Commercial income is a relatively new concept for most of the sector, but the term is nothing new to Emmaus, which creates 'communities' where formerly homeless people work full-time collecting, refurbishing and reselling furniture. Eventually, usually after about five years, individual Emmaus communities become economically self-sufficient.
However, each community needs a considerable amount of grant funding to start with. "These days, you can't set up in caravans on an open site any more," says George Erdozain, chair of Emmaus Preston, which is currently refurbishing a former care home in order to set up a new community.
Funding currently comes from a mix of private donations, charitable trusts and £350,000 each from the Northwest Regional Development Agency and the Department of Communities and Local Government. The public grant money is particularly interesting, because a lot of the focus for Emmaus is on 'soft' outcomes, which are notoriously hard to secure funding for (Third Sector, 17 January 2007).
"Public money is of enormous help, but it comes with considerable strings attached and the requirement to tick boxes," says Erdozain. "They like to see a quick turnover so they can show a cut in the number of people out of work. They want to know the number of training courses available and the number of people who will be helped over a specified time." By contrast, it takes about two years for each Emmaus community to reach its full capacity of 25 residents.
"The essence of Emmaus is that it enables people to come from a very low starting point and get themselves back on their feet," says Erdozain. "You are dealing with people who have had frightful things happen to them. They need care and consideration."
However, it's far from impossible to make the economic case. Evelyn Asante-Mensah, head of equality and diversity at the Northwest Regional Development Agency, says: "For homeless people, training focused on job-related vocational skills is insufficient. It's of vital importance that we invest in people's wider life skills development to ensure more homeless people return to work and escape exclusion."