The complex economy of the homeless



Since the economic crisis in the seventies, France has experienced an increase in economically and socially vulnerable citizens. There are 150,000 documented cases of homeless people known to live on the streets or in makeshifts shelters, receiving little to no assistance to eat well or to find a decent home. Thousands more are failed to be counted. The unemployment rate of these persons is up to seventy percent. The lack of economic incentives to assist the homeless is frustrating. Charles-Edouard Vincent decided to launch his own innovative solution in order to transform employment into a lever of social reintegration for homeless people. He has sought to demonstrate that, in spite of all their problems, the homeless possess the desire to be employed and improve their lives.

Vincent’s critical insight in transforming homelessness in France is that people must be given incentive to begin to change their own circumstances in the context of their own economic situation. His flexible framework offers homeless people access to part-time work and subsequent payments that are offered in hourly increments each week. Unlike existing social employment companies, this model is not contingent on a weekly or a 24-hour per week contract that discourages participation. Instead, it uses the individual’s actual condition and capacity as the starting place, which lowers the barrier for participation by the homeless. Initially, the homeless person may work only a few hours per week, but this social employment system economically empowers fragile men and women living on the streets and allows them to be progressively reintegrated into society. Charles-Edouard believes that employment represents an important first step in regaining full economic citizenship.

Vincent uses social workers in the streets as the agents to spread his idea. He has transformed street social workers into recruiting officers. Equipped with a new job-opportunity tool, street social workers are also empowered to systemically solve the issues faced by homeless persons. These social educators not only identify potential workers, but also chaperon the homeless during the early stages of their employment, providing reassurance, building trust, and supporting their regained pride. The social worker and the homeless can together set processes in motion that improve the homeless person’s life such as providing access to housing and care, facilitating awareness of better hygiene, tackling drug or alcohol addictions, and even solving administrative and legal issues that hinder one’s full economic citizenship.

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