How Business Can Prevent Homelessness (Part 3 of 3)Aug 02, 2023
By Nathan Havey
Before reading the final installment of this series below, make sure to check out How Business Can Prevent Homelessness (Part 1 of 3) and (Part 2 of 3).
When it comes to preventing homelessness, let's take a look at three things every company can do in their community.
1. Emergency Assistance
The total cost of what it takes to really be there in an employee’s time of need is surprisingly small. What, for a company, is the cost of attending a conference can be life-changing for an employee and their family in terms of preventing homelessness.
Many companies already have programs like this, but all too often, employees don’t know about them or how to use them. Indeed, another theme that came up again and again in the Elevated Denver podcast about preventing homelessness was that many unhoused people have resources that they refuse to use due to pride. The same will be true for emergency assistance programs unless the company deliberately makes it safe to ask for help, or better — sets up a system in which the company does the asking.
2. Proactive HR
I’ll admit that I have not seen this approach in reality yet, but I’ve seen its component parts in many different companies. The idea here is to first know the warning signs for homelessness, which include a history of trauma, little to no local social network, and little to no economic resources in the family. Then the company must be able to identify and intervene when an employee who is at risk of becoming homeless suffers an unexpected shock — like when Myra experienced the death of a loved one in Part 1 of this series.
Think about what Myra’s supervisor could have done to help her recognize that she was depressed and get her into (company-sponsored) counseling. In fact, in addition to preventing homelessness, it might have been a real benefit to her to have access to counseling before her partner died.
If HR teams make it a point to promote mental health and wellbeing as not just a part of but the actual goal of the workplace culture, it won’t be long before the company can start to see paths that would have led to homelessness become rerouted.
3. Living wages
Finally, while the first two initiatives are transformative, they are only a Band-Aid solution if the company is not paying living wages in the first place. I know that in some cases the economics of an industry and the cost of certain cities make this really difficult, but at Stakeholder Business we believe that for a company to be truly successful it must be helping its stakeholders exceed their basic needs. And we've observed that doing so is actually good for business. Because when employees are free from the metal drain that acute financial stress creates, they perform better. That, and people who feel cared-for tend to return the favor.
What would happen if it became the standard for companies to commit to preventing homelessness and to implement these three approaches? It could lead to a precipitous reduction in the number of people who become homeless. That would mean that the systems in place to respond to homelessness and help people get back into housing would all work better since one of their most urgent problems is that they are over capacity.
With a better match between resources and demand, we’d finally give these systems a chance to catch up. They would become more effective at doing what they were designed to do: make homelessness a temporary crisis and not a years-long struggle that compounds trauma and substance abuse and makes it harder and harder to achieve stability.
The impact of these three practices becoming normal for American business might just be what is called "functional zero" — when the number of new people using homelessness services in any specified demographic/time/region is less than or equal to the number of people who exit homelessness through being housed or leaving the region. That world is possible, even with America’s particular politics. And we’ll need you and your company to show your community how its done.
For more of this kind of thinking and a support structure to help you implement stakeholder business in your company, join a group of your peer CEOs in the Stakeholder Business Society.