Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

One potential solution to the problem of "finding work" for homeless adults

The previous entry on SRO housing mentions the Orange County Register article, "Who are the homeless living in the shadow of the Big A? Here are 11 stories." 

Besides making it clear that Orange County needs a lot more single adult housing at lower than market rates as an affordable housing strategy, it occurs to me that creating structured, social-care type businesses might be a way to help people on the margins of the economy to participate in the workforce.

The article recounts how a number of the people in that particular economy had worked in the trades, but for various reasons they lost jobs and haven't been able to get new ones, because of their precarious situations.  From the article:
David Doan, 48, is a mechanical wizard. He built a neighborhood shower by tapping into a back-flow water supply for a drinking fountain. He’s set up a couple of solar panels to power two 12-volt batteries. Residents use it to charge their cellphones. ...

Bruce Bishop, 57, became a union iron worker in 1981. He says he once made $67.50 an hour. But a DUI led to a lost driver’s license. And DMV red tape, he says, led to a debt and the loss of his care registration and the money to pay insurance. When he couldn’t pay his dues, he lost his union card too. He’s working day labor jobs now, and someday hopes to get back both his driver’s license and union card. ...

Sher Stuckman, 59, says she once worked in a precious-metals refinery and in a diesel engine factory. “I’m handy with anything mechanical.”
A number of them seem to have "mad skills" and given the ever present need for skilled workers, the issue isn't so much their skill but their need to work in a more flexible and supportive work environment, rather than the typical "sink or swim" system that typifies construction.

Create social enterprises to provide structured, supportive work settings, and real work.  Instead of them hanging out at the Home Depot or other home improvement stores looking for casual employment as day laborers ("Day Laborer Battle Runs Outside Home Depot," New York Times, 2005), couldn't social service nonprofits create social entrepreneurship businesses that can do handyman-home improvement services, while also linking these businesses to SRO housing and other support services to help them keep it together?
Social enterprises are revenue-generating businesses with a twist. Whether operated by a non-profit organization or by a for-profit company, a social enterprise has two goals: to achieve social, cultural, community economic and/or environmental outcomes; and, to earn revenue.

On the surface, many social enterprises look, feel, and even operate like traditional businesses. But looking more deeply, one discovers the defining characteristics of the social enterprise: mission is at the centre of business, with income generation playing an important supporting role.

-- The Centre for Community Enterprise via the British Columbia Centre for Social Enterprise
We are seeing some of these kinds of businesses being created in DC, even if they aren't defined as social enterprises, to help ex-offenders better re-engage in society and the economy or to work with otherwise unemployed young adults.

For example, employing ex-offenders, Clean Decisions specializes in cleaning commercial kitchens and restaurants ("Once a violent offender, his company now keeps clean kitchens," Washington Post).

The Clean Green Team hires young adults to do landscaping ("All-black landscaping crew turns 'the look' into job opportunities," Post). From the article:
Little Lights Urban Ministries helps the team drum up business, much of it on Capitol Hill. There are 22 team members. D&A Dunlevy Landscapers provides the job training.

“It’s a small-scale operation, but people need to see that there are practical ways to create job opportunities,” said Steve Parks, who founded Little Lights 20 years ago. “You have to make it a priority, though. It takes more than just being concerned.”
The DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services does work skills training with clients in part by cutting lawns of senior citizens ("Juvenile offenders learn meaning of work through mowing lawns of the elderly," Post).

An often touted example is DC Central Kitchen, which provides culinary training and helps support it through commercial catering.

For Latino immigrants, CASA of Maryland has created a referral program for certain kinds of home projects.  And in Seattle there is a similar kind of program at Casa Latina ("The Seattle Woman Who Made A Home For Day Laborers," KUOW/NPR).

Work versus Workforce Development.  Similarly, I have had a running argument with this guy about "workforce development."  I keep saying the issue isn't the training but the workplace, and that people being integrated/reintegrated into the workforce typically need more help and ongoing support than can be supplied by a for profit business with limited resources, especially in this kind of "human resources/HR."

So using models like Push Buffalo's Push Green Western New York energy efficiency improvement business, and the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, I say construct the businesses that can employ people, albeit not exactly as full-time permanent employment, but as part of a multi-phase workforce training and development program.

Although that's not what Evergreen does, instead they create worker-owned cooperatives and they have three, a laundry, farm, and a solar panel installation firm.  According to their website, they actively focus on creating jobs, and the training programs follow:
The initiative was designed to create an economic breakthrough in Cleveland. Rather than a trickle-down strategy, it focuses on economic inclusion and building a local economy from the ground up. Rather than offering public subsidy to induce corporations to bring what are often low-wage jobs into the city, the Evergreen strategy calls for catalyzing new businesses, owned by their employees. Rather than concentrate on workforce training for employment opportunities that are largely unavailable to low-skill and low-income workers, the Evergreen Initiative first creates the jobs, and then recruits and trains local residents to fill them.
-- "The Cleveland Model—How the Evergreen Cooperatives are Building Community Wealth," Democracy Collaborative
-- "Worker-Owned Green City Growers is On the Path to Profits While Giving Refugees and Ex-Cons Gainful Employment," Cleveland Scene Magazine

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