By: Andreas Rauch, SSW and Vivian Lee, SW

Combating homelessness has occupied an important place in the city of Riverside’s recent history. Since 2003, various city agencies have established an array of programs to address the causes of homelessness, often in conjunction with the community. Now, a new initiative partnering the city’s Community and Economic Development Department (CEDD) with local businesses aims to reduce homelessness through local employment opportunities. Lift Coffee Roasters, a coffee shop franchise founded and headquartered in Riverside, is one of the first such businesses to collaborate with the city to resolve homelessness.

The project began under the initiative of Emilio Ramirez, the development director of community and economic development for the city of Riverside and a UCR alumnus. Starting in June of 2017 with his appointment to the statewide Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council (HCFC) by Governor Jerry Brown, Ramirez sought to use his expertise and 18 years of experience with the CEDD to help solve homelessness-related issues around the state. Riverside County has approximately 2,413 homeless individuals as of the latest available data, an 11.45 percent increase between 2016 and 2017, the last period for which statistics are available.

Speaking with The Highlander, Gio Alonso, co-owner of Lift, shared some of the goals that Ramirez wanted to facilitate. The initiative hopes to employ some people from the homeless population in Riverside in their shops in hopes of “turning their lives around”  by “hiring the homeless, mentoring them and giving them skills,” according to Alonso.

With Lift’s three different Riverside locations, Alonso hopes to better integrate the company’s efforts into their community and encourages other local businesses to be a part of this initiative. According to Alonso, there are currently “about four or five (businesses) that are pioneering (in this initiative), one franchise being McDonald’s.”

Alonso explained the goals that the city is planning to achieve through their franchise partners, an important one being that “(the city is) trying to build homes in Riverside and create enough homes to house eight homeless (occupants) every month … that’s what they’re aspiring to do.”

By being more aware of citywide issues and being involved to reduce rates of homelessness, Lift aims to establish themselves as an important part of the community. “Respecting the history and the community and really paying attention to what makes the community special, is, I think, what best represents our culture,” said Alonso. “So we got into the coffee industry because it’s a people business.”

Alonso encourages UCR students to spread the word in order to give positive attention to this initiative, where he recommended flyers and using social media to put the program in the spotlight as well as increase awareness of the programs currently aimed at reducing homelessness in Riverside county.

Lift Coffee Roasters operate four locations across Southern California, with three stores serving Riverside and one in Whittier. Lift currently has no plans to expand, and seeks to focus its efforts on the Riverside area. According to Alonso, more information on their philanthropic activities will be on their website in the coming weeks.

The CEDD office did not reply to The Highlander’s requests for comment.