Quite early last year I knew I was spending Christmas in London and not visiting my family back in Argentina. I saw it as an opportunity to give up my time in order to help Crisis’s crusade to end homelessness. Getting closer to the beneficiaries of social purpose organisations is an objective in my career change journey towards the social enterprise space. Getting to know those that our actions serve should help us keep accountable to them. I sometimes worry I will forget that my 9-5 job in a nice office in Kings Cross only makes sense because it has a social purpose.
The power of networks
Surprisingly, and reassuringly, I was just one of many that give up their time during Christmas to help out. Unfortunately this meant that there were not enough spaces available to join Crisis at Christmas. Not knowing how much of an early bird I needed to be almost meant that I would not be granted my wish of volunteering during the festive season. Thankfully, a quick email to the On Purpose network meant I was recommended more than a handful of alternative options. Belonging to a network such as On Purpose gave me other options: I had an issue/problem, and the network enabled me to find another solution.
The power of social-purpose organisations tackling homelessness
I finally got a place with Crisis due to the withdrawal of other volunteers. I was blessed to have company from a close friend, and we both embarked on the volunteer adventure in the East London Day Centre in Hackney.
While getting to know some of the hundreds of ‘guests’ (which is what we called the homeless attendants), I realised that in many cases the lack of a home is not the main reason for homelessness. The root causes are more complex, and solutions need to take various different perspectives into account.
“Crisis research looking at people’s turning points into homelessness in the UK found that reasons most often cited by male participants were relationship breakdown, substance misuse, and leaving an institution (prison, care, hospital etc.). For homeless women, the most common causes were physical or mental health problems and escaping a violent relationship.
There are also problems in wider society that can contribute towards homelessness. These structural causes might include a lack of affordable housing; high levels of poverty, unemployment or worklessness; the way in which the benefits system operates; or the way social housing is rationed.” (http://www.crisis.org.uk/pages/causes-consequences.html)
Despite this overwhelming reality, most of the guests were happy and grateful people that peacefully enjoyed and made the most of their time in the centre. The organisation of the event was impeccable, and a number of inspiring stories from the volunteers are available on the Crisis website. Click on the image below to see a video of Crisis at Christmas 2012.
There are many charities focused on solving this dehumanising problem. Just to name a couple, these include Crisis and Shelter. Another interesting approach is the case of ReVive – St Mungo’s and its social enterprise model to tackle homelessness.
The power of networks and willpower
The volunteering experience once again reminded me how immensely privileged I am for living the life I choose to live. One of the explanations for the difference between many of the guests and myself is that I have always benefited from the leveraging effect from being integrated in my ‘networks’: my family, my university, my jobs, my travels.
Many of the homeless people who I encountered this Christmas, some taking 2 hours to walk to the centre, had implacable willpower to move on. I wonder how organisations aiming to tackle homelessness could leverage the power of networks to benefit homeless people with options and solutions in order to end homelessness for good.
How would homeless people willing to move on be enabled by networking? What would homeless people networks look like? Would they need some preparation beforehand? Which ‘influential people’ should be part of it? How could the success of it potentially be measured?
Any ideas welcome!