plan to employ SF homeless in live-in factory: Uhlman INFO

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 27 Apr 1998 07:13:15 -0700 (PDT)


FWD  CC Replies to author John Uhlman <Uhlman@earthlink.net>

My name is John Uhlman, I am an MBA student at Dominican College of San
Rafael, and a resident of San Francisco, Ca. My school is a Catholic
school, and a Business school, with an orientation towards sustainable
development. Since  this is the case, we have come up with a project idea
to employ and house the  homeless in SF. The reason I am writing to you is
I want to know if there are  any similar projects that you are familiar
with. I want to know this so I can  learn as much as possible from them,
about what worked, and what didnt, to basically get as much information as
possible in advance of launching our  plans..

Our idea is to set up a manufacturing cooperative that produces womens
clothing. What we have in mind is a live-in factory, where the homeless are
supplied with all the basic necessities of life. Three hot meals, a bed,
showers, etc. and a job. The ideal would be to use facilities at the
Presido of  SF, where their is lots of housing and possible production
space, but since this  is a long shot, there are other sites that can be
rented for a nominal cost.  This factory would be a closely held
corporation, where the number of hours  worked would determine ones share
in the company, the only shareholders would be  people who actually clocked
in, no one else would be allowed to own a share. At  the end of each
quarter, the total profits would be divided among the workers  according to
their total shares. The catch is that if their are no profits,  there is no
pay. I have a feeling, and I know this seems idealistic, that once  the
women of SF and the bay area, realize they can buy quality clothing at
affordable prices made by the homeless of SF, instead of in a sweatshop in
the  third world, we will be successful. (did you know that the average
markup in  womens clothing sold in Marin County was 100% above cost). I
realize this  sounds like exploiting people, but if the profits from any
successful sweatshop  were distributed to the workers, and not just taken
by the owner, then it  wouldnt be a sweatshop. There are examples of such
enterprises being  successful, dormitory factories in China, the Kibbutz in
Israel, and I believe  that if people believe that they are involved in
something, that they are  working for themselves, not their employers, that
their productivity rises, and  they can out compete the low wages offered
in Mexico and other less developed  nations. A viable economic enterprise
is our goal, one that includes ourselves,  and about 20 to 30 formerly
homeless people.

The purpose of this project is not only to help get people of the street,
but  to try and keep them off, giving them a chance to earn a living and
save money  while not having to pay rent. Then after having learned job
skills, maybe some  will become self supporting, at which point they might
leave the cooperative and  let us offer an oppurtunity to some new clients.
I have been a volunteer at many  homeless shelters in SF and am currently a
volunteer for the Dept. of Human  Services in SF. I have talked to many of
the homeless, and found some willing to  take a chance, and many others who
do not trust us enough to be interested. The  trust factor has been the
biggest problem, people believe we will be warehousing  them and using them
for cheap labor and then taking the money and running. But  what I want
people to know, that the balance sheet and financial position of any
corporation is open to any shareholder, by law, and the books can be posted
on  the wall for all to see. The fact that our school is also a convent has
led to  the incorporation of the nuns into our plans, they provide the
trust and  assurance many people need, and they have agreed to come with us
in the event of  actual recruting taking place. This is only a quick
outline of the plan, if you  are interested in more details please email me
at Uhlman@earthlink.net

So in closing, what I am seeking is if you know of any people who have been
through a similar project, please let me know, we need to get all the prior
information we can, so this very difficult task might be made easier. This
includes people who have trained homeless for jobs, training for the other
MBAs who have not worked closely with the homeless before, or any other
skills you might think helpful. Thank you very much for your time and I
hope to  hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

John Uhlman <Uhlman@earthlink.net>

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