Updated: Aug 26
“More often than not, homeless people become homeless through circumstances that they can’t control…we’re so attached to the idea that it has to be something wrong with the person rather than something wrong with the system.” Fletcher, 22, an alum of Breaktime, recognizes the importance of system-level intervention in curbing the homelessness crisis. “Something like Breaktime is so deeply crucial to breaking [the cycle of homelessness] in the sense that it bridges that gap between being homeless with no support and then being housed with an entire network of support.”
In 2018, while volunteering at Harvard Square’s Y2Y shelter for young adults experiencing homelessness, Breaktime co-founders Connor Schoen and Tony Shu observed that Ad Hoc supports, like clothing and food donations, were insufficient to end people’s struggles with homelessness. Imagining a stepping stone between chronic housing insecurity and full employment, they conceived Breaktime’s transitional employment program as a keystone in Boston’s nonprofit environment.
Connor and Tony’s impression of ending homelessness aligns with research about various programs to end it. According to Chapin Hall research, one in ten young people (ages 18-25) experience some form of homelessness in a given year. A report from Chapin Hall states that “case management and ad hoc supports like food or clothing donations just aren’t enough,” while the Yale Law Journal reports that stable employment is typically the largest barrier to achieving stable housing. Without the necessary infrastructure in place for young people to build the foundations of employment, housing security is difficult to achieve.
Breaktime’s transitional employment program provides a supported pathway toward full employment and thus housing security. Breaktime’s three-year core program utilizes supported partnerships to empower young adults experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. With a combination of its three central pillars, Launchpad, Liftoff, and Stable Orbit, Breaktime programs provide young adults with the skills and support they need to access living wage jobs and stable housing.
Launchpad, the first of these three programs, is a three-week stipend-paid period focused on our young adult associates’ professional development, financial empowerment, and personal growth. After that, associates participate in Liftoff, where associates work 20-30 hour weeks for three months in various industries while receiving continued support from Breaktime. Last, in Stable Orbit, associates access Breaktime resources for an additional three years, working with the organization’s social work resources to maintain their progress toward professional and life goals.
Since its conception in 2018, Breaktime programming has been consistently reimagined, allowing it to assist as many people experiencing homelessness as possible. Over 120 individuals have been served by Breaktime programming, and these programs are shown to be transformative for those who participate in them. In early 2022, an audit of Breaktime’s performance revealed that 83% of alumni are working and in school, compared to 12% prior to Breaktime. These youth have experienced a 33% jump in wages, and 77% of alumni are now in stable housing.
More than that, Breaktime’s transitional employment program provides sustainable community connections, orchestrating community involvement for its associates. By partnering with minority-owned businesses, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations, Breaktime facilitates connections between people experiencing homelessness and their communities. This way, Breaktime associates get to connect with members of the local community, while community members can challenge the implicit biases they may hold against people experiencing homelessness.
While piloting these transitional employment programs, Connor, Tony, and the rest of the Breaktime team quickly observed that social inequities and structural oppression of people experiencing homelessness prevented them from engaging with community resources. For this reason, despite their success, transitional employment models cannot single handedly end young adult homelessness. Collaboration with allies to raise awareness about homelessness and advocate legislation for people experiencing it is also essential to making our society more equitable on a larger scale.
All of these resources combined have made significant impacts on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with these achievements culminating in hundreds of individuals served, thousands of audience members reached, and millions of dollars raised. But more than that, Breaktime has facilitated connections with the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents, making Massachusetts a more equitable place for all.