We Need Homelessness Solutions: Thousands of Homeless People Can Work

But homeless people need help getting into the workforce.

Photo Credit: Rui Duarte/Flickr CC

An unprecedented, coordinated media effort is unfolding in San Francisco right now with the goal of pushing politicians and the public to take a closer look at homelessness. The increased spotlight on the issue is a good start, but we also need to devote more attention to proven solutions. Clearly people who are struggling with homelessness need stable and affordable housing, but that’s not enough—they also need and want jobs. Thousands of homeless people can work, but they need help to get into the workforce. 

Social enterprises like Community Housing Partnership (CHP) are double bottom-line businesses working locally to help people facing homelessness and other challenges get and keep jobs and build better lives. They provide comprehensive services that help their employees build skills and confidence while developing a work history, and then help them find long-term jobs, leading to greater economic security and mobility and the stability to escape homelessness forever. Since 1997, the social enterprises we have supported have employed 11,000 people in California. In addition to transforming lives, independent research shows that social enterprise investment provides a significant rate of return to society—$2.23 in benefits for every $1 spent.  

Building on nearly 20 years of impact, we recently launched an ambitious five-year campaign to create job opportunities that increased incomes for 50,000 men and women who are striving to overcome employment barriers such as homelessness, and the serious challenges that so often lead to homelessness, including incarceration, mental illness and addiction. In order to help people get or stay off the streets and become contributing members of society, we need leaders from all sectors to step up.

  • Businesses can source products and services from social enterprises—joining a growing international "social procurement" movement—and commit to hiring social enterprise graduates that are ready for mainstream employment. We hear time and again from companies already involved that the people coming out of these programs are among their most hard-working and dedicated employees.
  • The Congress can step up by funding the Social Innovation Fund, a U.S. initiative which supports sustainable solutions that are making a significant impact in transforming communities. SIF is fueling a multi-year, multi-million-dollar investment in social enterprises across the U.S. that is catalyzing engagement from philanthropists and social investors. Yet the U.S. Senate chose to eliminate it from their 2017 budget plan. Now it’s up to the House to put it back in. And locally, California’s state legislators can support SB 1219, new legislation that provides a preference for social enterprises in contracting.
  • Individuals can provide their time, talent and treasure to support the movement in ways big and small. Buying products from social enterprises is a good place to start. Changing perspectives is another. People who are homeless are not “homeless people”—they are people, who if they are able to work, should have the opportunity and the support they need to succeed. 

We can all do more to be part of the solution to homelessness.

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Carla Javitz is president and CEO of REDF, a San Francisco Bay Area-based organization that provides equity-like investments and business assistance to social enterprises, mission-driven businesses focused on hiring and assisting people facing barriers to work, such as homelessness.