Innovation in the homeless field: how does social enterprise respond to the needs of homeless people?

Briefing and working paper series 5

There is much current policy and practitioner enthusiasm for using social enterprise to tackle the problems of the literal homeless population. This paper explores the research literature on social enterprise and homelessness to address whether and how social enterprise can respond to the needs of the homeless population. The paper provides an overview of the current policy context before identifying different ways in which social enterprise can help those homeless people with the most acute needs.

Examination of the research literature suggests that social enterprise involves balancing a tension between social and economic objectives. This would appear to result in the most excluded groups being ignored by social enterprise as they are unprofitable to work with. Moreover, social enterprises in the homelessness field have historically proven unable to generate a sufficient surplus to address the social needs of their client group.

Findings suggest that whilst social enterprise appears unable to respond to those homeless people with the most complex needs, it would appear to offer opportunities to those homeless people with less acute needs, particularly in conjunction with existing charitable approaches.

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Simon Teasdale