When Hippy Feet first launched, we operated around the buy one, give one model to donate socks to the homeless community. It wasn't long before we realized that by donating socks, we were treating a symptom of homelessness (the symptom being that socks are among the most requested article of clothing at shelters). While having dry, warm, and healthy feet are pivotal to anyone's overall wellbeing, we determined we could, and needed, to do more than donate socks.
Hippy Feet’s vision has since shifted, focusing on providing employment for young people affected by homelessness. The way that we do so is through a program we call “Pop-up Employment.” The Pop-Up Employment program works directly with non-profit partners to bring paid jobs conveniently to drop-in centers where youth are receiving services such as food, education, case management, and in some cases, transitional shelter. Bringing employment opportunities directly to the places where homeless youth seek support ensures a safe and healthy environment for our workers, as well as supervision and assistance from our non-profit partners themselves. With this employment model, we offer youth an hourly wage to package each pair of Hippy Feet socks and in the process, provide basic skills and job training.
The reason we focus on youth (ages 16-25) for this program is that we find this age group offers the most potential and ability to grow. While we believe in creating equal opportunities, we see young people as being the greatest investment, as their age offers them the most promise for a positive future.
Since beginning to offer weekly Pop-Up Employment opportunities at Youthlink a year ago, we have had the pleasure of working with approximately 30-35 different young people experiencing homelessness. In the process, we have learned a great deal about youth homelessness, the barriers that it creates, and significant benefits that having a job can provide an individual.
Together, shelter and employment are two key ingredients that positively influence the lives of young people experiencing homelessness. Without shelter, homeless youth may find difficulty in finding a job. Limitations such as lack of a physical address or picture ID, unstable living conditions, no access to transportation, little-to-no work experience, and in some cases, a criminal record, can make it immensely difficult for anyone to find job. Without a job, they face difficulty finding shelter, due to restricted income. Shelter and employment are so closely interconnected; in many situations, one cannot work out without the other.
Our Pop-Up Employment programs exist is to offer a limitations-free form of employment that will benefit young people in need. We will employ anybody who is willing to work, no background checks, no experience necessary. The path to full-time employment is a long one and we stand to provide the first steps. Not only do our youth workers leave with money in their pocket, but they leave with added experience, valuable work and life skills, a reference for their future forms of employment, and most importantly, confidence.
In the nearly 600 hours of employment that Hippy Feet has provided in last year, we've learned that the path to sustainable, full-time employment is a tedious one, but with patience and continuous support, it works. Out of the 30-some employees that we have worked with to date, at least 10 of our youth workers have been moved into transitional housing.
Hippy Feet is incredibly proud of what our youth workers have been able to accomplish thus far and look forward to all the great things they will do in the future. We are excited to continue to employ and grow our existing employment structure so that we are constantly adding stepping stones to the path that leads to full-time and sustainable employment.