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I’ve been listening to the Ricochet podcast for a couple years, am a big fan, and have for awhile wanted to lend my voice to this conversation—partly because of the field in which I work, which some may describe as “social justice.”
I joined the site today and want to open with this background.
My wife and I started an organization eight years ago that is focused on empowering homeless people. (Speak Up Magazine is a 501c3 nonprofit and gets all its funding from private sources; no government handouts.)
We publish a magazine that is written by homeless people (they get paid for writing). The magazine is then sold by those same people in public places. The first 10 magazines are free—those are the seed that recognizes they are facing hardship and need help. They keep all of the cash from each copy they sell. After the first 10 freebies, they can buy more for a low price.
This creates an opportunity for people who depend on social services to instead create their own income and become independent. They become entrepreneurs, learn to manage their money, discover the joy of hard work and accomplishment, and get off the streets.
I’ve seen some remarkable things.
I met one guy who’d been homeless for six years, had received lots of help from various government-funded services, and was going nowhere. He was living in an abandoned house. He had fire in his belly and was dying to make something of himself, but the “system” was not set up to reward people like him. Instead, he was incentivized to show less income so he could keep the meager state-sponsored handouts he was getting.
Fortunately he rejected the lie that things would be better if he stayed dependent and instead joined our organization.
His progression over the first six months he was connected with Speak Up went like this:
January — He started selling magazines (buying, reselling them, using the cash to better his life, then buying more)
February — He began renting a room
March — He was putting in long hours, and earned $264 in a single day
April — Bought a car, his first in four years
May — Saved up money to buy power washing equipment and started his own small business (and quit selling magazines)
June — Returned and recruited one of the other magazine sellers to become his employee
From homeless to business owner in six months. His is one of many stories.
Our model is so radically different from the normal approach. We don’t give homeless people money or food or housing or anything tangible. Instead, we present them with opportunity and inspiration. What we supply doesn’t really even help them on its own—the tools that Speak Up offers don’t do any good if the client doesn’t provide hard work.
Over the years that I’ve had direct contact with over 500 hundred people who are homeless or facing homelessness, my thoughts on how to help the poor have increasingly clarified. I’ve come to recognize in case after case that the more loving, more generous and more transformative way of helping a poor person is to equip them with a vision of self-work, personal resilience, and the realization that yes, in fact, the American Dream is still alive—even for the most downtrodden.