Florist project helps people out of homelessness

Learning floristry skills

A new florist shop that helps people transition out of homelessness has opened in Oklahoma City, USA.

Curbside Flowers is an offshoot of the Curbside project in the city, where on any given night 1,500 people experience homelessness. Curbside was created to provide employment and job skills training. For many who have struggled with homelessness for an extended period of time, traditional employment can be out of reach.

The Curbside Chronicle magazine – not dissimilar to the Big Issue – provides low-barrier employment and amplifies the voices of people experiencing homelessness. In recent years, the Curbside program has expanded its product line to include artist-designed wrapping paper and flower bouquets sold by vendors.

The idea blossomed from the Curbside Chronicle’s Christmas wreaths and Valentine’s Day arrangements they would make every year, and such was the popularity of their small floral campaigns, Curbside decided to embark on a bricks-and-mortar flower shop offering flowers delivered, retail and wedding flowers.

“This is a dream come true, we are officially open," said Ranya Forgotson, the director of Curbside Chronicle. “This entire project has been just the result of the community showing us that they believe in our vendors, that they believe in our mission, and that they want to see us be able to do that more.”

The flower shop enables the project to employ people ready to move into a more traditional work environment. Each vendor – the shop currently employs 10 people – completes a floral certification program courtesy of a local Oklahoma City training provider, and is trained in the retail shop. Vendors learn skills like time management, how to follow detailed instructions, and customer service, preparing them for the workforce. Every bouquet is hand-assembled by someone in Curbside’s job skills programme. Employment can last up to a year, with the goal of preparing the employees to further enter the workforce.

One success story of the Curbside project is Sonya Shackelford. She’s now enjoying paying her own bills and spoiling her grandchild, according to an interview she gave to Oklahoma’s News9 channel. “Got to buy (my) grandbabies Christmas presents. That makes me so happy," she said. Beyond income, Sonya has found something intangible. “It’s about just not feeling useless, that you have some worth. Respect goes a long way.”

By Austin Clark 18 January 2021