Shelters to Shutters is the perfect example of how a simple idea can change lives. How a single person seeing a problem and joining together with others can become a resolution for many. It is a creative solution that addresses a deeply rooted problem – homelessness. Through one man’s simple response of human compassion to an encountered need, Shelters to Shutters was born.
In America alone, 3.5 million people experience homelessness in the course of just one year with 40% of them being children. The stereotype that drugs and mental illness are the primary causes of homelessness is incorrect. The truth is that less than 30 percent of homeless have drug or alcohol dependency issues or are mentally ill. The other 70 percent or more are homeless due primarily to poverty – unemployment and housing costs. These people are able and willing to work and want to return to a life of self-sufficiency.
For those living in poverty or near the poverty line, a sudden life change can make them homeless. Even a circumstance as seemingly small as a broken down car can interfere with a family’s ability to make payments and cover their bills.
“But the people I met—and the misery they experience—were very real. They were not the lazy alcoholics and drug addicts I’d assumed them to be. They were ordinary people looking desperately for jobs but not getting them, mainly because they had no permanent address. Many had kids whom they called from payphones. All were ashamed of their situation.” ~ Will Harlan, Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine
Apart from society’s overall negative perception of homeless people, the main struggle they face when applying for a job is that they do not have a home address. The problem is that homeless need a home to get a job but they need a job to have a home. Within this issue is where the organization got its name, from its concept: transitioning people currently living in shelters to their very own shutters.
Chris Finlay, the founder of Shelters to Shutters, was reading the Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine one day when he came across the article profiling homelessness in Asheville, North Carolina (quoted above) and was inspired. He said:
“What struck me in reading that article that didn’t occur to me before was the number of people who really want to work. And yet, if you’re homeless and you don’t have an address, how do you get a job?”
Finley realized that he could use his position as an owner of a property management company to do something about it. He planned out a model that would pair industry professionals with homeless individuals who wanted to work to offer a “hand up” rather than just a “hand out”. By giving the individual a place to live (affordable housing or free), as well as a job to make money, was their pathway to economic independence.
The program partners with local service organizations that are already supporting the homeless community. They identify the individuals who are ready and willing to work (and are therefore committed and reliable) and submit them as candidates to Shelters to Shutters. The caseworkers from the local services then continue to help as a part of the process by offering additional support, training, accountability and counsel for those individuals who are a part of the program.
The organization partners with a network of property management specialists who can place candidates within open positions. These jobs have a potential for advancements and they open up doors for new opportunities, thus helping set the homeless on a permanent path to self-sufficiency. These are not entry-level jobs, they are a career path.
Shelters to Shutters is an answer that arose from a decision to recognize the needs of a neighbor and to do something about it. The pride and dignity of good people have been restored because of it; their lives repaired and changed for the better. The remarkable thing is, the program has a 93% success rate. The video below is of one individual’s success story but there has been over 100 already. For more stories click here.