Social Bite and their "Utopia for the Homeless"
Interesting story about Social Bites, the Edinburgh cafe network that employs a quarter of its staff from the homeless. They now see the need to expand their activities to building actual homes for the homeless themselves. They've been adroit and nimble about using celebrities (including George Clooney and Leonardo Di Caprio) to promote their business.
The piece is also fascinating as a case study in how socially-minded creatives can have great and empowering ideas. Yet the question of whether they can scale upwards and outwards sometimes hits real human limits... In this instance, both the limits of their homeless constituency, and of the social entrepreneurs themselves.
How far can social enterprise that eschews any relationship with the state or public money go? Might they need, in Michel Bauwens' terms, a "partner state" - meaning a state that could more subtly support initiatives that come from the "98%" (that is, beyond the 2% that inhabit the usual party-political circles?)
Littlejohn has certainly put in the hours. In the beginning, he and Thompson would wake at 4am to make the sandwiches and work all day in the shop. Hart was just one of a handful of homeless employees who lived with them in their one-bedroom flat while they found their feet. Their evenings would often be spent in the pub, offering informal counselling sessions.
But rather than being overwhelmed by what seemed an insurmountable challenge, Littlejohn started to think he was approaching the problem the wrong way. He was giving homeless people jobs, but what they needed was support, professional help to deal with their problems and, most of all, a settled place to live. He wondered if it would be possible to create a “village”, initially for 20 individuals who are currently living on the streets in Edinburgh. If the concept worked, it could be rolled out – first in Scotland then perhaps further afield.
“We had naively started at the end point,” he says. “We were young people who opened a sandwich shop and just started giving people jobs. But when we had built up to maybe six people, and cracks started appearing, we realised: ‘Shit, a job’s not good enough.’ The links from accommodation through to support through to employment are the dots that have never really been joined before. So the village is working our way to the final point, which is really back to the beginning.”