Connecting with the homeless

Sad as it is, but it can happen to anybody: to lose one's roof over one’s head and become homeless. Due to the economic downturn, resulting in higher than average unemployment, the homeless population has increased substantially in the past few years in many parts of the world. Although most people only hear or read about the statistics and rarely, if ever, put a face to the dilemma, this is not the case for our US colleagues at Powder Coatings in Nashville, where the site/office is located in an area of the city where homelessness is prevalent. As Kathy Wilson puts it: ‘We can’t come to work each day, go out to lunch, or drive home without coming face to face with individuals living on the streets and facing the struggles in life that homelessness brings.’

When the Key Alliance made an appeal for volunteers to assist during a one-day annual event for the homeless, more than 15% of the Powder Coatings workforce responded, with representation from every department. Key Alliance is one of the local non-profit organizations that make it their mission to assist the homeless in overcoming the barriers that keep them from securing housing and re-entering the general community in a productive way. Every year the Project Homeless Connect event is organized where people experiencing homelessness are provided access to a broad range of services including medical and foot care, legal services, contact with lost family members, food, shoes and haircuts, just to mention a few.

Beyond the volunteers from Powder Coatings, many other people participated via the coat and toiletries collection drives that were hosted earlier in the AkzoNobel office. Without all these volunteers an event attended by a magnitude of over 1,500 homeless and individuals would never have been possible. The volunteers participated in a number of activities including stuffing the toiletry bags with donated items to be distributed, escorting the homeless through the myriad of services available, as well as assisting with filling out applications for replacing lost identification, employment and housing opportunities (there’s always paperwork!).

And, it goes without saying that it wouldn’t have been possible for The Key Alliance to hold Project Homeless Connect without adequate funding, a large portion of which was made possible through the generous contribution made through the Community Program. These funds enabled the availability of a number of services – breakfast and a hot lunch for over 1,500 individuals, refills of prescription medication, bus passes for transportation to medical providers, and fees for obtaining birth certificates and State ID’s, both of which are essential to obtaining employment, government sponsored benefits and housing.

Kathy said that she and the other volunteering colleagues took great pride in the fact that they were representing a company that truly becomes involved in improving the communities in which we work and live. ‘We continue to look for opportunities to become involved, but there’s no doubt that Project Homeless Connect is an event for which I’ll have employees approaching me about volunteering again for the 2011 event. No one walked away unaffected by the experience…somewhat humbled and likely even more thankful for their own position in life. We may not have been able to turn the tide on homelessness, but we undoubtedly made it possible for some to make it to safer waters.’