training graduates at an average hourly wage of at least $11.

With the program in its infancy — only six months since the launch — the services are showing value. At one site, Vehicles for Change, the program recently graduated 14 trainees who received certifications in at least two specialties. The 12 sites throughout Baltimore are being guided by the expertise of many of Maryland's nonprofit health and civil legal aid organizations, including Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), Maryland Legal Aid and Homeless Persons Representation Project. The teams are quickly approaching the goal of delivering critical services to 700 residents before June 2017.

MVLS is responsible for providing legal services at four sites, including the Caroline Center, Jane Addams Resource Corporation, Job Opportunities Task Force and Vehicles for Change. To date, MVLS has helped more than 200 Baltimoreans who needed legal "check ups" to break down barriers to full-time quality employment.

These young adults are up against legal situations that are blocking them from securing long-term, high paying jobs and self-sufficiency. Some of the cases involve professional or driver's license suspensions, issues related to custody or visitation of their children as well as child support, consumer debt matters and student loan repayments, among others. However, the most common type of case that the 1B4J project team is helping these clients navigate is criminal record expungement, including shielding and MVA record expungements.

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The IB4J initiative offers Baltimore residents a holistic approach to workforce development by addressing complex barriers to employment, including legal issues. The program uses innovative strategies for reengaging disconnected youth and young adult populations in highly distressed communities in Baltimore City by delivering high quality skills training, providing access to career placements, and most importantly, inspiring increased self-sufficiency for those who are at a disadvantage.

Bonnie A. Sullivan is executive director of Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Services, which serves Maryland's low-income residents by offering counseling and full representation for civil legal cases. Her email is bsullivan@mvlslaw.org.

Baltimore jobs initiative aims to enroll residents citywide and strengthen partnerships to create a pathway to hiring at least 80 percent of training graduates at an average hourly wage of at least $11.

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