Mississippi Partnership Provides CDL Training for Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

  • Author: Laurel Schwartz
  • Date: June 13, 2023

The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) partnered with the Mississippi Home Corporation (MHC) to provide driver training and employment for unhoused people. The success of the program has been life changing for Mississippians experiencing homelessness, while helping transit providers solve critical driver shortages.

Montresa Harney and her seven children were experiencing homelessness when she entered the Developing Responsible Individuals with Valuable Education (DRIVE) Program, a partnership between MDOT and MHC. Ms. Harney obtained her Class C Driver’s License through the program and may now drive Class C vehicles which are designed to carry 16 or more passengers and are under 26,000 pounds.

The DRIVE Program also connected her with a job in a local public transit agency, where she is helping combat the state’s critical diver shortage. “It is very rewarding, especially the patients I admit. They love talking to me, I love talking to them,” Ms. Harney said.

Genesis of the program

Shirley Wilson, Director of MDOT’s Public Transit Division, explained that transportation is often a barrier for unhoused and low-income individuals to get to jobs and other essential life services. “They were getting housing, but they were being put in places where they couldn’t have a sustainable lifestyle to improve their current conditions to improve their livelihood,” she said.

In 2020, the MHC and MDOT initially partnered to increase state-wide public transportation ridership for residents in public housing authorities and tax credit apartments, largely funded with federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants. When the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, many low-income individuals lost their jobs became unhoused. Simultaneously, MDOT needed more drivers.

To solve these two problems simultaneously, MHC identified that the partnership could use an Emergency Solution Grant – Coronavirus (ESG-CV) to cover the cost of employment training. The team partnered with non-profit Grace House and the City of Jackson to recruit driver candidates. Today, the program is funded through partners and the MHC’s CARES grant.

Importance of partnerships

To recruit, screen, train, and support DRIVE participants, MDOT and MHC initially partner with Jackson non-profit Grace House Ministries, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, and the City of Jackson Homeless Program. “We got together, and talked about the things we do, and the things they needed. How could we work together?” said Ms. Wilson.

Grace House vets DRIVE candidates, including background checks and drug and alcohol testing. To obtain their commercial driver’s license (CDL), Participants are trained through the Driver Improvement Agency, a longtime partner of MDOT. DRIVE students are paid weekly stipends and are provided transportation to and from class. “In the homeless services community, you see the same people coming back over and over again,” said Nekieta Lofton-Carter, Assistant Executive Director of Grace House. “With this type of training, that number, we’re praying, that number drops dramatically.”

Advice for implementation

  • Transit-Housing Program Relationships. Because the DRIVE program is funded through federal ESG funds that have been vetted by HUD to use for this purpose, any state that has a relationship with their housing programs could establish programs like this, explained Ms. Wilson. ESG-eligible activities include one-time rent and/or utility arrears, relocation and stabilization, on-going monthly payments, and eligible activities identified under the Emergency Shelter.


  • First needs. In setting up this partnership, the leaders of the DRIVE Program identified that participants first need somewhere to stay while they are going through the vetting process. Outreach Specialists place candidates in hotels while working with them to identify long-term housing and start their CDL training program.


For more information about this program, contact Mississippi Home Corporation grant manager Tamara Stewart at 601-718-4654.






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