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6 Ways Small Businesses Are Supporting the Unhoused Population

Illustration of a person helping another person use a camera

In Athens, young founders provide free mobile laundry services to many Greeks who are without housing. Meanwhile, in Toronto, an art program helps at-risk Canadian youths learn about photography. These are just some of the creative ways founders of social enterprises and small businesses around the world are giving back and tackling a global issue.

1. Burning candles to help shelters

Illustration of three kids holding a sign and candlesFrères Branchiaux is a candle company founded by three young brothers. The boys started the business to save up money for video games, but middle brother Ryan loves that he’s also able to help others—Frères Branchiaux donates 10% of its profits to a local shelter. The cause is close to home for the brothers. “I had family members who were unhoused,” Ryan says. “We took them in and helped them get back on their feet.”

2. Giving unhoused folks a chance to grow

Illustration of a woman tending to a planter growing lettuceSucSeed is a Canadian company that builds hydroponic systems, enabling their customers, no matter where they live, to grow fresh produce at home. A certified B Corporation, the company aims to address food insecurity. All of SucSeed’s products are made by at-risk and unhoused youth under the guidance of professional botanists and engineers.

3. Amplifying voices

Illustration of a person holding up a newspaperThe Curbside Chronicle is an Oklahoma City street publication dedicated to empowering unhoused and low-income individuals. Sales of the magazine helped more than 850 people move into affordable housing in 2021. The paper also runs another program called Wrap Up Homelessness, selling artist-designed wrapping paper and donating profits to the cause. “This issue is really stigmatized,” says director Ranya O’Connor. “It’s important in everything we do that we know and see the humans behind this issue.”

4. Offering free mobile services

Illustration of a person standing behind a van with laundry machines insideEmployment options were dismal for Athens-born Thanos Spiliopoulos, so he started a business aimed at helping the city’s large unhoused population. Thanos and his friend Fanis Tsonas fundraised to launch Ithaca Laundry, Greece’s first free mobile laundry service. Since launch, the company has washed 160,000 kilograms of clothing for unhoused individuals. It also provides job counseling services, hires from vulnerable populations, and has helped integrate dozens of program beneficiaries into the job market.

5. Passing the lens

Illustration of a person helping another person use a cameraJAYU is a Toronto-based charity that shares human-rights stories through the arts and dialogue. One of its projects, iAM, pairs unhoused and at-risk youth with professional photographers, teaching them to capture photos of their city. The resulting photos, along with accompanying voice recordings, are featured and sold in an exhibit, with all of the profits benefiting underserved youth.

6. Supporting unhoused artists

Illustration of a person painting on a large canvasFormerly unhoused, David Tovey is an artist, community leader, and activist working on projects close to his heart. He sells sustainably made clothing and accessories through an online store and social-arts project called Hopeful Traders. Proceeds from David’s own designs and those of guest artists support charities that help people who are unhoused get back on their feet.

Illustrations by Alvaro Tapia Hidalgo
Additional reporting by Renee Morad, Gabby Peyton, and Stav Dimitropoulos