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In the United States alone, homelessness affects over 600,000 people, while unemployment affects as many as 7.8 million. Nine percent of those homeless are veterans who have difficulty finding work due to injuries, inadequate medical care, or lack of education. High school diplomas and GEDs often don’t carry enough weight to recommend someone for a job, and even a Bachelor’s degree may fail to suffice.
Now, a 16-year-old girl in Ireland has devised a plan to keep the homeless safe and get them back into the workforce.
Emily Duffy’s novel creation, the “Duffily Bags,” are water-resistant, fireproof sleeping bags that are strong enough to endure the cold and durable enough to last for years.
Duffy has not only designed a product that helps keep people on the streets feeling safer and warmer, but she has also devised a plan to help introduce these people back onto the path of employment.
The Duffily Bags are designed in the simplest way possible in order to make the manufacturing process accessible to everyone.
She had the brilliant idea to start a program that hires the homeless to actually make the Duffily Bags by hand. In return, she pays them an hourly rate. Shortly after she presented this idea at Ireland’s Young Scientists Competition—Irelands longest standing display of secondary school students’ abilities in the areas of science and technology—the Mendicity Institution approached her about adopting the program.
Established in 1818, the Mendicity Institution is Dublin’s oldest working charity.
“They told me about what they did and I knew that it would be very beneficial for both of us,” Duffy tells BTRtoday. “The product being made would help the homeless help themselves, as well as being able to produce the Duffily Bags on a wider scale that I wouldn’t have been able to do by myself.”
The first workshop was conducted last June.
Duffy recalls one the first hires she made. They employed a homeless man and paid him 10 euro per hour, or 11 USD. That’s not only higher than the U.S.’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, but also higher than Ireland’s own minimum wage of 9.15 euro per hour.
Since participating in that trial, that man has been able to move on to full-time employment with a salary and benefits.
“When I heard this, it was one of the most amazing stories of my life,” Duffy recounts. “To hear about how something that I thought of and that I’ve done has affected someone else’s life for the better—it’s unreal.”
She decided to work on a project based on homelessness almost two years ago, after she and her classmates decided to conduct a holiday fundraiser for a local homeless shelter.
“We were extremely grateful for what we had,” Duffy says. “I hadn’t known how big a problem homelessness actually was in Ireland and doing the fundraising allowed me to see.”
She wanted to help so she started doing research on the issue and decided to come up with a simple and effective product that would help the homeless while they slept on the streets.
Duffy had no idea the concept would gain such fame so quickly. She expresses that its sudden prominence may be owed to an incident where a homeless man was found dead on the streets of Ireland, sending people in an uproar and bringing attention and a high demand for projects like hers.
Simone Sav is the project leader and workshop supervisor at the Mendicity Institution for the “Mendo Workshop,” the program implementing the creation of the Duffily Bags.
“Manufacturing a sleeping bag is a process that we felt our service users would identify with,” Sav says. “It provides them with the satisfaction of completing a task and seeing results while giving them a sense of pride in their own work.”
She states that the aim of the workshop is to enhance the chances of successful reintegration into the workforce. The process of building such a useful tool with one’s own hands, she hopes, will instill discipline, responsibility, and the routine of work sessions in the service users.
Sav tells BTR that since the beginning of the program they have been able to see serious and tangible results.
She recounts the case of three service users, who when first joining the program had been homeless for one, four, and six years, respectively. Currently, they have found employment outside of the Mendicity Institution, live in privately rented accommodations, and are no longer dependent on homeless services.
“These promising success stories provide us with the confidence that our workshop is a worthwhile project,” Sav explains. “It will bring significant positive change to the lives of service users who engage with us, and bring tangible positive changes in the community.”
The Mendicity Institution runs many helpful programs aside from the Mendo Workshops, along with a daily food center where they feed the hungry free of charge, with no questions asked. They concentrate on relieving poverty and empowering individuals to return to work.
When public and charitable organizations, like the Mendicity Institute, pair with great minds, like 16-year-old Emily Duffy, a positive difference can actually be made to the community. The Duffily Bags have created a gateway that is leading the world closer to ending homelessness and unemployment.
“It’s amazing,” Duffy admits. “It’s the pride of my life just to have the backing of the public and other charitable organizations.”
If you’d like to donate to further the Mendo Workshops you can make your contribution here.