Business needs to answer Howarth Foundation's clarion call to help homeless

I often get asked whether I celebrate Christmas and in the past my answer would have been no I don't.

Helping hand: Business can help reduce homelessness by taking the bold step of providing employment. Pic: PA

But in recent years I’ve realised that I do partake in the festivities in my own passive way.

Just seeing people being more friendly towards each other is enough to make that festive feeling swell up inside you.

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It’s the time of goodwill and it takes very little for people to show goodwill to fellow human beings, whatever class, creed or culture.

At home: Andy Howarth intends to continue helping homeless people into work. Picture: Simon Hulme

While we’re all huddled up in front of the fire with our families there are those that are far less fortunate.

We all know the plight of homelessness and there is no quick fix to this problem. Although there is no quick fix, there is certainly a fix to breaking the cycle of homelessness and businesses are central to this.

Andy Howarth is the chairman of Cleckheaton-based Howarths Law. The firm has expertise in employment law and HR.

Recently, as he handed over the day-to-day running of business to his son, he and his wife, Helen, launched the Howarth Foundation.

The charity looks to break that cycle of homelessness by working with people that have been living on the streets and finding them gainful employment.

We need to start with a change in attitude towards homeless people. Mr Howarth says that the perception of homeless people is “marred” but it could happen to anyone.

Many of these people are incredibly brave for fleeing desperate situations such as domestic violence.

Mr Howarth himself says that during his own unhappy teenage years homelessness seemed a better option.

Often homeless people find themselves being rehomed but are back on the street again because they’re left isolated.

Mr Howarth said: “They end up back on the streets where they are socially included, where all their friends are and they end up back to substance abuse.

“Then the natural consequence is they lose the tenancy so they’re back on the streets.”

Finding work can not only give them a purpose in life but also negate that isolation.

The Howarth Foundation is a unique charity in that rather than asking for donations, it is self-funded by Howarths Law. The organisation simply seeks businesses that want to take that important step of giving someone a chance.

The foundation works with those that are ready to engage and turn their lives around. The picture is not all rosy.

“We lose some as well,” Mr Howarth says. “They’re not all success stories. People relapse. People fall off the wagon and we’re back to square one but we never ever give up. We’ll wait for them to start recovering.”

However, the success stories so far have been worth it. The foundation has worked with the likes of Leeds United Football Club and Ringways Motor Group.

Mr Howarth has his own personal battles having been diagnosed with cancer. Despite this the former police officer, who spent 30 years in the force, is not planning on staying at home feeling sorry for himself.

“The opportunity for success is there,” Mr Howarth says. “What we need is for more people to come forward and say we’d like to work with you.”

There’s an economic benefit to bringing these people into work and in an age where firms talk so much about corporate social responsibility surely it’s on industry to take the lead in helping eradicate homelessness.

Aside from the financial benefit there’s also the satisfaction of playing a role in turning the life around of a vulnerable person.

“What the businesses have done for them and their self-esteem you can’t put a cost to that,” Mr Howarth says of those firms that have engaged with the foundation.

Christmas is a time of goodwill and while many firms are doing their bit for charity, perhaps a few could take the time to see if they can help Mr Howarth in his mission to make homelessness a thing of the past.

It won’t be necessarily straightforward but if this inspiring 65-year-old is unwilling to let cancer stop him from helping the homeless, then surely there are businesses in our great region willing to answer his clarion call.