Philly businesses combating homeless through economic empowerment

Leaders look to guide people from homeless and formerly incarcerated communities in to the workforce.

Steve Tawa
May 30, 2018 - 11:41 am
Businesses shared success stories about practical workforce development solutions at a Roadmap for Growth forum.

Steve Tawa-KYW Newsradio


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia-area business and civic leaders are providing a roadmap for homeless people to find jobs. Their program is called "Combating Homelessness Through Economic Empowerment."

Comcast executive David Cohen says through the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's "Roadmap for Growth" initiative, they identified a "gap in business leadership on this issue." He points out, in many boardrooms, there are gripes about homelessness and panhandling.

"But they're not exactly charging out into the playing field, trying to exert a leadership role in shaping policy and action around those problems in Philadelphia," he said Wednesday at a Roadmap for Growth forum at Taller Puertorriqueño in North Philadelphia where businesses shared success stories about practical workforce development solutions.

Dave Shaffer, CEO of staffing agency First Step, said his company guides disenfranchised people, including those from homeless and formerly incarcerated communities, into the workforce and a pipeline of employers willing to hire them.

"As of right now, we have about 600 people working," Shaffer said. "About 200 of them were homeless when they came to us."

They partner with various social service agencies as recruiting sources. First Step’s goal is to employ 500 homeless people in Philadelphia this year, and more than 1,000 within three years.

"We kind of see us, our cafes, as a vehicle for social change, and being involved in programs like this to hire from non-traditional populations," said Grace Manning, manager of social impact and administration at Philadelphia-based coffee chain Saxby's.

Saxby's hires at the entry level, as hosts at the register, but she says everyone is able to take advantage of career growth opportunities, including barista positions, and management roles.

"We call them CEOs, or cafe executive officers, rather than cafe managers," she said. "It's kitschy, but we like it."