Guest commentator: Travis Rhodes, Regional President for Delaware Valley/Lehigh Valley Region, BB&T @bbt

Why is it valuable for local businesses to step up to aid homelessness within the community?

Homelessness is an issue impacting our city and we can make a difference, our future depends upon it.  At BB&T, our core reason for existence is “To Make the World a Better Place.” Combating homelessness with dignity and hope with tangible investments into literacy is one way we have chosen to make a difference.

According to the Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services, as measured by their 2019 point in time count, there are 5,735 homeless people in our city.  This includes 1,286 people under the age of 18, 663 families where there is at least one adult and one child experiencing homelessness together, and 15 children experiencing homelessness alone.  The face of homelessness is changing.  Roughly one third of our homeless population is under the age of 24, and nearly the same amount experience a Substance Use Disorder as well as those with a serious mental illness.  How does this intersect with business decisions and commerce within our city?

The causes and cures to homelessness have been researched for decades and are too vast and complex to address here, but there are some overarching principles we should consider as we determine how our decisions impact our companies and our communities:

Regardless of cause, circumstances and personal decisions, the homeless population is comprised of humans that deserve the dignity that humanity brings.

Homelessness has faces and names.  As socially responsible organizations, finding ways to help solve this problem is the right thing to do.

Recently I had the pleasure of spending time with Michael, a homeless gentleman, who through a series of unfortunate circumstances found himself without a job and without shelter. We spent about 45 minutes together interacting as two individuals from very different circumstances and positions in life.  Michael helped me understand the depth of loneliness he experiences; he defined it as being invisible.  He helped me understand his life and what homelessness does to the dignity of an individual who is reduced to begging and sleeping on the street.  He helped me understand the joys of things we take for granted, such as finding a safe place to sleep, the warmth of a shelter, or simply being able to take a shower and be clean.

Until we see the problem of homelessness through the lens of human dignity, our passion to impact the issue will be muted and we will continue to experience the same results.

Homelessness is a visible symptom of a much deeper issue which, in my opinion, is far more damaging to commerce going forward.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, homelessness is migrating to younger populations and rooted in ever increasing substance abuse. Why? This may be drastic over simplification of a complex issue, but could it be people are losing hope?

Hope is a powerful thing. Here in the Birthplace of Liberty, where Jefferson penned that humanity is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” is everyone afforded the ability to pursue these? Do we all possess hope?  How we as a society answer this question will define whether or not Free Enterprise survives for another generation or two.  The future of Free Enterprise is dependent upon investment into the creation of equal access for all to what is necessary to achieve the American Dream; an investment into hope by socially responsible business leaders who see those being impacted as not merely statistics, but humans whom we have a responsibility to serve.  This takes on many facets with numerous core issues.

One of our core investments at BB&T is literacy.  In an ever-advancing technological environment, education is critical to success.  Education is fundamentally founded on a person’s ability to read. Without this core skill, there is no way to achieve the necessary education to advance in a technology dependent society.

Low literacy rates are a barrier that takes away a person’s hope for a brighter future. We can positively impact many problems, simply by helping eliminate barriers.  The issues are too large for any one person or organization, but together great things can be accomplished.

Travis is a member of the Roadmap for Growth Action Team (Roadmap), which engages and unites Chamber members with a broad swath of civic and neighborhood organizations in the development and execution of a pro-growth, pro-jobs common agenda to lift and improve Philadelphia’s economic and civic life.