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From Serviced Offices to New Homes for Women

Nov 2014 | Servcorp

Servcorp is an Australian company that employs over 80 percent women. It's also a company with a heart that goes beyond standard corporate social responsibility, as a recent conversation with Servcorp's China Senior Manager, Michaela Julian, convinced me.

‘Our team frequently goes and visits the Renewal Center,' she said. She explained that this was because she wants the company to do more than give money to the charity, a homeless shelter which has provided  accommodation, education and a fresh chance to people rendered homeless in Shanghai since 2008.

‘The level of Servcorp's involvementliterally helps us keep our doors open on a day-to-day basis,' Jimmy McWhinney, one of the founders of the Renewal Center, told us. ‘Reaching people in desperate need on the streets, and offering a sustainable path off the streets...Michaela, Su and others from Servcorp regularly email and ask what our most pressing needs are and when they can bring another group of volunteers by.'

How it began

‘I helped found the Renewal Center with a few local friends of mine I met while studying Chinese at ECNU,' McWhinney, who has a background in finance, told us. ‘I volunteered at a shelter for youth in my home town of Dallas, so I naturally began to wonder once I was settled in China where I could direct people I met on the street who seemed to be experiencing homelessness.'

A fresh start

The Renewal Center, as the name suggests, provides more than just shelter for those without a roof over their heads. The center holds 3 drop-in sessions every week, where people can shower, enjoy a hot meal, and even collect freshly washed clothes (service users can drop off clothes one week and pick them up the next).

Those who enter the residence program have a very real chance of renewal. During my visit to the center, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the friendly member of staff who welcomed me to the center was a former participant of the program.

Successful training

Residents at the Renewal Center are gradually re-introduced to productive routine by helping out with daily tasks such as laundry washing.  Many are given the opportunity to enter employment through partners such as Element Fresh. A new training cafe has just been finished at the center. The soon-to-open cafe will help residents adjust to a working environment before beginning employment for a larger company.

McWhinney smiled as he told me about the success stories he has seen during his time at the center. One former resident has been working at Element Fresh for more than 3 years and now holds a supervisory role.

But McWhinney saved his biggest smile for talking about the people ‘who have gone home.' ‘We've helped on some level [to reunite them with their families],' he said, before giving examples of 3 former residents who are now married with children.

New hope for homeless women

This year, the Renewal Center's biggest drive is opening a residency program for homeless women, and keeping that program running.

The Renewal Center's residency and employment assistance program started out for men, as most homeless people in Shanghai are male, and because of staffing issues. ‘It's simply a matter of funding to be able to hire at least one staff person to oversee the women's program and at least one person to stay overnight,' according to McWhinney.

‘It's hard enough being homeless, but more devastating when you are a woman,' Michaela Julian told me when asked what the reason was for supporting the women's residency program, and McWhinney echoed the same sentiments.

 ‘Women experiencing homelessness are more isolated and at much higher risk for physical harm,' he told us, ‘but this also means we need to be prepared to deal with much more complicated issues.'

How Servcorp are helping

Servcorp are donating all of their sign up fees for November to The Renewal Center. If you sign up for virtual office online, Servcorp will donate 10 RMB to the charity. If you sign up on the spot, 500 RMB will go towards The Renewal Center and their cause.

Servcorp has been working with the Renewal Center for 3 years, and supports them with everything from clothes drives and regular visits to cash donations. Hopefully, with Servcorp's help , the drive for the women's residency center will be successful, and several vulnerable women will be sheltered from Shanghai's streets this winter.