Hiring a homeless person – and learning

Hiring a homeless person – and learning

Homelessness is a major issue in our community. Early this year, my campaign released our Hope4Homeless plan to provide greater County leadership around tackling homelessness.  We sat down with policy experts, homeless youth, front line service providers, and did quite a bit of research. Add that to my own experience serving Rachel’s Women’s Center as part of Catholic Charities Homeless Women’s Services Advisory Committee several years ago and a healthy amount of journalism from Kelly Davis, Kelly Bennett-Heyd, David Garrick, Lisa Halverstadt and a few other journalists and we feel good that we’d spent meaningful time understanding before writing. Then this other thing happened.We hired a woman named Emmy.

It’s not my place to tell Emmy’s story, but when I explained to her why I wanted to write about hiring her to be a canvasser on our campaign, she was open to it. So I wanted to share a few things.  First, let’s get out of the way that yes, there is a portion of this that is political. Of course that’s true.  This is a campaign, the whole region cares about the homeless crisis, and it is a good story that we hired her. I’m not going to belittle anyone by pretending that’s not true. But even taking that into consideration, there is more to the story if you are up for it.

LISTEN! 15-minute podcast: Homelessness and Band-Aids

Searching for canvassers

We decided we wanted to reach as many voters as our shoe leather and our budget would allow by speaking to them – and listening to them – directly at their front doors and in their communities.  I put out the note to a few friends and asked if they were interested or knew people who were. One friend who responded said that she wasn’t interested but had recently met a woman she thought would be great. Enter Emmy.

While I recognized the value of having someone on the team who could bring a real dose of reality to an important topic, I also thought there might be risks – as with any employee – so she went through the same interview process and reference check as everyone else. I personally spoke to three people who had great things to say. My campaign manager interviewed her – and he has worked with hundreds of canvassers – and so we felt pretty solid with the choice. We went to extend the offer and something interesting happened.

Unexpected growth and development

As I type this, the election is less than three weeks away, so hiring and training people and getting them going quickly is important. We extended Emmy an offer by email and by phone. No response. The next morning I checked in with my campaign manager about her interest – no response. On the one hand, we were thinking that we really had to get moving on this, but he felt strongly that she was interested and I wanted to give it a bit more time. Another day passed.

Then the call comes.

Emmy was assaulted on the street by someone who took her phone and she spent some time in the hospital.  Think about that for a moment. A woman who was trying to get things straightened out and needed a job – wanted a job – almost lost that job through no fault of her own. The big takeaway for me – the one I want to really share with any business person who might think about hiring a homeless San Diegan – is that you may have to be a little more flexible and understanding because of circumstances that not every employee faces. I learned that lesson quickly and I’m glad I did.

Download the full Hope4Homeless plan

The status of things

Emmy started work, she actually got settled into a room in a house (my same friend who recommended her actually has a house that she rents to homeless San Diegans to help them get off the street). Tonight we’ll go I mean we went – finishing this at the end of the night) to cheer Emmy on in her role as a member of Voices of our City choir at a performance in Mission Hills, and then we’ll continue to push to win this primary election on June 5th.

Once we get out of our own way and realize that homeless people are, well, people, we can better see their humanity. And hopefully we can realize that broad stereotypes are no more appropriate based on housing status than based on race, gender, or any other single characteristic.

Read Hope4Homeless

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Here is Voices of our City choir doing their thing!