How Business Can Prevent Homelessness (Part 1 of 3)Jun 20, 2023
By Nathan Havey
Myra worked at a large satellite television company in Denver, Colorado. She came home from work one day to find her partner had died suddenly in their apartment while she was out. Finding the body upon her return was especially traumatizing for Myra, who’d grown up around violence and death as a child. Her company gave her a week off to handle her affairs and grieve.
The next week came, though, and Myra felt no motivation to go to work. So most days, she didn’t. In fact, she felt no motivation to do anything. She stopped handling her responsibilities altogether. She didn’t know it at the time, but she had fallen into a deep depression. Soon she was evicted, and once she had exhausted the limited support available from family and friends (most of her network was struggling to get by, as well), she found herself pulling what she could carry in her luggage to a secluded spot under a bridge downtown by Denver’s Cherry Creek.
Even from there, Myra would occasionally make it into work, but soon her supervisor had no choice but to fire her. This was the beginning of the darkest chapter in Myra’s life. When I met her two years ago though, it was just a memory. She had beaten the odds and climbed through Denver’s homeless support system to finally get a permanent supporting-housing unit, where she hosted me and Johnna Flood for an interview for a podcast episode on homelessness in Denver.
A Perfect Storm
While there’s no real consensus on what exactly causes homelessness, everyone we interviewed who is working on the issue encouraged us to start not with the question, “What’s wrong with them?” but rather to ask, “What happened to them?”
Myra’s story shares common elements with many people who find themselves without stable housing – most of whom were gainfully employed before experiencing some kind of shock or trauma. Most had already suffered trauma in their past. If they lacked a social or economic safety net, it was a perfect storm for losing stable housing. And once housing is lost, most find it profoundly difficult to regain.
In very broad strokes, more than 500,000 people in America with this kind of story are going to sleep outside or in shelters tonight, including more than 4,700 people in Denver. It’s likely that an even greater number are sleeping in their cars or on the couches and floors of friends and family.
No one likes the fact that homelessness exists in the richest country in the world. And while many European countries are way ahead of the US in this regard, their kinds of solutions lack the political will to be viable in the US in the foreseeable future. So here, we invest in shelters and supportive housing to help individuals get back on their feet (40 percent of whom, remarkably, work full-time even while unhoused). If businesses are involved in this area at all, most participate by making donations to the non-profits offering those services.
As we finished the first season of Elevated Denver (the podcast that gave me the chance to meet Myra), I couldn’t help but feel like the majority of the system was set up to take proverbial bodies out the of river, rather than going upstream to see where all the bodies are coming from.
In the second installment of this article, I invite you to come take a look at what we found upstream. There’s a profound opportunity for companies to play a role in preventing the journey toward homelessness before it even begins.