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ISSUES | Reducing Homelessness

A different and effective approach to homelessness

The Saffron Strand Model

Tiffany Scott training Sarah MutonConventional public and charity services address the homeless person’s immediate problems, for example food, shelter, life-threatening disease, or injury. This approach is appropriate and effective on an emergency basis. However, if solving these immediate problems is all that happens, then the homeless person’s risk of dependency on emergency services grows. Over time, the homeless person can develop “learned helplessness” and become conditioned to survive at a subsistence level in the care of others.

Meeting the basic needs of the homeless for food, shelter, and health care remains critical. However, overcoming the degradation, humiliation, ill-health effects, and stigma of homelessness requires a higher purpose to which both the homeless and those who would help them can commit. For Saffron Strand members, that higher purpose is economic independence and self-reliance through work: Work that makes use of individual learned skills and personal talents and that has the potential to earn a paycheck or generate income from legitimate enterprise. In focusing on work, the Saffron Strand Model emphasizes and enhances a homeless person’s individual strengths, without ignoring personal challenges such as a criminal record, substance abuse problems, etc.

Ebony JacksonSaffron Strand, Inc. is the Richmond-based 501(c)(3) non-profit membership organization which builds the employability and increases the employment of homeless adults in Richmond and other Contra Costa communities. Our homeless members join an intentional community dedicated to improving the life, social, and vocational skills of individual members, thereby empowering them to achieve and sustain gainful employment or a successful micro enterprise.

How We Do It

Membership in Saffron Strand is free to homeless adults in Contra Costa County. Individuals join Saffron Strand to achieve solutions to their personal challenges with the goal of improving their employability, finding and sustaining a good-paying job, and overcoming homelessness. Our Point Richmond office functions as their base during the workday. The office offers a professional business environment, where the homeless train on work-related skills and experience respect and dignity which typically are not part of life in shelters or on the streets. Members work a few hours per week in non-paying jobs that support Saffron Strand programming, including development, community outreach, and professional training and public education on issues of homelessness.

Through Saffron Strand programming at the office, Saffron Strand annual events, and community events throughout Contra Costa County, members benefit from:

  • Personal wellness and self-care, which enhances self-esteem and confidence in social and work environments.
  • Job and social skills training, which identifies the individual’s personal strengths and work skills and tailors training and work experience to improve the individual’s employability.
  • Stages of gainful employment, in which Saffron Strand enters agreements with local organizations, including businesses, and individuals, for members to get back to work with varying levels of support from staff or volunteers.
  • Creative work, which allows members to express themselves in art, crafts, music, writing, etc. and build skills of self-expression and communication.
  • Case management, in which Saffron Strand professional staff work with individual members to help them access health and human services outside the organization, the lack of which services may jeopardize their progress toward employability and employment.
  • Program evaluation and application of practice to research, which takes place on a periodic basis in order to adjust Saffron Strand programming, communicate new understanding of solutions to homelessness, and inform Saffron Strand advocacy.
  • Collaboration, education, and advocacy which applies the learning and experience of Saffron Strand members and staff to help bring together professionals working with the homeless, civic leaders, and other stakeholders as part of our mission to get the homeless back to work.

trainingWhy It Works


Saffron Strand succeeds in getting homeless people back to work because we provide:

  • Trauma-informed, professional-quality working environment which offers a medium of trust, respect, and dignity;
  • Emotional support through an intentional community dedicated to achieving gainful employment or enterprise for every member;
  • Staging area during normal business hours in which to practice life, social, and work skills;
  • Identification and reinforcement of individual strengths, including factors of resiliency which enable recovery from the trauma of homelessness;
  • Transition from learned helplessness and survival conditioning to self-reliance and giving back to the community; and
  • Empowerment of each member as an economically independent individual with valuable work skills and experience worthy of respect and paid compensation.

For more information about Saffron Strand, its members, and its supporters, please visit http://saffronstrand.org.

---Yvonne Nair
Executive Director, Saffron Strand

Photos: Tiffany Scott training Sarah Muton; Ebony Jackson Working at Computer; Award to Homeless Member Tiffany Scott; Training

The Richmond Progressive Alliance  has a Sub-committee to Reduce Homelessness.

Its mission is to identify, report, and help implement effective, sustainable solutions to reduce homelessness in Richmond, focusing first on ways and means to increase the legitimate employment of the city's homeless.  It meets the third Saturday of every month at 10:00 am.  For more information contact  Jerome  by email at jfs_94805@yahoo.com 

Sustainable Solutions to Homelessness Conference

Eduardo MartinezSaffron Strand with the City of Richmond has had two annual conferences on homelessness drawing participants for around the state and country. 
The 2011 Conference – “Sustainable Solutions to Homelessness: Integrating Employment, Health Care & Housing,” May 16-17 in Richmond – provided education in ways of reducing homelessness in Richmond to about 150 professionals, public officials, volunteers and concerned citizens

Goals of the Conference

The 2011 Conference enabled all engaged in working with the homeless or managing issues involving the homeless to improve their professional expertise and performance. “Sustainable Solutions to Homelessness” provided practical ways to increase the cost-effectiveness of the continuum of care and transition of the homeless out of homelessness. Conference goals included:

  1. Convene stakeholders to examine new, cost-effective, employment-focused solutions to homelessness 
  2. Identify gaps, incentives, and disincentives in existing programs for the homeless and practical ways to integrate new solutions
  3. Consider best practices of traditional and new solutions in the homeless continuum of care and transition
  4. confernecew diascussion
  5. Focus on specific programs to optimize employability and career potential of homeless persons
  6. Use Richmond -- where growing numbers of the homeless face every possible challenge -- as the proving ground for new, employment-focused solutions to homelessness.

In a dynamic plenary session  on   “Homeless and Going to Work: Beyond Barriers to Passion and Possibility,” acclaimed author and job development consultant Denise Bissonnette challenged us to stretch our thinking, question our assumptions, and turn our traditional way of looking at ourselves and the world on its head!
To see the complete program and workshop descriptions  click here