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Nonprofit Creates Homeless Toolkit For Business Owners

Members of Business For Good San Diego are pictured at a meeting.
Photo by Kirk Hensler, Courtesy of Business for Good San Diego
Members of Business For Good San Diego are pictured at a meeting.

San Diego County has the fourth largest population of homeless people in the United States, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The nonprofit Business For Good San Diego created a toolkit to help local business owners address the county's homelessness crisis.

The toolkit contains practical guidelines for interacting with homeless people, as well as ways to get involved in big picture solutions to the crisis.

The nonprofit is holding meetings for business owners to discuss and receive copies of the toolkit. One such meeting is being held for Little Italy business owners Tuesday at 4 p.m. at i.d.e.a. Future community meetings will be posted at the nonprofit's website, businessforgoodsd.com.

Business owners can also contact the organization for a copy of the toolkit.

Karim Bouris, executive director of Business For Good San Diego, joins Midday Edition Tuesday to discuss the goals of the project.

Nonprofit Creates Homeless Toolkit For Business Owners
Nonprofit Creates Homeless Toolkit For Business Owners GUEST: Karim Bouris, executive director, Business for Good

The relationship between business owners in San Diego's homeless population has often been tense store owners have an interest in keeping their businesses clean and welcoming to the public which can be difficult with people living on the streets the homeless people are sometimes treated poorly when all they want to do is buy something. Like any other customer. An organization called business for good is issuing what they call a homeless toolkit for business owners. It contains practical guidelines for interacting with homeless people as well as ways to get involved in big picture solutions to the region's homeless crisis. Joining me is Kareem. He's executive director of business for good. And Karim welcome to the program. Thanks for having me Maureen. What kinds of problems prompted you to come out with this how to guide on homelessness. It was not the problems who prompted us to do that. It was the desire to come up with solutions that the businesses decided was the reason that they wanted to do something right now. If you work with businesses you learn very quickly that they're not really good at sitting around a table and talking about things they need to act and that is what they decided to do with this. What have you heard from business owners about their interactions with with homeless people that perhaps they'd like to improve. I would say that we're hearing two things we're hearing that there is fatigue because it's a difficult situation to deal with but they want to deal with it with compassion and be it by being productive about it. So that's what the toolkit was all about was thinking about solutions that business owners and their employees can come up with from their side walk all the way to City Hall. Can you be a little bit more specific. What is causing that fatigue. It's just what you said when you introduced the segment here it is every day San Diego has a problem and it's been going on for a long time. We're not necessarily seeing some progress being made about it. So the long term is to be coming up with solutions and working with the city working with the county to make sure that the solutions we come up with are going to be the right solution for them that they're going to last. But in the meantime we need to do some things that are more directly impacting businesses and that was the purpose of the two. How widespread is the problem in San Diego that businesses are encountering is it just in certain neighborhoods. I would say it's about everywhere. We have businesses all the way from the coast in point Luman ocean beach going to North Park and South Park and down to National City who've all at some point said when asked what keeps you up at night it's how to deal with a homeless situation in the neighborhood. Now we spoke with Indra gardener Bowers. She's CEO of ideas a marketing firm in Little Italy. Bowers helped create the tool kit and is holding a neighborhood meeting tonight. This problem doesn't magically go away without us getting involved. And there are so many different ways for us to get involved but also having the conversation with your own employees and staff. There are a lot of businesses that are at street level that have regular interaction with with our homeless community and training them on on how best to interact when it's appropriate to call 911 and when perhaps it's not in anyone's best interest to call 911. Those are the types of things we're hoping business owners and managers can start having those conversations and understanding how we can best interact with Holmes community and best help make change for them. Back now with Korean Borri executive director of business for good. And Karim tell us if you could some of the advice that this toolkit gives business owners on how to deal with homeless people in and around their stores. Sure. Well they took it as two parts. There's a part for the business owners and there is an insert that is for their frontline staff for the receptionists for their store employees. And that's just a very quick choose your own adventure approach to it. And it's meant to be something you can look at really quickly and it's broken down by what to do if somebody walks into your store and is not a paying customer or somebody sleeping at your doorstep or the last one. You just want to help and under each it's just a very quick one page that is easy to follow with with some suggestions on what they can do. So that's where the employee side of things on the business owner well there's more than a business owner can do because of their role and position as a business owner where they can interact more directly with let's say the San Diego Police Department and fill out forms to give them access to their property after hours to help make sure that they can keep the neighborhood safe. But also recommendations and advice to get involved directly if they want. All the way up to the system level when the regional task force on the homeless meets if they want to show up at those meetings and see how we deal with a problem when the city is dealing with certain things but also how to get involved with the providers and the homeless providers they need help and that if you if you've met with any of you talk to Indra then imagine dozens of businesses like hers with leaders like her who were action oriented productive people who have resources and time and passion and love to give to this. Now you ask employees staff to talk to people first to homeless people first to try to build a rapport. I know I'm wondering because that's advice in the tool kit. Has it been typical or often that the first reaction between business and staffers and the homeless is to be confrontational. I can tell you that the approach we're taking is about humanizing the issue and being compassionate about it. We're not going to get there if we don't look at somebody who is on the street to somebody who is just like us. The majority of folks who are homeless are from San Diego. The leading cause of homelessness is financial. It's a loss of a job. So there are people who we know there are neighbors there are friends there are former colleagues. It is not an other who is homeless and is and that's the first approach we try to take which let's not forget that those are our colleagues our friends our employees who may or may not one day have to face that. So that was the underpinning of the tool kit was to not forget to humanize the issue and to be compassionate about it and everything we suggest in this toolkit is just that it's a suggestion. The purpose of not just releasing the toolkit I'm saying. Here you go. Go to our Web site and download it. It's because we wanted the business owners who are on or on our committee who organize and who are coming up with solutions to homelessness wanted to make sure that they were having conversations with their neighboring businesses. The values in the conversation. So if you're in Little Italy interest hosting a conversation this afternoon at 4 o'clock at a DA and we've had neighborhood conversations like that in North Park in Golden Hill and our businesses are going to be putting more of those kinds of conversations together. We asked Bob McElroy who is CEO of Alpha project about his advice. Here's what he told us. When you speak to people I mean that's just you know common sense and human nature of somebody is being too kindly you're going to be less likely to respond negatively. You have some having a really bad bait sometimes just you know Suzanne sometimes just takes some time. I slow down some time just wait for folks just to kind of calm down and grab the people. Now as you say Karim your group is hosting conversations among businesses in various neighborhoods around the city. What is happening at those meetings. So the first thing we do is ask people why are they here. I mean they're taking time away from their day to be with us and talk about this. Obviously they're there because they care about the issue enough to take time away from work and which ended up finding is that everybody cares about the problem and they're there because they want to see what solutions are out there for them to help deal with it. So that's what we learn and we have an hour for it so we don't waste people's time when they come in here and then we go over the talk and we're really asking them what do you like from this. What works for you. What did we miss in this. Because we're not going to do this just one time. We want to make sure that what we hear from these conversations can help inform what we do then as we come up with more long term solutions for helping the city and the county deal with a situation where it can. Business owners and perhaps even their staff learn where these meetings are taking place. So we post everything on our Web site business for good. As the dotcom I've been speaking with Kareem Borri he is executive director of business for good. And thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me Maureen.