‘Hand ups’ not handouts: How businesses can help tackle Seattle’s homeless crisis

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At 6:00am Wednesday morning, Steven stood outside The Millionair Club Charity in downtown Seattle, waiting for the doors to open.

He wanted to work.

Less than an hour later, Steven had a job assignment in his hand and was off for the day to help a residential moving company.

The Millionair Club, which has been around for more than 90 years, has helped put around 140 people into full-time employment over the past year, doing its part – with the help of willing companies – to combat Seattle’s growing homeless crisis.

The charity also helps homeless individuals and others struggling to find work by removing barriers to employment – offering meals, showers, laundry, clothes, training, and other services that they need to help them succeed.

“Whether it’s by choice, by bad breaks, by bad luck, by abuse, by trauma, by some catastrophe that happened in their lives, each person comes in looking for an opportunity,” said Cary Calkins, director of business development for The Millionair Club Charity.

In March, The Millionair Club partnered with United Way of King County, the City of Seattle, and the Metropolitan Improvement District to launch a new jobs program aimed specifically at getting unsheltered adults into full-time employment. The program, Jobs Connect, works by outreaching to individuals living on the streets or in tent cities and offering them an opportunity to work.

“Within three days, we can work with somebody coming out of a tent city or off the streets, get them prepared, and get them into work if they’re ready. Willingness is always the key to anything we do,” Calkins said.

Since the program began, nine people have been hired full-time by the Metropolitan Improvement District, where workers help keep downtown Seattle safe and clean. Five of those employees now live in apartments.

But The Millionair Club is hoping to help many more by getting other companies onboard.

“We are really looking for somebody to step up, ideally a big name Seattle organization that is interested in partnering through Jobs Connect,” Calkins said. “Employers who are interested in taking a step forward to solve the problem. To help solve the homelessness and extreme poverty issues that we have in the city of Seattle through employment. Not through handouts. Through hand ups.”

Calkins said some businesses are understandably hesitant about hiring workers who live on the streets – workers who are facing extreme challenges that could distract from their productivity. He said he is hoping employers can look past those circumstances and give those individuals an opportunity to turn their lives around.

“We need to stop labeling people. When we talk about homeless people, we put their living situation above their humanity,” Calkins said. “Your past is your past and we all have them. We should not judge people for their past. We should look forward and help them move to a new place in the future.”

If you’re not an employer, but would like a simple way to contribute, you can help get a worker job-ready by purchasing an item from The Millionair Club Charity’s Amazon wish list. Items range from $9.99 to $24.99 and can be shipped directly to the charity.