Connor Schoen (22) and Tony Shu (21) are on a mission to break the cycle of homelessness with Breaktime, a Boston-based non-profit that helps find transitional employment for young adults experiencing housing instability.
Schoen and Shu met as undergraduates at Harvard. The inspiration for Breaktime came when they were working at a homeless shelter and noticed that the number one thing young adults at the shelter were looking for was a stable job. “They wanted a job sometimes even more than they wanted housing, and that’s because stable employment is the most critical factor in achieving stable housing,” Shu told In The Know.
While Shu and Schoen acknowledge all the great job training companies in their community, they saw a lack of support in the transitional phase between those job training programs and securing an actual job. The duo started working towards opening a café, called the Breaktime Café, which was designed to be a transitional employment hub, but then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and their plans changed.
Shu and Schoen were told to wait out the pandemic and conserve their resources until it was over, but they had a better idea. “What we ended up doing was making use of the kitchen that’s in our building,” explained Shu. “Food insecurity was a huge rising crisis because of the pandemic, and we realized that we could employ young adults experiencing homelessness to prepare and then deliver nutritious meals to frontline workers, but also to families experiencing food insecurity.”
The way the Breaktime process works now is the trainees go through a 2-week program focused on professional development and personal empowerment, and then are staffed for 13 weeks at non-profits and other organizations across the city where they learn transferable skills.
But Shu and Schoen’s ambitions go beyond just making a difference in their local community. The two hope to get policymakers involved and scale their business model city-wide, state-wide, and even nation-wide. “We want to make sure that our young people are heard by our legislators and by our leaders,” Schoen explains. “We want to set up roundtables where legislators and leaders get to meet young adults experiencing homelessness, hear about their experiences, and that helps to form policy decisions.”
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