This simple, brilliant idea gives homeless people a way to get ahead.

Homelessness is one of the most rampant — and, perhaps by extension, most overlooked — problems currently facing society.

It's something that most of us routinely witness firsthand without ever really stopping to think of a solution beyond offering a handful of change or the leftovers from our lunch.

Thankfully, some humanitarian organizations recognize the need for action and are working to come up with solutions. The Winnipeg-based Siloam Mission is one of those places.


All photos via Siloam Mission, used with permission.

The nonprofit group is offering a unique way for its city's homeless population to bounce back from hardship: putting them to work.

Yes, in addition to providing its roughly 110 residents with a roof to sleep under, three meals a day, clothing, and regular access to health care, the Siloam Mission has also launched several "progressive services," according to Cathy Ste. Marie, a spokesperson for the organization.

One such service is Mission Off the Streets (MOST), a program that allows Siloam residents to earn up to $11 per hour by cleaning city streets.

Ste. Marie explains how the program came about:

"We were seeing men and women who wanted to get back out into the workforce but were just so far down ... they had lost their homes, some people had lost their families. It's just a very hard situation to see yourself getting out of, so all confidence is often lost.
But we also saw a lot of people with skills, people who were the opposite of what people see when they think of homelessness. Once they got out there, they loved it. It was giving them a sense of purpose, a reason to get up again."

The initiative became successful after it launched in 2009.

The work program is now a full-time, Monday-through-Friday operation. Last year alone, it employed some 86 people and was responsible for over 720 miles of streets being cleaned and some 886 bags of trash being collected.

But beyond that, Siloam is using the program to provide people who have lost everything with the confidence — and, perhaps more importantly, the resources — to get back in the workforce, offering references to those in need and helping people with no previous work experience develop the soft skills upon which every job is based, such as reporting to a boss and working with a team.

When their residents are ready to take the leap into employment, Siloam even takes things a step further with a vocational rehabilitation program.

That's done through a program called Building Futures, and it's designed for individuals who require assistance securing sustainable employment.

Building Futures determines the skill levels of residents who have succeeded in the MOST program and helps develop their strengths through skill assessments and training. This could mean providing career information, securing funding for schooling, or helping their residents build literacy skills.

The stories of the homeless who come through their doors can be both heart-wrenching and inspirational.

Ste. Marie recounts one such story about a man who came to them last Christmas, having held the same job for 25 years only to one day find the doors locked and the company bankrupted.

His marriage fell apart that same month, and his house was taken from him shortly thereafter. He had given up, until the organization's work program "helped him realize that he had a lot to offer," in the words of Ste. Marie. Less than a year later, he had received a grant for $7,800 to apply for a truck driver's license, a position that could see him making $60,000 a year upon completion of the necessary courses.

If this project seems like one of those obvious, "Why are we not funding this?" ideas — that's probably because it is.

Winnipeg isn't the only city experimenting with this approach to homelessness. For example, the mayor of Albuquerque recently did something similar in the New Mexico city.

Author William Golding once wrote that "the greatest ideas are the simplest." And what's simpler than putting those who want to work, back to work?

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