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International Homeless Forum
Saturday June 18, 2005 16:32 by Jon Glackin - Street Seen streetseen at hotmail dot co dot uk 07743275533
'We wanted people to realize homeless people weren’t statistics, they were real people...'
Everybody seems to be online these days, checking out the information superhighway Information is at our fingertips. Knowledge is power! Street Seen is delighted to be associated with a new initiative that has began in Australia that uses the power of the internet as a means of communication between homeless people throughout the world and for service providers an area to share ideas and news
Dominic Mapstone, Social Worker in Sydney Australia and Director of Rebecca’s Community, was the bright spark behind this most needed forum. Rebeccas Community was founded in 2002, a community group whose staff and volunteers work with people who experience homelessness in Sydney, Australia. According to ‘official’ figures there are over 100,000 houseless people in Australia and the problem seems to be growing, certainly, something one wouldn’t realise when our knowledge is mainly limited from a daily diet of Australian soaps! As they say ‘everyone needs good neighbours’ maybe we should start putting that into practice. The Website features pictures and real life stories of homeless people, statistics, research, media coverage of homelessness and debate as to how to define homelessness. Their website has been online for 12 months and we believe it is very important to promote the site.
Street Seen caught up with Dominic and posed a few questions to learn more about their work:
So where did the idea for your website come about?
Online we found plenty of dry statistics on homelessness, some policy papers and lots of lame fundraising attempts written by the marketing consultants who know nothing about homelessness. For students wanting to learn, for people wanting to give money and for a community wanting to understand homelessness it was quite a task to find anything of real substance online. We did manage to find some great sites, but it took a lot of searching. So when it came to building our own website we started with the standard brochure type info about our organisation, but added a photo gallery of homeless people and the places they sleep, squats and so on Then we added some life stories that were about real homeless people. Mainly because we wanted people to realize homeless people weren’t statistics, they were real people with real stories. Traffic to the site jumped to 1,000 page views per day. We are especially pleased with this as the photos are something mainstream folk just don’t get exposed to. Not just the shocking photos but the pictures of street kids that look like any other kid that age.
Gish, one of the residents at Hospitality House added an online journal writing about his journey through life on the streets to living with us and moving towards his new life off drugs and off the streets. Then we added a directory of other homeless service providers around the world some youth ministry resources and the international homeless forum Then traffic to the site jumped to 2,000 page views per day. Emails we receive are usually from students wanting help with school or University assignments or children thinking about running away. The emails from future runaways prompted a page dedicated to young runaways, listing some help lines and an email address they could reach us on for a confidential chat
What do you view as the most important aspect of the site?
The homeless forums are where we would like to see the most visitors stop by. A place where we would like to bring homeless people and formerly homeless people online together with the students and people wanting to learn about homelessness. Moving off the streets and getting a new group of friends is near impossible for many homeless people. People don’t understand you or the world you came from. You feel like a stranger and people treat you that way. Connecting with other formerly houseless people in the forum will hopefully make that journey easier and less demoralizing.
The forum has the potential to become a meeting ground where currently homeless people can connect with formerly homeless people or even another homeless person in another country. The traffic to the site is there, we just now need to welcome people into the Forum and get ‘the word on the street’ amongst homeless people around the world (is that even possible?). Surprisingly, or maybe not so, a lot of homeless people use the internet, so we will see.
Did you receive any funding for the project?
There isn’t funding for a project like this, but as soon as we realized the opportunity to bring people together we went ahead with it and funded the project ourselves.
In your experience how would you define homelessness?
The crux of homelessness, we believe is social exclusion and disconnectedness. Houselessness is an inadequate experience of shelter. Some people living on the Streets only need shelter, and then they are back on top. Real homelessness is intangible and has nothing to do with where you lay your head to sleep. Homelessness we believe is an inadequate experience of connectedness with family and or community.
So it’s not really of any great help if we only house the homeless. They are still completely isolated and very much alone. The feeling of a set of house keys in your pocket will never rival the feeling of connectedness with people who stick with you no matter what happens. Families are supposed to stick by each other, neighbours and communities are supposed to pull together when a member is in need, but it doesn’t work like that anymore does it?
As a service provider that means we have to see the person that presents, not the problem they present with and seek an ongoing relationship with people after the problem is long gone. We have to develop relationships and value them as the outcome.
Is it all worth it?
After a decade of pursuing this objective of friendship with people who experience homelessness I can honestly say, it is worth it, to stop and really listen. That is when we can meet as fellow human beings and be present with each other. Anyway, stop by at the forums and introduce yourself, make yourself at home and help put the word on the street. The website has also allowed us to share information with the sector on Homelessness and what we have learnt here in Australia.
The forum has the potential to be a very powerful and valuable asset here in Ireland and across the World. A Forum like this is most needed and very important so spread the word and join the discussions as soon as you can…..
Related link: http://www.homeless.org.au/rebeccas-community/