Jake Sheridan

October 04, 2016

Successful job program comes from ‘just the right amount of support’

Addiction… homelessness… mental health issues… These are the challenges regularly facing participants in the Phoenix Society’s “Access to Employment Program,” locally known as ASTEP. But, the free program, which is a specialized WorkBC centre, helps people succeed despite the multiple barriers. 


It comes down to a single principle: integrated care, according to Program Manager Jake Sheridan. “When we’re working with participants we’re looking at all aspects of their life,” he says. “It’s a much more holistic approach, well beyond simply employment.”

In addition to addiction, homelessness and mental health issues many participants also have to deal with:

  • access to food, clothing, and transportation
  • physical health problems
  • educational shortcomings

How can a person be expected to get a job if they face any of these problems, never mind more than one? “Our focus on building a solid working relationship is how we ultimately help participants move into more stable situations. This leads to better outcomes,” Jake says.

As an example of the success Jake mentions four case studies:

A 58-year-old, with life-threatening health problems, who had been an addict his entire life: Doctors told him he wouldn’t likely live much longer. He cleaned up and went through the employment program. Now he’s glad there’s no mandatory retirement age because he wants to keep working. He’s been employed for more than three years as a supervisor in his dream job in landscaping.

  • A 23-year-old, with a history of addiction and tremendous financial debts as a result of drug use: Finished the employment program, dealt with creditors, created a budget and life/work plan. Has been clean for more than three years and is now back at part-time school and in full-time employment as an apprentice plumber.
  • A 55-year-old with a history of addiction, depression and other health problems: Identified his dream job of working with kids. Successfully transitioned from chef to working as a kindergarten cook/cleaner. Has stayed clean and is working full-time for well over a year.
  • A 45-year-old with a lengthy history of substance abuse: Completed the program with a plan to return to work in construction framing. Had never turned on a computer before but took the self-paced Introduction to Technology training at the employment program and graduated with nearly 100%. Now feels confident about accessing email, information and jobs online. Has been clean for three years and been employed full-time for almost as long.

“Because our program provides just the right amount of support,” Jake says, “it is highly cost effective.”

Depending on needs and eligibility, it can also include financial supports such as training, work clothing, tools, transportation, educational upgrading, local health and counselling services, housing, and other relevant community services.

“Some of our participants live onsite within the Phoenix Centre, so they have added advantage of immediate access to a range of co-located supports,” Jake adds. “We look at ALL factors. “That’s why we get the outcomes we do.”