How Shelters to Shutters Give Jobs and Homes to the Homeless

Shelters to Shutters partners directly with apartment owners and operators to provide both full-time employment and affordable housing.

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Odessa is a successful assistant manager in an apartment complex and received her professional certification in apartment leasing in 2017. Three years before that, her life was radically different. After losing her job due to missing work because of family issues, she and her husband separated, and Odessa and her two sets of young twins were evicted. She went to a local shelter that allowed the family to stay together. There, her social worker introduced her to Shelters to Shutters, a new organization that helps the homeless find jobs and homes at the same time.

Shelters to Shutters was founded in 2014 by Christopher C. Finlay, a managing partner of Middleburg Real Estate in the DC area. He read an article about situational homelessness (where people are forced to live without housing due to a life-altering event like job loss, medical emergencies, or domestic violence) and it changed his view of the homeless. It is estimated that 70 percent of the 3 million homeless people are situationally homeless. These are people who have held jobs before and really want to work.

“The majority of homeless are people that we never really see because they are trying to work, they’re getting day labor,” he told Fast Company. “These are all people that were employed, had good job histories. There was just really no issue that would preclude them from working other than they didn’t have an address.”

As an experiment, Finlay decided to hire homeless people for positions in some of his properties and asked local non-profits to find the candidates. Apartment complexes typically offer reduced or sometimes free rent for employees like maintenance workers or groundskeepers. This experiment was so successful that he launched Shelters to Shutters to connect other property companies to homeless candidates.

The people that have found jobs and a home through the organization have a proven success rate. According to the Shelters to Shutters website, positions at property management companies have a 50 percent turnover rate but the formerly homeless workers have an 87 percent retention rate and 89 percent have received wage increases or promotions. There is an amazing 93 percent success rate.

Eugene is another success story. A life-altering event left him homeless in Nashville, Tennessee. His job skills as a maintenance man for Cleveland’s public schools made him an excellent candidate for the program. He is now working as a groundskeeper at Nashville Crescent Music Row. “My favorite part of the job is the independence and the growth opportunities offered in the company. I am excited to keep growing until I reach my goals and potential in life. Because as long as you have breath in you, you are never too old,” Eugene said.

The organization is already operating in 15 cities and has placed employees in 50 properties. Shelter to Shutters sees the potential to place hundreds of homeless people in jobs and housing every year and is working to achieve that goal. A new pilot program is starting in San Francisco with 20 people who will soon be able to leave the streets - hopefully for good.

Shelter to Shutters CEO Andy Helmer describes the work they do as a dream come true for people to secure two of life's basic needs – stable housing and secure income – at the same time. This is a real life changer.

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