Project Comeback: How Tokenization Will Help the Homeless Help Themselves
In partnership with the Association for Community Employment, SingularDTV will launch the ACE Token, funding one of New York City’s finest non-profits.
The launch of crowdfunding module Tokit on November 7th will kick-off a debut suite of tokenization projects within the SingularDTV ecosystem, most of which are firmly within the realm of entertainment, film, documentary, and music. But when SingularDTV CEO Zach LeBeau says that we should “tokenize everything,” he takes the statement very seriously.
One particular field that will benefit most greatly from a tokenized economy is philanthropy and non-profit organizations that inspire. That’s why SingularDTV has partnered with ACE, the Association for Community Employment in New York City. Through the group’s Project Comeback, ACE helps homeless men and women earn their way to a stable life through employment, and provides long-term support to help them help themselves as they strive towards a better life. This mini-doc traces the story of ACE and its immense importance in people’s lives through the lives of three of its graduates.
We spoke with ACE Director of Development Travis Tinney about all the good work in which ACE is involved, and how important this groundbreaking tokenization and crowdfunding initiative could offer a whole new way of funding for ACE and truly remarkable and dedicated organizations like it around the world as they break the cycle of homelessnesss.
It’s not just filmmakers and musicians who can benefit from the support of a community and ecosystem, tokenization will lead the way to a whole new economy of help, where sustainable, transparent funding and long-lasting contributor relationships are the norm.
So how does ACE and Project Comeback work?
Invite men and women from homeless shelters in New York City to join the Project Comeback, which is the program with which we’re partnering with SingularDTV. The goal of the program is to help people time full-time employment, through which they can become self-sufficient. We are one of the only organizations that provides individualized support on a case-by-case basis in a long-term and sustainable method. Typically a 4–6 month, full-time program, with two days of work experience, and three days of classes and training. But we work with people on an individual basis, up to a year, if that’s what they need. They’ll become able to take care of their families, help their kids get through school, put food on the table, become contributing members of society. We are the last stop on the train out of public assistance.
What makes up the Project Comeback model?
There are several key components that are helping them get back to work. These components are we’re asking partners, supporters, those who are interested in making a fundamental difference in people’s lives, to help with and contribute towards. The first is that each person who enters the program is given 14 hours a week of paid work experience. This is typically stuff like sweeping the streets, cleaning up, secretarial work. They’re paid minimum wage to provide a service to the community, ACE, or a business within the community.
Earning a steady wage is very important to a person’s ongoing success. Many of the men and women who come to us have not earned a paycheck in one, two, five years, some never at all. I’ve interviewed men and women who have been homeless for twenty five years, living behind buildings, living on rooftops. When they earn that first paycheck, the sense of confidence, the belief in theirself, is palpable. As routine as it is for most of us, it’s something that they never thought possible. $11 an hour might not sound like a lot, but it’s more than the 50 cents people are paid for labor in prison.
What else makes up the curriculum?
The second component is the classes and training. We offer seven unique hard skills or industry specific training courses. OSHA certifications, construction safety, scaffolding, forklift training, food protection training, etc. These courses give participants a real credential, or multiple credentials, to bring to potential employers, to give them an even footing in a field. For example: everybody on any shift in a kitchen in New York City has to have an OSHA Certification, so there’s a demand for that kind of work, real skills that can be brought into a workplace. The general classes in addition to those are computer classes, financial literacy, math, english, workplace etiquette, managing healthcare — anything that can help a person succeed on their own in everyday life.
The third component we’re asking for support with, which is absolutely a huge decision maker in whether or not a person achieves stability, is long-term support. We provide financial incentives for our clients to keep their jobs. When someone comes through ACE and they find a job, we’re happy, we celebrate, but that’s not it. We give them $75 a month keep their job. That may not seem like a lot, but maybe that’s a present for their kids, four or five meals over the month. We provide this incentive for two years, and they come in and meet with us for years. We make sure they’re doing alright. We’re there for them long-term.
We also have a component where we provide sanitation services to different areas throughout the city, so we have some program revenue from those contracts. That allows us to have our supporters employment program, where we offer full-time positions to those who are most in need and may have the largest barriers to employment — if someone is not ready to completely step outside of ACE, we can offer a full-time job for that person so we can have daily interaction.
Encouraging people to earn their comebacks is a different way of looking at things than many programs…
I’ve seen people’s lives totally transformed, people whose lives could have gone to the absolute worst end of the spectrum. They’ve seen their friends die, go back to prison, and they know what they escaped from. They just wanted the opportunity, and nobody had given them the framework to succeed. And so much of their success is down to them.
Has it been difficult to find funding for ACE and Project Comeback?
Funding for a non-profit is always difficult and always on the front of our minds. We get our funding from public support, individuals that are motivated and inspired by our cause, grants from foundations. But we have a great need for funding — there’s 50,000 people living in homeless shelters in New York City. Over the past two years, we’ve served 40% more individuals. Our operation costs have doubled from $2 million to $4 million. We absolutely need the support of each and every person who can help. It’s critical. Every single dollar that comes in goes into the program. We are razor sharp with how we spend our money. We actually, directly give the money to our clients through earning paychecks and wages. Unlike many other programs, they’re earning.
How did you come into contact with SingularDTV?
Edward Cen, a longtime supporter of ACE, met Zach and Kim in New York City. They became friends and were moved enough to come to an ACE event, where they heard one our graduates Latrisha speak. They were really inspired by the work that ACE is doing, explained what SingularDTV was about, and offered ACE the opportunity be a part of their launch with a mission of breaking the cycle of poverty It’s an incredible opportunity. I don’t know that we all understood what it meant at the outset, but we’re much more versed now, and we couldn’t be more excited.
So what does ownership of the ACE Token afford the holder?
It gives them a tangible indentifier that they have contributed to the betterment of people’s lives, New York City as a whole, and a stronger, stable city. We feel that this partnership could inspire people all over the world to consider giving in a new way, and taking part in the reintegration of everyday people who have fallen on hard times back into a positive, healthy, sustainable and productive life. An ACE Token represents a stake in someone’s life being fundamentally changed. The value to that is you have actually, literally, a better place. So much of the focus on digital currencies is driven by speculation, but the opportunity to actually make a real difference in communities with a token that could accrue in value is a totally new and exciting idea.
Has this partnership led you to become something of a blockchain nerd yourself?
In fact, I totally have. I was very much unaware of how deep this rabbit hole goes down, but spending time around people and seeing how people are coming together from all around the world to the decentralized revolution just shows the potential of this movement. I’m sure I’m not as versed as many of the very intelligent and talented people working on this project, but in my own circles, I sound like quite a futurist!
For more information about ACE, check out ACENewYork.org