Solutions SF Provides Homeless with Job Skills and Homes

homelessA home is beyond just a place, and there is no place like home. It is a place of affection, and in the words of Verlyn Klinkenborg, “It is also an idea – one where the heart is.”

In 2009, the National Coalition for the Homeless estimated that 44 percent of homeless had jobs, but could not afford rising housing costs. Transitional housing offered by the Health and Human Services Agency in San Francisco provides accommodation for 6-24 months, and offers “intensive services such as education, job training and placement, substance abuse counseling, parenting classes and child care services.”  The Community Housing Partnership (CHP), founded in 1990, goes a step further by not only offering a network of services, but owns and operates more 900 units in 11 buildings and is developing 144 more units to provide a longer-term solution for not only the homeless, but those at risk of becoming homeless.

After years of successful operation, CHP noticed:

  • An increase in number of trained individuals looking for job opportunities
  • An increase in demand for staff to manage and meet the needs of their 11 properties in the city

This brought about the birth of Solutions SF in 2007. This social enterprise wing of CHP trains qualified applicants to become employees of housing units owned both by CHP and landlords across the city for a variety of functions from janitorial services to lobby staffing to bedbug removal. This helps previously homeless individuals gain valuable experience in marketable skills.

Currently, Solutions SF is training close to 50 formerly homeless members and those at risk of being homeless. Part of the challenge is encouraging members to stay for at least two months until they complete the basic training program. This can be difficult because this population is made up of adults with a variety of backgrounds and issues regarding health, age, drugs, trauma, and family problems. Training mainly involves changing attitudes and behavior, which, in turn, leads to the challenge of finding committed, persistent trainers who are willing to invest their time to provide the necessary guidance.

However, despite this revolutionary work which effectively addresses a monumental problem, Laurie Bernstein, Director of Social Enterprises of CHP and Director of Solutions SF said, “We do not want clients selecting us for the reason that we employ formerly homeless people. We want to compete in the market in a professional manner and provide high quality services to our customers.”  Solutions SF’s website doesn’t immediately state that some of the personnel they are supplying to meet housing job shortages are formerly homeless, but they don’t hide it, either, saying,

A portion of our employees have previously experienced homelessness and are returning to the workforce upon obtaining housing. These individuals have been thoroughly trained and evaluated as being ready to excel at their work responsibilities. In addition to recruiting and training employees, we provide ongoing support as they transition back into the workplace and continue their success.

Presently, Solutions SF’s social impact is measured on the basis of number of individuals employed. Sixty-five percent of the company’s operations are met by its earnings and the rest is funded by the parent non-profit. However, they anticipate reaching their goal of 100 percent in the near future. Bernstein envisions the enterprise growing horizontally by adding more tiers to the line of services offered by Solutions SF.

She believes people have yet to cultivate an interest in choosing a social business over a regular for-profit venture. Just think about how many social businesses exist in your community. A handful at best? By choosing social ventures like Solutions SF, customers can have a positive impact in their communities.


Photo credit: Jordan Steele

By Sanyanth Naroth, Luis Enrique Pardo, Jun Liu, Dinara Zhaxynbek and Osazuwa Osayi. The authors are Master of Social Entrepreneurship candidates at Hult International Business School. 


Hult Social Entrepreneurship

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