I’m going to tell you a secret: homelessness isn’t about not having a permanent place to live. It’s often about dealing with poverty. I am convinced that the only way out of poverty is through work. You want to truly address the problem of homelessness? Address the problem with jobs first.

It’s trickier than you think, though…

Why? Because our society has de-incentivized people to keep many of them from working. Now, there are honest people with a very real impairment that keeps them from working. Think about this: a recipient can get about $8,800 a year with disability. If you compare that to someone with a $10 an hour part-time job from March to mid-November, they earn about $9,000. If you are on disability, but capable to work, what would be your motivation? The same goes for a single mother who is making $10 an hour. The government benefits she could receive are the equivalent of $22 an hour. With no childcare available and losing those benefits, what would be her motivation to work?

Employers bear part of the responsibility. They must make jobs attractive so more people will choose work over entitlement programs. They need to ask themselves, “Are we providing childcare for our workers? Are we offering flexible schedules? Or advancement opportunities? Are we offering an environment that is welcoming? In short, is this a place where people want to work?”

The answer unfortunately is “no” in too many cases.

The pushback from the employer is, “Well, if I do all that then I’ve got to raise prices on my product.” You absolutely do! But that means you also have to provide a great customer experience and great customer service. Customers are willing to pay for that great service.

I know what you are thinking right now and yes, employees also have a share in improving their performance as well. Breakdown of the family has led to problems in the workplace. You often have a single parent today, and that parent is usually working (or even juggling two jobs) with the child left on their own. There’s no one to teach them that as an employee you must show up on time, get along with your co workers, have good hygiene, dress appropriately and so on. So they enter the workforce lacking the fundamentals that employers expect.

You see, a job provides dignity and value. When someone is experiencing this as an employee, they begin realizing they are worth making better decisions. When employers create this new environment they will have longer lasting employees.

Which is where our successful Jobs for Life program enters the picture. It teaches the behaviors that employers expect and pairs each student with a mentor to coach them along the way. The road out of poverty starts with a job, and Jobs for Life shows students how to get, keep and even advance in a job.

Two things can dramatically expand this important program’s outreach. First, we need employers to refer potential students to us. Say someone applies for a job at your business and you tell them, “You’re someone we would be interested in adding to our team, but you’re not quite there yet. Let’s see you go through Jobs for Life and then we’ll give you another shot.” That would be hugely helpful in addressing Branson’s chronic shortage of good workers.

We’d also like to create a pilot program where a business assigns a staffer to serve as a mentor throughout all nine weeks of the class. That would give the business an inside advantage to hiring the best Jobs for Life students upon graduation. Think about it: if you’re an employer who spends $50,000 a year to hire three workers, wouldn’t you want to have a staffer help pre-train them for your workplace and know they’ll be good to go on Day One when you hire them? And at no cost to you? Please message Ashley Harkness at [email protected] to see how this pilot program can benefit your business.

By working together, we can get more people off entitlements and on local payrolls. And that’s good for Branson’s bottom line.

We are starting our first class in our new facility on Monday, September 25th. I am excited at what Jobs for Life is doing for our community!