Businesses Leading for Good: Industry leaders leverage strengths to achieve “hire opportunity”

Published by the Stand Together Foundation:

Of the three million Americans experiencing homelessness over the course of a year, over 80 percent are situationally homeless. This means that they’ve experienced a life-altering event such as job loss, domestic violence, medical emergency, or natural disaster that has forced them to live without housing.

Individuals facing situational homelessness are typically shut out of employment processes because of their lack of a home address, access to transportation, and the unfortunate stigma that comes with their personal story. They have experienced circumstances that have left them homeless, jobless, and searching for a way out of both.

On the surface, obtaining affordable housing and finding stable employment are two enormous problems that seem to need two separate solutions. But when for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations work together, they have the extraordinary opportunity to more effectively solve these problems by leveraging their unique knowledge and strengths. In joining forces they can do more good for more people than they could on their own.

Shelters to Shutters (S2S), a Stand Together Foundation partner, has created a hybrid housing-employment program to serve people like Odessa who need both a job and a place to call home. They’ve created a pipeline of talent from an untapped source, pairing property management companies with ready-to-work individuals who are experiencing homelessness. Those companies offer career opportunities to pre-screened candidates paired with affordable housing within their apartment communities, setting individuals on a path toward self-sufficiency. With this 2-in-1 solution, the housing industry itself is fighting homelessness.

It’s more than just a philanthropic checkbox for companies looking to be more socially responsible. The Shelters to Shutters model is sparking creativity, helping people imagine new and non-traditional ways to solve big problems, and building bridges between the nonprofit sector and unique business partners who can work together to reach shared goals of helping connect people to meaningful work. S2S participants are hired in front and back office roles—leasing agents, groundskeepers, and maintenance technicians.

“It’s a very cutting edge idea. Partnering with charities and these folks that need housing and have incredibly valuable skills to offer…having the ability to support them in their transition back to normalcy again.”

Sarah Cahill, Director of Organizational Development & Customer Experience at Gates Hudson (S2S employer)

Companies like Gates Hudson work with Shelters to Shutters to hire, train, and support qualified, hard-working people who are in need of jobs and housing. These individuals have the skillset and the motivation to contribute to the mission of their business. Partnerships like this are leading the way in reshaping hiring practices, creating a trilaterally mutually beneficial relationship between a business, a nonprofit, and someone in need of them both.

Shelters to Shutters partnerships are also bolstering the multifamily housing industry as employees. Participants are helping to solve the issue of turnover and improving operations, and contributing to the companies’ overall efficiency, growth, and stability.

Independence Realty Trust (IRT), another S2S partner, has had such a positive experience with the individuals they have hired that they have created new positions so that they can continue to participate in the program. Fred Kapel, Vice President of HR for IRT, says their retention rate is twice is high with Shelters to Shutters participants, and he is optimistic about the impact the program can have on employees and companies across the country as it grows.

Shelters to Shutters hosts hiring fairs where potential employers are invited to interview participants, not as homeless but as talented, career-minded individuals who can add value to their organizations. Together, they have created a job placement model that is re-humanizing the hiring process. It’s a strategic partnership that has the power to change the way we think about capable individuals and break the stigma of homelessness across our culture.

“The folks that we’ve met and talked to and hired—and some we’ve met and talked to and didn’t hire—they have been equally as impressive personality-wise, reliability-wise, and technically as anybody else,” says Kapel.

“I think folks in the program look at this as an incredible opportunity to get back on their feet. I think that motivates them to be reliable, do a good job, [and] continue to learn.”

Fred Kapel, VP of HR at IRT

Shelters To Shutters works with its partner businesses to help participants reach personal and professional milestones. They offer them mentorship, career-advancing training programs, and ongoing case management support to ensure long-term success. Their mutual investment goes far beyond a home address and a paycheck.

“We don’t want them to feel like this is just a short-term solution. We want this to be their future career.”

Sarah Cahill, Director of Organizational Development & Customer Experience at Gates Hudson

The best part is that it’s working. Shelters to Shutters has been a lifeline to over 260 people. The success rate of participants not re-entering homelessness is 93 percent. They’ve seen an 87 percent employment retention rate, and 89 percent of participants have received a wage increase and/or promotion from their employer.

This creative model of partnership has the potential to transform lives, businesses, and society at large, as more businesses and community groups think differently about helping solve entrenched problems and what that means for the lives of people like Odessa.

Today, Odessa and her twins share a beautiful two-bedroom apartment that came with her new job as a leasing agent, and she calls Shelters to Shutters “a dream come true.”


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