NWA Continuum of Care (CofC) is a non-profit organization that is focusing on ending homelessness in Northwest Arkansas by the year 2025. Their mission statement is “Coordinating a community response to end homelessness in Northwest Arkansas.” This organization has been a registered 501C3 since 2007 but has not really picked up speed until recently. The reasoning for them becoming more prevalent is that this past fall the University of Arkansas forced several “campers” (or the homeless population) to leave the land they owned. This left the homeless population with less room to camp. The University of Arkansas granted CofC with land to build “micro-shelters” for the campers. This is what accelerated the growth of Continuum of Care. The current plan for CofC is to build housing for the homeless population and provide them with opportunities to work as well as emotional development. This is how they hope to break the cycle of homelessness in Northwest Arkansas. The Executive Director of Continuum of Care is Steven Burt along with seventeen board members. Angela Belford, one of the seventeen, is the Community Advocate Board Chair and who we interviewed for this project.
Angela Belford graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in Marketing Management and later got her Masters in Internet Marketing. She has been the co-owner of a marketing firm, speaker for a TedX Talk and an author of her own book: Be Freaking Awesome. Two of our members, Logan Slater and Sophie Wojcik, met with Angela Belford on September 17th, 2018 at her Marketing Firms office, The Belford Group. This interview lasted for 30-45 minutes and she provided with us all the information we needed to start working with Continuum of Care to offer some suggestions. Her contact information is as follows: Angela Belford, Community Advocate Chair, (479) 283-9502, [email protected]
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an organization's choice to use their various resources in an ethical manner to help some set of stakeholders. Depending on the corporation, corporate social responsibility can take many forms, from self imposed regulations to donations of profits. As companies attempt to appear ethical in the eyes of consumers, corporate social responsibility allows them to appear both philanthropic and sacrificing. Supporters of CSR see the opportunity to make the corporation different from competitors based on the social and internal impact. It's obvious that CSR allows organizations a unique way to interact with the community based on the needs seen and the corporation's ability to assist in aiding them. Implementation of CSR also creates a stronger bond between the customers, employees, and corporation. When consumers support a company with a strong and active CSR, they themselves feel as if they're making a difference by supporting that company. Employees are likely to have a better relationship with their employers if they see the differentiation of the company as more than just a profit hungry entity. While corporate social responsibility seems like a slam dunk for corporations to diversify their interests and create a positive social influence, implementation and the ramifications aren't always outweighed by the benefits. At the very core of CSR, it is taking profits or resources from the corporation and implementing them somewhere that won't directly benefit it. While altogether a great idea, it goes directly against the idea of a business taking the maximum amount of profits and spreading it to its stakeholders. It's this idea that creates another issue for corporations interested in CSR, the implementation of a plan that employees, managers, and executives can get behind. In turn, many argue, like David Vogel for Forbes, that even if you were to implement a CSR program, it doesn't mean you will see any economic benefit from it. Vogel illustrates this point with examples such as Starbucks who is known for their focus on workers treatment, yet hadn't seen benefits in stock prices or profits.
Continuum of Care has established themselves an organization dedicated to not only their cause of ending homelessness in Northwest Arkansas, but also impacting the community through relationships with various institutions. This idea is demonstrated in their mission statement and everyday actions. Angela Belford referenced the community's response to homelessness TEDx Talk, “I believe that it has to be compassion and grace and empathy, because they are a person having an experience.” The largest priorities of Continuum of Care is reaching their goal of ending homelessness in Northwest Arkansas by using countless resources throughout the community and providing the absolute most respect to those experiencing homelessness. Continuum of Care's dedication to the community is best exemplified after taking a look at their board members which span various organizations including 7hills Homeless Shelter, Salvation Army, Fayetteville Public Schools, Ozark Guidance Center, and many more. Having all these voices present ensures that no one group's agenda overtakes their overall goal, while also building communication channels that span throughout concentrations. Continuum of Care's dedication to the individual's they serve is illustrated in their quick response to the University of Arkansas' decision to remove those camping on their property. After the University announced their plans, CofC sprang to action with an offer to buy land in hopes to build auxiliary housing units for those recently removed. Continuum of Care pure interest in their mission, establishes them having ethical reasoning behind their actions.
Stakeholders in Continuum of Care include the board members, those experiencing homelessness, organizations in partnership with CofC, and the general community of Northwest Arkansas. Because of Continuum of Care's mission and actions, it is easy to understand that the first prioritized are the individuals experiencing homelessness. As the board contains members from various organizations, it is safe to assume they work together and while the board would be prioritized first, the organizations associated wouldn't be forgotten. The community is also held in high regard for Continuum of Care, however they are more of a benefactor of the work they do for those experiencing homelessness.
When meeting with Angela Belford we discussed that the main problems our group would be tackling is revenue and measurability. While discussing these we learned that CofC has started making strides in creating a source of revenue. So, as part of our evaluation of their workforce development program, we decided to take on the problem of creating revenue for those using their services. Along with trying to create a source of revenue for participants, Continuum of Care needed a way to measure the way their programs are progressing. They need to be able to measure to see where improvement needs to take place, understand what is already successful, and observe what adjustments can be made for future success. After analyzing the problems put before Continuum of Care and our group, we came up with a solution: a bus system. This would be physical transportation picking up individuals willing to work to receive help or a small wage. Initially, this system would function to pick up the homeless only in Fayetteville, and with success continuing into other cities of Northwest Arkansas like Rogers, Springdale and Bentonville.
Once we came to this idea as a group, we decided to research and see if there was organization like it. In Albuquerque, New Mexico an organization called “There's A Better Way” brought this idea to their community. “There's A Better Way” had four initiatives: give people dignity in their work, connect them with available services, create a collective impact to end panhandling, and help the community understand the organization. We believe the last initiative is so crucial as we educate our community's citizens on the importance of comprehending where those lacking basic life necessities are located.
Much of the execution of Albuquerque's system is how we would like to Continuum of Care to function. The city of Fayetteville would post signs at locations known for the homeless to ask for money, food or other resources. Some of these locations include stop lights. Posting signs on the stop lights would inform those in need of where to get help and when it can be available to them. Additionally, these postings would inform the community of the opportunity to donate to CofC. The bus would have a set time when they would be available to pick up from each location. From there, transportation would take them to places in need of assistance.
But where does the actual bus come from? Our first idea is Continuum of Care contacting the city of Fayetteville to potentially assist or completely fulfill this need. The city of Albuquerque gave $50,000 to help “There's A Better Way” get its organization started. They later found a van available in the city motor pool. Continuum of Care could do this or ask a car dealership to donate a van. I see this is as a potential partnership between the dealership and CofC. Once signs have been posted, it's time to pick up those ready to work. With a pay of $9/hour, attendees can go to work for the day wherever they may be placed or where their physical capabilities are most productive. We believe this system can work knowing that since 2015, Albuquerque, NM has had 894 city blocks cleaned and over 250,000 pounds of waste collected from “There's A Better Way.”
Continuum of Care's responsibility can be seen in the categories of economic, legal, ethical, and philanthropic. Their economic responsibilities include gathering funds through grants, donations, and soon their own revenue. They are also responsible for using their economic resources in a smart and efficient way that enables them to continue to help those who need it. Legally, they are required to following the guidelines in regard to non-profits as well as auxiliary housing. Their ethical responsibilities include using their economic resources to fulfill their mission and treating those they encounter fairly. Another ethically responsibility is using their corporation partners in a way to benefit the individuals experiencing homelessness. Continuum of Care's philanthropic responsibilities are closely tied to their mission of ending homelessness in Northwest Arkansas with dignity and respect. Our solution hits every part of the corporate social responsibility pyramid and, in most cases, strengthens our success in each. Economically, if supported by the cities in Northwest Arkansas, the bus solution may not be at any direct cost to Continuum of Care. Our solution would create alliances between CofC and local businesses, in turn providing publicity for the organization, which would hopefully increase donations towards it. Legally, we would need to follow the steps that cities like Albuquerque took to make sure the program follows the laws required. Our solution for Continuum of Care follows their ethical responsibilities as we aim to create a program that provides individuals experiencing homelessness with an opportunity to build skills and make money while hopefully increasing their dignity and self-worth. Our solution would put Continuum of Care on the map philanthropically, as they are taking the initiative of tackling an issue our community is dealing with. This program would require a lot of work and contact throughout the community, which may be considered a drawback by stakeholders. Looking at each of the stakeholders, this solution appears to be an idea that has little drawback and tends to keep each of them in mind. Investors are seeing their money going into a program to assist in an issue plaguing the community. Board members and employees see an active connection between Continuum of Care and ending homelessness and can contribute their talents. The community receives the benefit of less homeless people, more active members of the community, and stronger ties throughout Northwest Arkansas. Those experiencing the largest benefits are those individuals experiencing homelessness, as hopefully our solution has provided them with an opportunity to expand their skill set, restore their emotional opinion of themselves and provide them resources to get back on their feet.
Moving forward with the bus system, we have three categories worth analyzing with this vision: viability, sustainability and scalability. Viability invites us to observe how the bus system works. We see this through a partnership with the city of Fayetteville (potentially all of Northwest Arkansas) and the purchase of a bus. Sustainability asks us to express consistency in our work. This takes place by working with the cities of Northwest Arkansas, finding locations for individuals to be picked up and continuously identifying opportunities of employment for CofC participants. Scalability, our last category, ponders how CofC can grow and have a greater impact. Concerning the bus system, this is fostered through starting up the program itself, adding more buses for pickups and providing a selection of options for pickup around NWA.
The way we would execute the job center is through a filing system that would accurately and efficiently place those in need of work with job opportunities aligning to their skill set. The goal of this system is to create a more formalized yet easy and effective way to find jobs for people who need a source of revenue. The way to create these opportunities for those who need jobs is to network and connect with businesses who have positions that can be filled for anything from a day, week, month or potentially something even longer. Once connections are made with these business, most likely being physical labor opportunities, they will fill out a form designated for employers that will contain the information needed about their business as well as what specifically they are looking for in terms of workers. If the company requires a waiver for business purpose, the individual will also complete that task. Having the form completed, they will be put into our system for positions to be filled. After doing research we found there are some similar programs in other cities. According to the Pasadena Job Center most job positions available are related to physical labor such as landscaping, housekeeping, construction, plumbing and similar forms of work. The reason these are most common is that they require very little to no skills which will make it easier to connect people with those job opportunities, as well as them being more open to having short term job opportunities available. On the other hand people looking for work will have to fill out a separate set of forms to get them put into the system in order to be placed for a job. This will be a little more extensive so that the right job seeker will be paired with the most suitable position. These forms will include question about their basic identifying information, a skills assessment, as well as a survey determining what position they are in currently and information about how they got there. All of this information will help to figure out what kind of jobs they are eligible for, as well as give us a way to measure how this service impacts them from the time they first apply to when they are hopefully no longer needing CofC's services. Based on all of the applications that are received from employers along with job seekers, the filing system will be able to pair the two parties together. Some details that will help this job center be successful is a mailbox system so that job seekers can formally get paid for the various jobs they complete. In the job center there will be a section with mailboxes assigned to each job seeker once they submit their application. When they are paired with a business their paycheck can be sent formally to a permanent address.
We would make sure this job center project is viable or using needed resources by most likely purchasing a building that is up for auction from foreclosure which means it would be highly discounted from grants or donations made to Continuum of Care. Once we have the building, the rest is easily executed by using volunteers to start the networking process to get businesses to apply to be considered an employer in need of a worker for the program. Networking is the major component in starting this project because the center needs businesses to apply to be able to pair people in need of work with job opportunities. After applications start coming in, someone who works for CofC will begin the filing system. Then we can hire people who apply for the job seeker position to train and potentially run the center. This person(s) will complete the filing and pairing of employees with workers. The main component of making the job center sustainable is with the survey given to job seekers when they first start using the program. This survey will be given to the job seekers who applied for the program once they finish using our services to see how the program has helped them and what improvements can be made. By understanding what improvements can be made, the program can be adjusted and become more effective, making the job center more successful in the future. Along with the survey, as businesses find this program to be useful we can market to more companies based on the success from other employers. This will create more opportunities for job seekers. The more jobs available to be filled the more this program can grow and expand. Eventually, the goal is to get homeless people into a stable job and the job center is the first step to help them build relationships with businesses and hopefully find long term work. Lastly, we believe this program can be scalable and create a larger impact by creating more job opportunities through more companies, potentially more job center locations, easier application into the program through a website, and lastly the greatest impact through a skills development program created in the center.
Once businesses are a part of the program, we would like to create a skills development program where people needing employment can go through training and workshops from professionals to help identify a skill set for their resume, making them more appealing and eligible for more jobs. Through this eventual skills program, we can platform those in need of employment with their individual skills identified and printed on a resume.
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