Provider Workforce

Joint Office and United Way deploy $10 million in workforce stabilization grants

In a step toward addressing longstanding workforce issues in the homeless services sector, the Joint Office of Homeless Services, in partnership with United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, recently distributed $10 million in flexible workforce stabilization grants across 61 homeless service providers. The grants will support 3,520 workers in the housing and homelessness services system.

Nonprofit homelessness and housing service providers have struggled with stagnant wages, high vacancy rates and recruitment challenges in the wake of unprecedented demand for their services and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. A Joint Office of Homeless Services wage study last year found only 31% of surveyed employees at homeless services providers felt their compensation allowed them to take care of their basic needs. Half of employees surveyed said they were likely to look for a new job within the next year.

The $10 million in organizational health grants was budgeted by the Board of County Commissioners in September 2023, allocating Supportive Housing Services Measure funds carried over from the previous year. While this round of grants was one-time-only, Chair Jessica Vega Pederson’s proposed FY 2025 budget released April 25 includes $10 million to fund similar grants next fiscal year using Metro Regional Strategies Investment Fund dollars.

At the end of the calendar year, providers will report how they used their funds — which can only be used for workforce and organizational health needs — and measure two key metrics: whether the funds helped increase employee retention rates and, in turn, whether they also decreased position vacancy rates. 

“These grants help address one of the biggest barriers we face in responding to the homelessness crisis: longstanding workforce challenges,” said Dan Field, director of the Joint Office of Homeless Services. “We know it won’t solve the problem overnight, but this funding is a first step. We believe the grants will lead to tangible improvements for the workers providing critical services on the frontlines of our community, and in turn, allow us to better deliver needed services to the community.”

$10M total funding distributed
Illustration of buildings 61 providers receiving grants
Illustration of people 3,520 employees supported by the funding

The grants were distributed to providers this spring through an innovative partnership between United Way of the Columbia-Willamette and the Joint Office. United Way’s infrastructure and experience in distributing funding to community organizations allowed the funds to be delivered on a faster timeline than would be possible through existing government contracts.

United Way oversaw the application process and distributed all of the funding to providers before the end of March 2024 —and 11 weeks after entering into this collaboration with the Joint Office.

“Frontline organizations in the homeless service sector have always had to be creative and resourceful with limited funds,” said Dahnesh Medora, Chief Impact Office of United Way of the Columbia-Willamette. “We were pleased that the Joint Office also brought a sense of creativity to this nonprofit-governmental collaboration. As a result, United Way was able to quickly disburse flexible funds to support workforce recruitment and retention.”

Flexible grants address challenges across wide array of organizations

Because the grants were designed as a flexible source of support, all homeless service providers currently contracted with the Joint Office were eligible to apply. In their applications, providers described their intended use of funds in support of workforce recruitment and retention, along with their current vacancy and retention rates.

Providers shared a wide range of plans for how they will use the funds, including increasing employee compensation, creating new positions, and providing new forms of employee wellness services and support. But even with that flexibility, some potential uses were not eligible to receive grant funding, including physical space or infrastructure investments.

Of the 61 providers receiving funding, 10 are culturally specific providers serving marginalized communities that are disproportionately impacted by homelessness. 

Providers will be able to use the funds to meet their specific workforce stabilization and capacity needs. This flexibility is in line with the policy recommendations in the 2023 Joint Office wage study, which said solutions for provider capacity should not be one-size-fits-all and that each organization has different challenges and different needs. United Way has similarly designed grantmaking programs that balance flexibility with accountability. 

The grants were non-competitive, and all providers meeting the requirements were awarded funding.

The award amounts were distributed according to how many full-time employees engage in housing and homeless services at each organization. In general, each organization’s award amount was calculated by multiplying the number of housing and homeless services full-time employees at that organization by $2,700. Organizations with five or fewer employees all received a minimum $13,500.

What providers are saying

Central City Concern

“Central City Concern is very pleased to have received an Organizational Health Grant for Workforce Stabilization that JOHS and United Way of the Columbia-Willamette provided,” said Dana Kleinhesselink, Central City Concern’s Director of Development. “We’ll be using the grant to provide crucially needed funding to develop recruitment and workforce advancement strategies. Behavioral health workforce challenges have been an ongoing issue for the past several years. Finding, hiring and retaining the right staff for the right positions are essential to helping solve the homelessness crisis in our region. We’re very grateful to United Way who’s been a wonderful, collaborative partner throughout the grant process.”

Cultivate Initiatives

“This funding has already allowed us to effectively hire and retain the staff necessary to truly empower our unhoused neighbors into employment and housing,” said Caleb Coder, Executive Director of Cultivate Initiatives. “Cultivate Initiatives is grateful to the Joint Office, United Way, and the tax-payers of the Supportive Housing Services Measure, to be a recipient of this grant.”

Greater New Hope Family Services

“This funding has enabled the recruitment and retention of our behavioral health staff while supporting the development of our newly BIPOC-focused behavioral health and substance use program. These staff members will provide individual and group therapy, as well as substance use counseling, to our most vulnerable populations: houseless individuals and families, BIPOC community, houseless veterans and the LGBTQ+ community,” said Levin Manabat of Greater New Hope Family Services. “Additionally, the funding has supported essential continuing education for our behavioral health staff to ensure best practices.”

Latino Network


“Latino Network is excited to continue to partner with the Joint Office of Homeless Services to reduce rates of homelessness in Latine communities around Multnomah County,” said Evelyn Kocher of Latino Network. “This grant will be instrumental in helping serve people in our programs who are experiencing housing insecurity get back on their feet.”

Somali Empowerment Circle

“As a small, culturally specific organization, this funding is instrumental in enabling us to thrive and support our organization in ways that are sometimes overlooked by larger agencies. We’re beyond grateful for this opportunity,” said Hanna Osman and Hamdi Abdullahi from Somali Empowerment Circle. “We will be using the Workforce Stabilization Grant to support professional development for our staff. This entails enhancing skills in project management tools, undergoing housing advocacy training, and participating in conferences aimed at providing support to culturally specific organizations.”