My Job: Not Helping Homeless People

 

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.

There are 23 comments.

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  1. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Love the work you are doing.

    We’re lucky to have you on Ricochet.

    Welcome.

    • #1
  2. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Kool, tell us more.

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Matt Shaw: 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.

    Amen to that, and welcome to Ricochet.

    • #3
  4. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Brilliant.

    Welcome to ricochet.

    • #4
  5. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    A-Squared (View Comment):
    Brilliant.

    Welcome to ricochet.

    Ditto! How great is that???

    • #5
  6. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane
    @LoisLane

    Wonderful!  I do think they have a similar model for a magazine in England, as homeless people there sold it in the streets in Bristol.  The Big Issue.  You’re probably familiar with it.  Good luck here!

    • #6
  7. Matt Shaw Inactive
    Matt Shaw
    @speakupmatt

    @lois-lane Absolutely — the Big Issue is the international leader of this approach.

    Thanks all for the generous welcome.

    • #7
  8. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Please report to the Elizabeth Warren reeducation camps.  You need to reexamine your deeds in a different light.  You simply do not understand, comrade.

    • #8
  9. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    That’s beautiful!

    • #9
  10. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Inspiring!

    People say one-on-one charity ( by which I mean attempts to help, not handouts) is bad for both giver and recipient.  I do not agree.  I spent years volunteering as a literacy tutor.  I saw first hand that there were people I could not help, and people I could. But the point is they were people to me.  Do what you can for people you see every day.

    • #10
  11. SecondBite Member
    SecondBite
    @SecondBite

    Welcome and thank you!

    • #11
  12. Snirtler Inactive
    Snirtler
    @Snirtler

    MarciN (View Comment):
    Love the work you are doing.

    We’re lucky to have you on Ricochet.

    Welcome.

    Seconded.

    • #12
  13. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Welcome to Ricochet.

    Is this your Mag: http://speakupmag.org ?

    • #13
  14. Matt Shaw Inactive
    Matt Shaw
    @speakupmatt

    @zafar Yes.

    • #14
  15. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Keep it up!!  From The Big Issue’s Australian website:

    “Research shows The Big Issue magazine generates a positive social return of $5.50 for every $1 invested in the enterprise, due to a reduced demand for social, health and justice services among sellers.”

    It’s a great thing to be doing.

    • #15
  16. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Absolutely fantastic.

    It’s amazing how often doing good works and annoying liberals are the same thing.

    Welcome aboard.  I look forward to hearing more about your experiences.

    • #16
  17. Stubbs Member
    Stubbs
    @Stubbs

    What I love most about your work is that you ascribe value and give responsibility to those who are overlooked and forgotten.  It’s wonderful how some folks who are treated like garbage (or a victim) act like garbage (or a victim); then when you turn around and treat them like a real person with respect and responsibility, they rise up and act like a real person.  Thank you for your wisdom and hard work.

    • #17
  18. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Outstanding initiative.

    Welcome to Ricochet.

    • #18
  19. danys Thatcher
    danys
    @danys

    Such a wonderful program. Welcome to Ricochet.

    • #19
  20. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    Ditto to all comments so far.

    Welcome to Ricochet.

    When the Bureaucrats come to recruit you for a prestigious position in govt. RUN.

    • #20
  21. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    This is a great story, and it just reveals how poorly designed the incentives are in our social welfare programs are.

    • #21
  22. Pony Convertible Inactive
    Pony Convertible
    @PonyConvertible

    Do you provide them with the business license and permits required? You can’t just go out on the streets and start selling stuff. After all, this is America.

    • #22
  23. TempTime Member
    TempTime
    @TempTime

    Welcome to Ricochet … what a wonderful example you are for all us as you not only “walk the talk”, but you also teach it.  Thank you for the inspiration.

    • #23

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