A friend of mine went on holiday to Mauritius last year with his neighbour who is a keen amateur ornithologist. They took a trip with a ranger to a nearby uninhabited island in the hopes of sighting a rare bird called the pink pigeon. The pink pigeon was nearly made extinct in 1990 when only 10 birds remained however thanks to the efforts of local conservation trusts, there are now roughly 500 birds in existence. Whilst they were visiting the island they came across a group of large greenhouses further ahead on the path. My friend overheard a conversation between the two as they approached these large buildings. What are those for asked the neighbour of the ranger. Oh that's where we grow the plants that the pigeons love to eat, replied the ranger, You see, before you can save an individual bird, and in turn a whole species, said the ranger, you must first save it's environment. My friend told him that he heard something extremely profound being shared here that he realised was a deep spiritual truth being revealed to him at the same time by Holy Spirit. The ranger explained that this greenhouse was at the heart of their conservation work. The work of saving the pink pigeon starts with the restoration of its natural habitat and ecosystem. They have a deliberate and intentional 10-year plan to restore the habitat of the Island one plant at a time, one tree at a time in order to re-create the circumstances within which the pink pigeon thrives.
At a micro level, our theory of change is that if you give an individual a safe home and the security of strong positive relationships, then they will find the motivation and hope to bring about positive holistic change. So many organisations will try and tell how they are transforming lives. We recognise that we are not even capable of transforming our own lives, let alone the lives of others. What we can do is seek to create the ecosystem and natural habitat within which they have a chance at thriving. Relational poverty is at the heart of homelessness (http://blackcountry.hopeintoaction.org.uk/news/relational-poverty-the-main-cause-of-homelessness) If we address this, then we give each individual a fighting chance at turning things around through family, friendship and empowerment. Our experience is that this works and is producing great results and outcomes (http://blackcountry.hopeintoaction.org.uk/outcomes).
What does this look like at a macro level? At this present time, none of us can deny that homelessness is thriving in an environment of austerity, public cuts, breakdown of our families and communities, organisational incompetence, antiquated and failing support systems and so many more things. The exponential growth of homelessness over the last 10 years is literally killing people.
I recently joined the Clore Social Leadership programme partly because I wanted to be a part of a collective of people seeking to make homelessness history. A new partnership was recently announced as part of this programme with the Centre for Homelessness Impact. This new partnership is in response to the increasing crisis in Housing and Homelessness and the need for stronger, evidence based approach to leadership within the sector. Dr Ligia Teixeira, Director of the Centre for Homelessness Impact welcomed the new partnership:
Every day, these dynamic professionals, and the organisations they work in are using evidence to improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness, open opportunities and tackle one of society's most pressing challenges. The programme will support leaders in these fields to harness their collective experiences, insights and support them to advance evidence-based solutions to achieve even better results in the important work they do in cities across the country".
This is the starting point of identifying what the ecosystem and natural habitat looks like in which we can make homelessness history. We need to research, document and gather evidence from across leaders in the field as to what is working and making a real difference in people's lives. Then in our greenhouse, we can incubate new projects and grow those that are already having a significant impact. We could restore an environment in which people can find the motivation in themselves to bring about positive holistic change right across our nation.
It takes something like 10 years to change and restore an ecosystem and natural habitat. It might feel slow and painstaking and will require long term focussed strategy and planning instead of quick fixes, but it can be done. It will require some of us to stand up to the establishment, challenge the status quo and speak out courageously for change, but it can be done. It will require generous collaboration between individuals and organisations not seeking their own interests, but looking wider to the needs of individuals and the bigger picture of how we can only do this together, but it can be done. It will require passionate advocates who speak up on behalf of those who have no voice and whose rights and freedoms are being eroded and trampled on, but it can be done.
We have everything we need in our generation to make homelessness history: the ideas, the innovation, the financial and people resources. It is all within our grasp but it will take all of us together in a multi-disciplinary team approach to achieve it. We can together eradicate homelessness. Not in the sense that no-one will ever again fall below the housing line. There will always be family breakdown, alcoholism, drug addiction, illegal or nonsensical home office decisions and other issues that can and do lead people to losing their home. In many circumstances however, homelessness could be prevented before it happens and where it is perhaps inevitable, it should only be temporary and short-lived with immediate solutions to hand. Could you be a part of a nationwide vision to make homelessness history?