Notes on Homelessness & Veganism.

The first thing you notice when you sit down at a table with Hannah is her engagement level. She speaks concisely, makes good eye-contact and talks with real confidence and conviction. A natural leader, with clear communication, and not a hint of aggression. You can’t drift off when Hannah talks. You have to focus. In a world of elevator music, she’s stadium rock.

“I’ve lived in the city for nine years, and the homelessness situation has just got worse, year on year. And I think the way that people tend to deal with it ranges from ignoring them, or showing them negativity, to giving them money, which inevitably just serves to sustain whatever addiction they’ve developed to make it through the day. It’s horrible really.”

Hannah introduced a pilot-scheme in her two emporiums a couple of years back, with a focus on employing homeless people, sourced by local charity, Sifa fireside.

“Above all else, this builds their confidence, makes them more employable and gives them some experience working within a team – breaking down the main three barriers of entry for re-integration into society. They’re just people like you and me at the end of the day, but I think it’s difficult for them to get back in the game sometimes because of the stigmas attached to homelessness. The more taboo it is, the more we sweep it under the carpet, and that just leaves them on the fringe, with no hope and no prospects. And that’s our fault, not theirs.”

How it works:

  1. Sifa recommend a candidate to help out in the coffee-shop with cleaning, plate-running, pot-washing etc.
  2. Urban employ the candidate for a couple of shifts per week.
  3. Instead of paying the candidate directly, they pay a local hostel to house the candidate for the week, taking them off the streets, and ensuring their safety.

“So my sister went vegan two years ago after watching that documentary that everyone watched.” Side note: I watched it too when I got home that evening. It’s brilliant. I’m not vegan, but I’ve definitely developed more of a conscience as a result.

“Anyway, that got me thinking. We serve thousand of meals a month – that’s a lot of meat. And current trends dictate that people are seeking out more plant-based options.”

I asked her how she planned on doing that without alienating meat-eaters.

“Vegans don’t always hang out in packs. It’s important in 2018 that we cater for everyone. That’s why our menu serves, meat, fish, vegetarian, vegan, even gluten/dairy-free options. It wasn’t always that way, but we’re slowly marking our territory in a market that needs to adapt. Reducing meat consumption is better for your body, as well as the planet – but telling people what they may or may not consume is bigoted. You have to be pragmatic as a business owner, and not back yourself into a corner.”

“That said, I think it’s important to have other objectives instead of just pure, fast profit. The adaptation of the menu to include more vegan options was a personal choice, not a professional one. I made the decision emotionally, but then rationalised it when I saw it in practice.”

To find out more about Urban, click here.