Many of you who read this blog are afflicted with a particularly common human passion, the desire to create change in the world. I say afflicted, because there is a sense that the desire to create change has a toll in terms of time, energy, and the ability to maintain hope. In fact, I recall an academic mentor who once told me that beginning a career in research with the expectation of changing the world is simply setting one’s self up for disappointment. Not a particularly cheery outlook, but what she was trying to impart to me was to seek my happiness in places other than the impact of my work.
I have not heeded her advice. My ultimate desire is to end homelessness in London (or broader?), and at a bare minimum, confront poverty and mitigate some of the harmful effects of the experience of poverty. This is a big goal, but looking to other cities like Oslo and Stockholm, I do believe it is an achievable goal. The challenge is that there’s no way I can do it alone.
When it comes to this kind of social change, you need to approach it from every angle, at every level. This was reflected in the creation of the London Homelessness Outreach Network where we organized projects at three levels: Personal, Public, and Political. Personal meaning engaging directly with homelessness such as volunteering with an agency. Public meaning raising awareness around the issues. And political meaning advocating to affect policy change. And even that categorization is too simplistic because there are more than three levels to ending homelessness. You can also:
- Do grassroots community-building
- Do grassroots advocacy and protest
- Build programs to provide needed services
- Do research to create solutions
- Do research to enhance programs
- Confront stigma/discrimination/marginalization
- Raise money for agencies
- Raise time for agencies
- Build better local policies
- Influence broader policies and politics
There needs to be a whole constellation of responses all with the collective goal of addressing homelessness if we are to achieve any success, and no one person can do it all. Rather, it requires a network of different skills, different passions, and different abilities, which are all aligned.
This brings me to October 10th and building a cardboard town on the lawn of a church. Although a number of individuals experiencing homelessness expressed their appreciation of the event, and participated in varying degrees, there’s no doubt that such an event is much more focused on creating a media splash than driving solutions. No one became housed because of our boxes. However, this kind of event cannot be taken independently of a whole constellation of other activities aligned with this goal. If I wasn’t also working hard on developing healthy public policy and doing impactful research, then I would find this event tokenistic. If I didn’t know that others are providing life-saving services, or journeying relationally with those in poverty, then I would find this tokenistic. However, each event, each service, each document can be considered part of a whole movement to create change, to make the world a slightly better place.
We address homelessness from every angle, at every level, and no angle or level is more important than another.
This post was stimulated by the reflections of James Shelley on Cause-Related Marketing. He asked me to reflect on this, and we have published our posts simultaneously. Please read his synchro-post now at: http://jamesshelley.net/2012/11/the-perils-of-having-a-cause/.