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Working to solve homelessness: Shelters to Shutters helps the homeless experience more fulfilling lives.

In December 2012 I came across an article by Will Harlan, Editor of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, profiling homelessness in Asheville, N.C. Contrary to most perceptions, the individuals he encountered in shelters were willing, able and actively looking for employment, but with no home address to place on their applications most were struggling to get an opportunity to interview.

As an owner and operator of a property management company, I knew there was something my industry could offer these individuals and families that most couldn't--employment AND housing. In 2014, we created Shelters to Shutters (S2S) to pair property management companies with individuals experiencing homelessness who are ready to work. It's a non-profit organization that offers a pathway for economic independence and self-sufficiency. At the same time the program provides property management companies with a solution for finding pre-screened, job-trained candidates for their open entry-level positions.

One of the first steps in making this program successful was educating myself and my employees on what homelessness truly looks like and who the program participants would be. We learned that chronic homelessness is defined as involving either long-term or repeated bouts of homelessness coupled with disability (physical or mental). It is a common misconception that this group represents the majority of the homeless population. Rather, they account for less than 15 percent of the entire homeless population on a given day.

Like the majority of people experiencing homelessness in our country, Shelters to Shutters' participants have experienced a life-altering event such as job loss, domestic abuse, a medical emergency, a car accident or other situations and find themselves where they never thought they would be--without a home. They want to return to a life of self-sufficiency. They have a past history of employment, military service or are currently in a job-training program ready for opportunity.

Success Stories

One of the first participants in our program was Ronnie, an Air Force veteran who always held a steady job until the economy started to turn. Ronnie tried to survive moving from job to job, but unfortunately found himself unemployed and facing a decision to live out of his car or go to a homeless shelter.

Ronnie decided to seek out a shelter. Once there he connected with a program for veterans called Operation Stand Down, a Shelters to Shutters partner in the Nashville area. His veteran representative knew Shelters to Shutters would be a good fit and could provide employment and housing.

Today, Ronnie is a groundskeeper with tremendous enthusiasm and dedication. His property manager commented: "He's ready. He sold the process for me. He's so motivated and has such a great drive to succeed."

And then there is Odessa. A woman who, after having trouble at home, found herself in a shelter with her two sets of twins under the age of 5. Through Shelters to Shutters, Odessa was hired as a leasing agent at a property in Charlotte, N.C., and moved into one of the community's apartments with her children.

Her ability to relate well with people and her willingness to learn and grow made her a natural fit for the position. Today, Odessa is thriving and for two years in a row has consistently ranked the highest across the company in customer satisfaction. She now has her eyes set on advancing to management.

As we all know, the decade-long surge in rental demand is unprecedented. This rapid growth in the multifamily housing industry has created a demand for quality job candidates to fill property management positions. As an industry, workforce turn over at entry-level positions is extremely high.

According to NAA, property management companies replace 50 percent of their workforce at the entry level annually; meanwhile, the retention rate of S2S participants hired with our partners is 96 percent.

By partnering with the apartment housing industry and local non-profit partners servicing the homeless, we have created a solution that provides individuals and families facing homelessness with jobs and housing opportunities while providing the multifamily housing industry with quality, pre-screened candidates for their ever-increasing and high turnover entry-level positions.

Since inception, Shelters to Shutters has placed dozens of participants like Ronnie and Odessa with full-time employment and housing through our property management partners in 14 different cities in six states. With the addition of children and family members, the program has changed the lives of over 50 people in the past year. Moving forward, we are on pace to add 10 new participants each month. And we're just getting started.

Learn More in San Francisco

I invite you to join me at the 2016 NAA Education Conference & Exposition on June 15-18 where I will be participating on a panel at 10:15 a.m. on June 17 about how our industry collectively can address the issue of homelessness in our country and make a meaningful impact in the local communities where our employees live and work. The session "Homelessness In America: What Can We Do to Help?" includes Rick Graf, CPM, President and CEO, Pinnacle; Lori Trainer, CAM, CAPS, Vice President of Public Relations, Southern Affordable Services, Inc.; Rusty Smith, Executive Director/Mission Manager, St. Martin's Hospitality & Behavioral Health Center. To register, visit

"They saw something in me and I'm glad they did. They didn't give me a hand out. They gave me a hand up and that's what I wanted. I don't want anyone to give me anything. I want to earn it. That puts pride into me. And I have my pride back. They gave me this chance and I am not going to squander it."

--Ronnie, Groundskeeper

"Shelters to Shutters to me? It's a dream come true."

--Odessa, Leasing Agent

Participating Companies

In addition to Middleburg Real Estate Partners, nine additional property management partners have taken hold of the mission and see the value of hiring S2S participants: AvalonBay Communities, Drucker & Falk Real Estate, Bonaventure Realty Group, Freeman Webb, Waterton, Compass Rock RE, Finlay Management, Paragon Properties and Elmington Property Management.

We are grateful for their support in championing the program. We look forward to bringing on more industry partners including the five property management companies who are in the process of finalizing a partnership agreement with S2S this quarter.

Christopher C. Finlay is Managing Partner at Middleburg Real Estate Partners.
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Author:Finlay, Christopher C.
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Mar 1, 2016
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