Once people find work, get a paycheck, and start paying for things like food and shelter on their own, then they feel better about themselves.
Lately in Seattle, there’s been a lot of talk about money for the homeless — where the money should come from and where it should go. According to HUD, the average yearly cost of public assistance for one homeless individual is roughly about $40,000. The issue is very real for thousands of people in this city: How can we best help those who, for one reason or another, can’t afford a place to live, to eat, to clean up, to call home?
One hint to the answer comes from the 2018 Seattle/King County Count Us In report: When asked to identify the primary event or condition that led to their homelessness, one-quarter of survey respondents reported the loss of a job.
That’s not a huge revelation: Without a job, you don’t get money. Without money, you don’t get a home, apartment or safe place to live. Or, as George Roberts, founder of the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund, put it, “If you don’t have a job, you don’t have hope. If you don’t have hope, what do you really have?”
In all the recent city and county discussions about homelessness, the need for more “jobs” has not exactly grabbed the headlines. But for almost a century — since 1921 — the Millionair Club Charity (MCC) has been addressing this issue. Our mission is to provide jobs and supportive services to those in need throughout Seattle and the Puget Sound region. We believe that we’re not only helping people; we’re helping people help themselves. And that is critical.
MCC gives people the opportunity to work. Some of it is temporary work — serving hot dogs at Mariners games, sweeping streets in Ballard. Some of it leads to permanent jobs — entering data for a downtown office, preparing food at a high-scale restaurant. Toward that goal, we provide job training and licensing, housing assistance, meals, shower and laundry facilities, eye care and clothing. We also collaborate with other local organizations.
Work is the basis for people to get everything else they need, including housing. Moreover, once people find work, get a paycheck, and start paying for food and shelter on their own, then they feel better about themselves. They regain the self-respect they might have lost living on the streets.
Our files are packed with stories of people whose experience with MCC has dramatically, positively and permanently changed their lives. Recently, a woman who is currently a successful entrepreneur living in upstate New York contacted us. She wanted to thank us for the services we provided to her 30 years ago. She’d arrived homeless, destitute and scared; MCC gave her jobs and support. It turned her life around and enabled her to achieve her dreams. For us, as gratifying as it is, this woman is not an exception.
Homelessness is complex, but one thing about it is simple: Its major cause is unemployment. One homeless person who, through MCC, started working as a street cleaner, said that of all the other services that were offered to him, “Not one person … talked about work.”
Homelessness isn’t going to be solved by enacting or repealing a head tax, or by allowing or disallowing encampments. It’s going to be solved by giving people jobs, by giving them the skills and the confidence to perform tasks, and get paid for it. If we inspire them to feel worthwhile, then they — not you or me or the City Council or Amazon — will be the main stimulus for their climbing out of the poverty abyss. Let’s save that $40,000 a year we currently pay for each homeless individual and make that homeless individual a taxpayer.
MCC has many programs to help the homeless, and we do it all with the help of private donations from individuals, foundations and corporations. That makes us feel good about Seattle: We can do this together. We have done this together, for 97 years.