Homelessness remains a serious social issue in the United States, affecting more than a half-million Americans on any given night. Over a fifth of this number are estimated to be children. Nearly 40,000 are veterans. More than 35,000 were unaccompanied homeless youth, who are some of the most vulnerable overall, at high risk for physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse, unwanted pregnancy and dropping out of school.
These numbers are startling. Homelessness is a devastating social issue impacting a large number of people, but it remains relatively unpopular as a focus for CSR programs and efforts. This is despite the fact that research shows it’s actually less costly to address on the front end — providing supportive housing to homeless individuals is less expensive than relying on solutions such as shelters, emergency rooms and psychiatric hospitals.
To be sure, part of the challenge is that it’s an extremely difficult problem to try to solve, and touches on an array of other complex challenges — economic stability, mental illness, substance abuse, affordable housing. This list could go on and on, and can overwhelm even the most well-intentioned of organizations seeking to make a difference.
Another challenge is that while there is homelessness in nearly all parts of the United States, it affects cities and regions differently. You may see improvement in one city, while another loses ground due to local economic conditions or other changes. For example, in its Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development looks at changes at both the state and city level, and you can see very different outcomes. It’s a hard problem to tackle in aggregate — making it relevant on the very local level, but less so nationally.
But it would be a mistake for those of us in the corporate work to be dissuaded by the root difficulty of homelessness or by its very local nature. Turning the tide against these numbers will require the innovation, expertise and funding that we can contribute. But we need to be willing to become hyper-focused on a specific community and structure a multi-tiered response.
A few years ago, Las Vegas Sands made a choice to focus on this issue in our headquarters city of Las Vegas, which is disproportionately impacted by homelessness with some of the worst rates in the nation. This issue has no easy answers, but we have learned a few things along the way.
1. Never stop learning.
Data will only go so far – it’s critical to talk to the organizations working in the trenches on this issue in your community to help develop better, more effective responses and understand the factors that impact your region.
2. Be in it for the long haul.
It’s not about a one-time contribution – sustained change requires a long-term commitment. This can be the hardest step because it will likely require the buy-in from a number of internal stakeholders – creating this kind of unified consensus and support calls for a thoughtful internal communications strategy in itself, and shouldn’t be overlooked.
3. Be prepared to have a diversified response.
Just like not putting all your eggs in one basket is sound business advice – addressing homelessness needs a layered approach. Las Vegas Sands tackles this issue in three ways: 1. Provide immediate relief; 2. Find solutions for homelessness in the Las Vegas region; and 3. Increase awareness and advocate for homelessness support.
4. Look for connections.
Las Vegas Sands was able to connect our long-term support of international nonprofit Clean the World, which focuses on distributing hygiene supplies and education, with our work on homelessness in Las Vegas. This year we jointly introduced a first-ever mobile hygiene unit in Las Vegas to provide showers and other hygiene support to the homeless population.
We hope that addressing homelessness becomes a topic that is looked at more and more among those working in CSR. Our work on this issue has been a difficult journey at times, but one that we’ve never regretted starting.
To download a full copy of the Relevance Report, click here.