A framework to solve Homelessness forever

How spending an year with homeless changed everything we know about homelessness

HISTORY: Two days after coming home from my ivory tower in Kuala Lumpur, subsequent to a 4-month fellowship there, a friend of mine Gayatri came up to me with an aspiration to help homelessness in Vizag(the city I used to live in). I quickly got to work and started my market research. I wanted to understand deeply about different elements and the core reasons of the problem.

Although there were many social enterprises working globally trying to solve it, the issue still is a plague to the world. A report to the United Nations in 2005 stated there were an estimated 100 million homeless people in the world, and an additional 1.6 billion living without adequate housing. That means one in four people live in conditions that are harm their health, safety, prosperity & opportunities. India is home to about 78 million homeless people despite the country growing in global economic stature.

Two weeks later I traveled down to Vizag. We started sketching research plans to study about homelessness in the city and hit the roads. In one year span we evolved as an organization from a team of 2 to team of 6 with 200+ volunteers on board supporting the cause now. My team spent first few months doing surveys and interacting with 100’s of street friends every month.

STATS from Vizag:

Earlier to this, my perception towards homelessness was that most of them are lazy and involved in drug & alcohol abuse. But to my surprise I was bummed when I looked into the statistics from our surveys. Almost 50% are looking for employment opportunities and 14% are involved in some kind of jobs.

With over 60% of the beneficiaries fit for working and willing to do, we saw an opportunity here. We took off to do something about it. Categorized the homeless into 6 classes based on their situation and profiles.

1.Working

2.Willing to work

3.Handicapped

4.Old aged

5.Mentally retarded

6.Won’t work.

These are the types of homeless that we usually find out there. If we study them as classes its easier to figure out what solutions work for a specific class. For instance, Micro-finance could have higher rate of success for one class while self help groups might have more positive influence of another class. Its all about experimenting a bit to test what fits the market. Lets try to figure out frugal tests that can quickly determine what works and what doesn’t.

Note: As majority of the homeless fall into 1 and 2 in my city, We started focusing on that part. The rest of em were often directed to other non profits, private shelters which focus on helping those specific sections.

To track the progress of homeless we can place a class of homeless in one of the following stages and track the impact as they move across these stages.

Default is the stage 0 which is the least they could be at.

Stage 0: Homeless-addicted-no skill-no work

Stage 1: Homeless doing some work

Stage 2: Homeless with a skill will have higher chances of fetching a job

Stage 3: Financial Inclusion- bank accounts and some education about how he need to save inorder to step out of homelessness.

Once he/she pass through these, he /she will be able to Step out of homelessness.

VALUE CHAIN:

Using Maslow’s theory,

We can map the value chain.

Value chain to solve homelessness

What we did so far: First and foremost is the part which interacts with homeless. This can be a piece of interactive computer setup that we usually find in shopping malls, or groups of people or even an individual. We usually conduct events during weekends where our teams go around to interact with the homeless. We motivate them to move to shelters, where food is provided and they are directed to some day jobs. Sometimes we create few product lines where we employ homeless somewhere in the whole logistics. By this we were able to generate some revenues and also employ a few. One main reason why people spend money they get on streets is because they don’t have bank accounts or a place to save money. Getting robbed adds more trouble. Hence, Rehab and financial inclusion are two bits that we are planning to execute in future.

From this, we can say that the next bit after interaction is providing them food. Post this they need shelter and then some clothing. These three can vary based on availability of resources. If the candidate is way too stuck in addictions he/she shall be routed to immediate rehab. They shall get used to do some work first and those who are already ready to work can be directed into day jobs. Offering them long term jobs is risky and it’s also hard to convince employers to hire homeless due to several issues. But with a regulating body in b/w who’s aware of the conditions, homeless can be hired for day jobs. Giving them bank accounts and providing financial resilience is crucial in this stage. Once they get into the habit of working hard for at least 6–8 hours a day, they can be pushed to various skill development programs. There are various number of institutions(In India) which provide free skill development and connect them to long term employers.

Hence it’s more like

Interactions
Food, Shelter, Clothing, Medication
Day jobs
Rehab if required, Financial Inclusion
Skill Development
Long term Jobs
Affordable Housing

Despite of good income, lack of affordable housing can be one serious reason why people still forced to live on streets.

What you can do:

Individual: Run a small survey around in your city to see where homeless are and how many are there out there. Map out how many stakeholders are involved in each section of the value chain above. Advocate to bring awareness about a specific sect which you think is missing in your city.

Group: As a group you can do a lot depending on financial support and expertise. From feeding events, street stores, blessing bags, grooming services, interactions to building tools and applications which bridge the homeless to their helpers, groups can be extremely powerful in bringing a change.

For Profit: If you’re looking to start a social good business there is immense potential out there which can be utilized. You can connect the homeless to employers being a HR service which can generate ample revenues. You can create business models around homeless by creating product lines. To add something to this, try finding products that people use often in your city which are easy to make in hours of time and requires no training at all. Employ homeless to make these and generate revenues to be a social good business.

PS:The above methods can also be used by non-profits.

An year after inception, we are still running many experiments to understand what works the best. We have teams up and running in 6 zones across our city and a new team is taking shape in a city adjacent to ours.

If someone out there want to start a chapter or if some group who’s already working in similar domain is looking to make a real impact, remember that you’re not alone in this. We are here to lend a hand and do our best to support you(comment below to receive help). We are a tribe who’s striving to build a better civilization to give to our future generations.

Together by connecting the dots, we want to setup a framework in every city and village across the globe, through which a person on street gets appropriate help and momentum to get back into the society.

We strongly believe homelessness isn’t the mistake of one person but it’s the mistake of the way we build our communities.