Homelessness is a tough cause to sell


No it isn’t, you might say, I buy coffee and sandwiches for the homeless. You might run a street kitchen, run a restaurant that donates food to a street kitchen, a company that donates sundry items for outreach teams to distribute, you might put together care packages, volunteer your time or donate to a homeless charity. You do what is within your capabilities and that is admirable. However, you are in the minority. You are in the minority because you have allowed yourself to have empathy with homeless people where others don’t. Crowd funding is a tough arena for homeless charities, even ones who are only seeking start-up funding – a one hit arrangement.

I realise I’m venturing into ungracious territory when I find myself thinking in competitive terms with other charitable causes but it’s tough competing with disease, disability, animal cruelty, mental health, war torn countries, refugees and famine. Don’t be shocked. It’s a reality and a human reaction to want to help those we perceive as genuinely worse off than we are. But homelessness, that’s a tough pitch.

Why should anyone donate to the homeless? They are screw-ups, mentally ill, druggies, alchies, irresponsible, made poor choices, messed it up for themselves. Maybe they did. I’m not an apologist and can call it like I see it. Maybe some, many, most or all can fit any one of those descriptors a some point. Maybe some, many, most or all develop those behaviours because they became homeless. Maybe some, many, most of all never wanted to be any of those things. There but for the grace of whatever, goes you, me, and anyone you can point to. The point is, given the chance, many homeless people will take the opportunity to have another crack at making different choices but its a tall order when you are starting from way back behind the starting line.

So, here is Dave, giving the potted version of what StreetWise will do, drawing on the basis of his own lived experience. Lived experienced is somewhat of a buzz-phrase but it is rarely appreciated by those of us who don’t have that point of reference, and it can be easy to revert to the default setting of the judgements I mentioned above. Dave’s own story is one hell of a lived experience, but like most people who have been homeless, he has children and family who are all connected to his lived experience. It is also theirs, from their perspective. It’s a difficult thing to appreciate and take on face value; these human stories. It’s a difficult thing to lay bare and so many homeless people are reticent to tell their stories because they don’t feature in them alone. They carry self-doubt and guilt, insecurity and confusion, and they know it wasn’t theirs alone.

Homelessness is a hard cause to sell and competition for funding is tough; both from institutions and individuals. By now, 10 months down the line, we would have been funded 10 times over if we were applying for small amounts to deliver basic services which can help homeless people go from day-to-day. However, funding to seed a large venture, which looks beyond day-to-day survival is a whole other ball game.

Funding bodies appear to fear risk and the effrontery of a collection of people who don’t have a track record in the third sector but present an interesting and innovative proposal. Just say for the moment that their assumption that we will somehow be inept is true. The irony is that they so often make a feature of having in-house expertise to guide and mentor those they award and they are simply looking for unique and boundary-pushing ideas to fund, bring on and develop. Deploying that expertise seems to be somewhat of a stumbling block. So I have to wonder what the issue is.

In my profile, anyone can see that I started a PhD in 2012 and have parked it for the time being. The focus of my research was and still is, indigenous peoples. I cannot express here enough how much I love and have loved my amazing indigenous friends. They are like family and their survival as peoples with living cultures is a credit to them since they have experienced such decimation.

Indigenous peoples is a subject that is hard to find supervision for in UK academia. I was lucky in that I found a supervisor who wasn’t intimidated by it…eventually. Prior to finding one, a common response to my approaches to academics whom I considered reasonably equipped to provide supervision, based on their published work and research interests, was, I’m sorry but we don’t have enough expertise to supervise effectively.

My eventual supervisor also expressed his doubts about his knowledge but, in a moment of total honesty, acknowledged that I appeared to have that knowledge and this instilled confidence that he could guide my research from a structural point of view and we could learn from each other. I don’t have lived experience but years ago I embraced theirs and its complexity and brought that into my academic approach. I saw beyond the stereotypes and embraced them as people who had loved, laughed, fought, struggled, cried and survived.

This is all we ask you do.

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