Madison resident Henry Johnson found that as a homeless man for nearly three years, there are few resources to help him get through this difficult time. But instead of feeling bad about his situation, Johnson looked to empower himself and Madison’s homeless population.

Johnson is in the process of starting the Homeless Entrepreneurship Initiative, a company and support system to help the homeless get back on their feet and help themselves and their communities.

“There are some scars, there’s damage from that transition when you decide you want to get up, and you still have to take care of those scars that are there,” Johnson said. “Something happens to you when you have to sleep outside, and something happens to your mind when you have to stand in line and wait for people to feed you.”

Johnson said many people simply do not understand homeless people’s struggles, which is why it is important to help them take matters into their own hands.

HEI will be a completely homeless owned and operated on-call company in Madison. Employees will have full-time jobs moving, cleaning and hauling scrap metal, among many other options, Johnson said. The program intends to boost homeless people’s self-esteem and give them a sense of purpose and an employer who understands what they are going through.

Any able-bodied homeless people who have fallen through the cracks and are not receiving any benefits or opportunities can join the initiative, Johnson said.

“Homeless people are the invisible people in our society,” Johnson said. “It’s someone you see but don’t look at.”

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Johnson said there are many obstacles preventing homeless people from finding and maintaining jobs. Citizens and problem-solvers must look deeper at the problem of homelessness instead of only providing monetary support to homeless people.

This program will help the homeless become independent from outside assistance and be able to determine their own path, Johnson said.

“I believe that we as homeless people, we as people on this earth, we have a responsibility to activate our own blessedness,” Johnson said.

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Johnson said his company will focus on keeping workers as accountable as possible. He also plans to work with at-risk youth and ex-offenders, because he too has spent time behind bars.

James Borling, a certified mentor with SCORE Madison, an organization that mentors small businesses, has been working with Johnson to get HEI off the ground.

“Henry is a remarkable young guy,” Borling said. “We’ve been giving him feedback on what we think his next steps should be and continue to work with him as he progresses through the path of getting this off the ground and running.”

Through SCORE, HEI will become a nonprofit organization. Borling said he believes Johnson’s background brings a new perspective to helping solve homelessness.

Johnson said he attempted to start this project in Portland, Oregon, but could not do so because of a lack of funds. Johnson said he believes the program could be made to work here in Madison.

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Johnson has been reaching out to people, distributing flyers and speaking to small businesses like Michaelangelo’s Coffee House on State Street to get his project started.

“This is a work in progress,” Johnson said. “I believe that with the right help and guidance, people just need hope.”