In our modern capitalist society, money and profits are held in high esteem. Thus, maximizing shareholder value is of paramount importance among businesses of all sizes. But for many companies, humanitarian efforts are also a major player when it comes to corporate accountability.
Companies with social justice standards in place, designed to balance profit with purpose, may obtain a B-Corp designation. Via third-party verification, these forward-thinking businesses can distinguish themselves from their profit-hungry peers as they work to help alleviate social problems, such as homelessness.
In general, businesses have a poor track record when it comes to homelessness. Across the U.S., a number of shops and restaurants have a strict policy on customer-only bathroom usage, for instance. And while that choice may seem logical on the surface, the inability to utilize needed bathroom facilities can be degrading. This is just one aspect of homelessness that business owners and leaders should be aware of. Respect, kindness, and accommodation go a long way towards giving homeless people dignity and feelings of self-respect.
At an individual level, it can be difficult to discern the best ways to address homelessness. For businesses, even more challenges potentially exist when it comes to helping homeless individuals. Fortunately, there are various avenues and methods of helping homeless people, from volunteering at food banks and soup kitchens to organizing fundraisers that benefit local shelters or transitional housing programs.
From a business standpoint, what are some long-lasting, effective solutions that can potentially lessen homelessness in the U.S.?
Fostering Dignity, Stability, and Inclusivity
Fighting homelessness isn’t only about providing affordable housing options. There are numerous causes of homelessness, ranging from domestic abuse and sudden job loss or long term illness to natural disasters such as fire and flooding. And once an individual or family loses their home, the problems often seem to compound.
Homelessness can lead to lower self-esteem, food insecurity, and reduced quality of life. Further, life in a homeless shelter is often stressful and humiliating, sometimes resulting in substance abuse. Physical health problems can exacerbate the situation, and many homeless individuals find that they’re unable to work due to physical or mental health problems.
According to Bradley University, poverty is the most common roadblock to obtaining adequate medical care. And a viable option for addressing the needs of medically underserved populations, including the homeless, is via temporary healthcare facilities and mobile clinics. Across the country, there are various organizations dedicated to meeting the healthcare needs of the underserved.
One of these is The National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (NAFC), which hosts clinics in poverty stricken areas across the country. NAFC is based in Alexandria, Virginia and provides cost-effective and accessible care to America’s most vulnerable populations via a network of more than 1400 clinics and pharmacies. B-Corps looking to make a difference in the realm of affordable healthcare should consider the benefits of a partnership with NAFC.
Clothing and Essential Services
It’s no secret that socks are among the most requested items at homeless shelters across the country. Homeless individuals typically put in a lot of walking miles, as they shuffle between overnight shelters, churches that serve free meals, and various social service organizations.
As brand new socks are so essential among U.S. homeless populations, several B-Corps were even founded on that basis. In New Orleans, the Kinfolk Collective donates one pair of socks to homeless individuals or shelters for every pair sold. The sock and apparel company Bombas follows the same business model.
For many Americans facing housing insecurity, obtaining stable employment is a big step towards breaking free from homelessness. But it’s not always easy to catch the eye of a hiring manager, especially if for those who don’t have clothing that’s appropriate for job interviews. While not an official B-Corp, Seattle’s Two Big Blondes works to bridge the employment gap among homeless women.
The plus-size consignment shop in the Central District of Seattle, owned by Lisa Michaud since 2013, donates unsold items as well as those they are unable to consign to their affiliated non-profit, Seattle Women’s Assistance Fund(SWAF). Two Big Blondes also occasionally holds bag sales, where customers can fill a 13-gallon bag with clothing, shoes, and accessories for just $10. By offering high-quality, name brand clothing at a reduced price, the shop’s generosity allows homeless women to look and feel their best.
Companies Fighting to Reduce Food Insecurity
Food insecurity is, unfortunately, a common issue in America. And while the problem isn’t solely confined to homeless populations, hunger remains a real concern for homeless populations, no matter if they’re on the streets or have temporary shelter accommodations.
The good news is that numerous B-Corps are in the business of sustainable food production and distribution, including the world’s largest B-Corp, Danone North America. Those companies are in the unique position of being able to help reduce food insecurity in homeless communities.
The sustainability and food distribution efforts of B-Corps such as Mexico City’s Pixza put them in league with some of the nation’s most notable nonprofit eateries, such as Sisters of the Road cafe in Portland, Oregon. The downtown cafe provides nourishing, healthful meals at a low cost. And those who cannot afford to pay can exchange 30 minutes of work in the cafe for a meal.
Reducing the Stigma of Homelessness
Throughout the U.S., there is a widespread stigma that’s put upon homeless populations. Business owners and consumers alike often associate homelessness with mental illness and/or addiction. But data indicates that only a small percentage of homeless individuals fall into those categories.
According to Ohio University, about 554,000 people were homeless on any given night in 2017. Of those, approximately 144,000 were living with some type of mental illness, which equals nearly 26% of the population. Therefore, in order to break the cycle of poverty, mental illness, and addiction, social workers and similar professionals must connect vulnerable populations with appropriate resources.
In addition to treating homeless individuals with respect and kindness, businesses can get in on the humanitarian action by following suit: By embracing models of social design that foster inclusivity and remove employment barriers, homeless numbers may be greatly reduced, and in a sustainable manner to boot.
Author: Sam Bowman