A start-up program set up in Barcelona designed to help homeless people set up their own business based on their skills is proving to be a success. Hagar Jobse reports from Barcelona.
"Do you know the expression feeling blue?" Vincent (49) asks 23-year-old architecture student Gonzalo. Vincent and Gonzalo are sitting at a small table at a cafe in the center of Barcelona. For the past few weeks they have been meeting here for Gonzalo's weekly English class. Dressed in a fancy-looking black suit, Vincent looks more like a businessman than a homeless person. However, Vincent has been living on the streets of Barcelona for the past five months. "Three years ago I moved from London to Spain," he tells DW. "I have always had work, but last year I suddenly lost my job, and before I could find a new one I had already run out of money."
Vincent is one of the participants in the program of Homeless Entrepreneur, a start-up aimed at eradicating homelessness in the whole of Barcelona by helping homeless people start a business based on their own talents and skills. Founder Andrew Funk, an American entrepreneur based in Barcelona, says he came up with the idea two years ago, while taking a walk around the city. "I saw all these homeless people begging on the street and I wondered what their story was," he tells DW. "And then I realized that the reason people beg is probably because they think it is the best option they have."
Andrew Funk, the founder of Homeless Entrepreneur, spent 24 hours begging to experience what homeless people go through
Funk thinks that many homeless people in Barcelona don't really want to work, unless they can do something they actually enjoy. "The services for homeless people in this city are quite good," he says. "For example, there are many institutions that offer food and clothing for free. Also, there are many homeless shelters where homeless people can spend the night. So if they don't need money to pay for these basic conditions, why would they bother to earn money with a job they don't like?"
So, instead of just offering them any job, Homeless Entrepreneur helps homeless people who want to get off the street by setting up a business based on their own talent and skills, as well as by helping them find more stable jobs they actually enjoy doing. "We focus on their dream job, but also on a job that can provide them with a stable income," Funk explains. "Marcos for example is a poet, so we helped him publish a book. His dream is to make money as a writer. But to generate a more stable income, he also takes care of a 55-year-old man with brain paralysis."
Funk is convinced that doing something they are passionate about helps homeless people become motivated about life again, which will increase their chances to reintegrate successfully into society.
The economic model behind the start-up is simple: Through crowdfunding, Homeless Entrepreneur supports the participants by providing them with a place to live and funds for start-up costs. During the first six months of their new jobs, the participants donate 10 percent of their income to Homeless Entrepreneur. Moreover, 50 percent of the benefits earned with the product created by Homeless Entrepreneur, like Marcos' book, are invested in the start-up as well.
Currently, four people have enrolled in the homeless entrepreneur program. One of them is Paco Mendez, who started to work as a full-time web developer two weeks ago. "Paco had been unemployed and homeless for three years," Funk says. "Now he makes 1,200 euros a month, which allows him to rent a room." In his spare time Paco is working on a CD. "He is also a rapper, so we decided to help him make a record, which we hope to release very soon."
Other participants are 47-year-old Enrique, who just started to work as a tour guide at Barcelona's Hidden Tours, and 55-year-old Andrezj from Poland, who just started a business as a massage therapist. The latter just received a 300-euro donation, which allowed him to a buy massage chair so he can work from home.
Standing on their own two feet
Unfortunately, joining the program is not for everyone. "When I started, I thought we could help every homeless person," Funk says. "Even people who were addicted to drugs. But soon I learned that they had to be clean before we could work with them." Funk says it's important the participants come in fully committed. "If you really want to get off the streets, you will have to work for it. We give them the tools to start a new life, but they have to do it. I arranged the job interview for Paco. But he was the one who had to dress properly for it and actually go there." Participants also can't stay in the program indefinitely. "We coach them for a year and a half. Then they 'graduate' and have to stand on their own two feet."
Vincent has only been in the program for five months, but he thinks it is only a matter of weeks before he can fully provide for himself again. "I am starting to earn more and more money with teaching English," he says. "Also, I am writing several coaching books - one of them is called 'Twenty-four ways to improve your English.' Once it's finished, I hope I can earn money by giving lectures about it."