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The emerging model for solving situational homelessness

In 2009, I interviewed David Williams as CEO of Make-A-Wish America and was impressed with his passion and vision. I recently discovered that he was at the forefront of one of the most misunderstood and most important issues in America – situational homelessness. So I contacted David again.

Shelters to Shutters (S2S) transitions homeless individuals and families into economic independence by providing full-time employment, housing and job training opportunities in partnership with the real estate industry . As a background on David, in March 2021 David joined Shelters to Shutters as President and CEO and prior to that he had 11 years as Executive Director of Houston Food Bank, 11 years as as executive vice president and chief operating officer of Habitat for Humanity International and 14 years as president and CEO of Make-A-Wish America.

Robert Reiss: What have you learned as CEO of Make-A-Wish about organizations?

David Williams: As simple as it sounds, my experience at Make-A-Wish has reinforced my belief that no matter the organization, industry, situation or structure, it’s always about leadership. Still.

Reis: Explain the challenge of situational homelessness in America today.

Williams: Of the 3.5 million Americans who will experience homelessness in a year, more than 80% of those people are experiencing homelessness. They have been in the workforce and have marketable skills, but due to some life circumstance such as job loss, medical emergency, or domestic violence, they have ended up where they didn’t. never thought they’d be – homeless. The reality is that most of the funding and resources available to address homelessness go to the most visible and urgent chronic population.

Reis: Describe the S2S model.

Williams: If you are homeless and don’t have an address, how do you find a job? And if you don’t have a job, how do you find accommodation? This is the chicken and egg scenario that many people in our country face. At S2S, we solve this problem by partnering directly with the multifamily real estate industry. The industry has both full-time jobs and housing to offer and is often plagued by high turnover of entry-level positions. It’s a win-win solution. We offer a viable path to economic independence for those we serve while providing our multi-family real estate partners with a pipeline of screened, trained and motivated candidates for their open entry positions such as maintenance technicians, gardeners and rental agents. We are able to solve some of the biggest challenges facing our participants….full-time employment, affordable housing, and transportation while helping our multi-family partners gain valuable employees with a three-times tenure. industry average.

Reis: What are some of the unique aspects of your process?

Williams: Local non-profit and training organizations refer clients to us for our program. After our thorough assessment, background check, and training process, S2S participants are referred for opportunities with our multifamily partners. Our partners apply the same hiring process and standards as all other external candidates. If he is hired, our participant receives a unit to live on the spot where he works. Depending on the property category, there may be a one-year upgraded housing discount to make the on-site unit affordable. CORT, a national furniture rental and retail company, provides our participants with a kit of necessities and furniture for their new apartment. We also provide a laptop with internet access and an individualized training program on learning paths to support their professional development. Finally, we provide a mentor for a year to accompany our participants and their families on their journey towards autonomy.

Reis: What specific results has S2S achieved?

Williams: Over 90% of our placements do not go back to programs for the homeless. More than 70% receive a promotion or a raise after their first year on the job. Participants stay in their jobs for an average of 24.8 months compared to the multifamily industry average of 6 to 9 months.

Reis: What types of partnerships are you looking for?

Williams: Three types of partnerships:

  1. With multi-family homeowner groups and property management companies who will consider our applicants for employment and housing.
  2. With people who would be willing to serve as mentors and/or city advisory board members.
  3. With foundations, corporations and individuals willing to support the mission philanthropically

Reis: What is your vision?

Williams: We hired five executive directors last year in five markets (Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Nashville and the National Capital Region). We’ve launched in three cities so far in 2022 (Charleston, Orlando, and Phoenix) and hope to add Dallas and one more city this year. Our vision is to begin operations in five cities/year over the next five years. It currently costs $100,000 in seed capital to launch a new marketplace.

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