A 15-year-old social enterprise restaurant in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is trying to make it easier for businesses to tap into the unused employment potential of people on welfare.
Potluck Café, a restaurant and caterer located in the DTES, is introducing a new initiative called Knack to train low-income people in basic work skills and, via an online platform, connect them to employers.
“[Potluck’s] core competency is hiring people with barriers to employment, and they’ve been trying to create new initiatives to scale that impact to the larger business community,” said Anna Migicovsky, an MBA student at Simon Fraser University who is working with Potluck on the initiative.
Welfare rates have not gone up in nine years, but in 2012 the province changed the rules to allow people receiving social assistance to keep more of their earned income before their benefits are clawed back. People with disabilities can earn up to $800 a month; people deemed employable can earn $200 a month; and people with “persistent and multiple” barriers to employment can earn $500 a month.
Using figures provided by the Ministry of Social Development and Innovation, Potluck calculates that there are currently a total of 383,000 work hours per month currently going unused from the 7,000 DTES residents who collect social assistance, representing $56 million a year.
The idea for Knack is not to create full-time jobs in order for people to get off welfare, Migicovsky said.
“It’s a very diverse population and not everyone is able to work 40 hours a week full-time,” Migicovsky said.
Doing a few hours of work a day can not only supplement a monthly welfare check of just $650 a month, it can improve health and well-being.
“We think that employment is a really strong pillar of good health,” Migicovsky said. “It doesn’t need to be, you’re either working full time or you’re not working full time.”
So far, Potluck has been placing Knack participants with other social enterprises like East Van Roasters and SOLE Foods, but hopes to recruit mainstream businesses as employers as well. Restaurants are probably the best fit for the program.
Benefits don't just flow to the employee, Migicovsky said, arguing that employers will get a more loyal employee for lower-skilled jobs they may be having difficulty filling.