By Jim Bell, CEO

** This column first appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press **


I’m often asked what’s the best way to end homelessness.

The answer is complicated. But at the most basic level, we know that we can end homelessness in three steps.

First, we need to help people deal with their mental health and addictions. Secondly, we need to help people find housing. And thirdly, we need to help people find stability and purpose. In the latter case, for many, this means getting a job.

That sounds simple.

But the reality of helping someone overcome their challenges, find suitable housing and find a suitable job is challenging.

Thanks to the incredible generosity of Manitobans, we have focused on helping people who end up homeless overcome their moment of crisis. By offering meals, shelter and healthcare, we’ve been able to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable in our community for more than 30 years.

Along the way we’ve also created 85 units of supportive housing for vulnerable men and women. We’ve launched work-readiness programs. And we work with people one-on-one to help them move forward in life, including finding housing.

And now, thanks to the kindness of so many generous donors in our community, we have just launched a laundry business that will give work to men and women eager to get back into the workforce.

An investment of $200,00 from the Winnipeg Foundation, matched by donors and supporters all over the province, means we could outfit a commercial laundry space right here at Siloam Mission.

The social enterprise laundry is meant to help people who face homelessness gain the skills and confidence they need to get back to work.

But it does so much more than that.

Having a job brings importance to a person’s life.

It allows someone to contribute in a positive way. It creates a sense of pride and achievement.

We know that people who work tend to live happier and healthier lives than those who are unemployed. And we also know that being unemployed has negative impacts on a person’s self-esteem that can lead to poor mental health.

The laundry business at Siloam Mission is already employing two people.

For now, the business is handling all of our internal laundry. When you serve more than 500 people every day, and 110 of them stay the night every night, there’s a lot of laundry to be done.

But in the coming year we are planning to hire more people facing homelessness, and offering commercial laundry services for businesses and organizations in Winnipeg.

Employees will get to build their resume and gain critical skills necessary to find a job elsewhere. They’ll get a fair wage for their work. And they’ll gain the experience of being on a team — including the expectation of being a team player.

But beyond the money and the practical skills, they will gain a job that provides them with dignity and purpose.

A job that shows them someone trusted them enough — believed in them enough — to employ them and represent their organization.

And that feeling is worth more than a line on the resume or a paycheque at the end of the day.