Earth Week Guest Post: Homelessness is Not a Defining Characteristic

By Erika George
Apr 24, 2017 9:05 AM ET

Erika George, director of Development for The Empowerment Plan, explains why homelessness is not a defining characteristic and shares how we can improve the lives of homeless individuals through partnerships and opportunities.  

Looking back four years as a recent college graduate with a degree in elementary education, I felt like my dreams of creating a classroom environment with far-reaching impact were as silly as the wildly ambitious career choices I had landed on throughout my childhood. It wasn’t until almost 6 months after graduating that I met Veronika Scott, CEO and founder of The Empowerment Plan – a nonprofit in Detroit focused on elevating individuals from homelessness through employment. During our first encounter, I knew I needed to blow the dust off my settling dream as the opportunity to create a lasting impact was right in front of me.

As a 23-year-old, I was given the chance to see the world through a rare lens, and to truly expose myself to the struggles and triumphs of our communities in an effort to not only understand, but to address societal discrepancies caused by unemployment, homelessness, and poverty.

Through the work I have done at The Empowerment Plan as the development director, not only have I been able to serve the underserved, but I have been put in the unique position of working with amazing corporate partners and individuals that share our desire to tackle dire issues facing our city. General Motors has been a standout partner of ours over the past 5 years, and their team of dedicated leaders continues to push boundaries. We work closely with the corporate giving team and on the “Do Your Part” waste reduction and sustainability initiative, and in both areas, the GM crew has stood up to the challenge of creating lasting impact through community collaboration. Specifically, the recycled car parts and water bottles we receive as insulation for our manufacturing process serves as a reminder to never settle for what already exists, to always push for something greater.

Society has created stereotypes that many people accept too quickly, especially around broken communities with high rates of homelessness and poverty. We at The Empowerment Plan have proven that homelessness is not a defining characteristic, and have shown that our employees are capable, intelligent, and dedicated individuals; individuals that just needed a chance. Whether it be through recycled plastic bottles, or hiring an unexpected candidate, we all need to take action to address and solve the issues facing our nation.

I have made it a personal goal of mine to always think of new ways increase our number of partnerships and supporters, and plan to use GM as an example of thinking outside the box. In today’s world, we all need to fight for a better tomorrow and it is my belief that if we pull together the contagious energy floating around the city of Detroit, we will be able to collectively build a stronger future for those that may not see a brighter tomorrow.