Crisis turns 50 this year, but in the context of rising homelessness that’s nothing to celebrate. Instead, we’re spending the year pulling together a plan to end homelessness once and for all. We know there are solutions, but we need to build the political will, the comprehensive evidence and the public support to make ending it a reality.
“Many stereotypes persist about the types of people who become homeless, and the reasons why, which need to be overturned”
To win public support, we need to change the prevailing narrative on homelessness from an acceptance that it will always be with us, however unjust that may be, to a belief that we can and should strive to end it. Many stereotypes persist about the types of people who become homeless, and the reasons why, which need to be overturned if we’re to achieve this. These stereotypes can lead to fatalistic attitudes – for example that homelessness is just rough sleeping, that some people will always be homeless, and therefore that there’s nothing we can do to prevent or permanently resolve it. We’ve created our Everybody In campaign to tackle these, by sharing the real stories of the whole range of people who are homeless in Britain today.
To do this we’ll need to talk to hundreds of people. It’s crucial that this is a positive, empowering experience for everyone who takes part, and that they can do so on their terms. We could see no better way of going about this than finding someone who’s experienced homelessness themselves to take on the role of ‘storyteller’. That way, we could ensure this was done with empathy not pity, and take the campaign to a much more interesting, authentic place – beyond the usual ‘case study’ approach.
So we created a role like no other we’ve ever had at Crisis. We were clear from the start that some qualities would be essential – a people person, who could build strong rapport, with a journalistic instinct, great writing skills, empathy, respect, resilience…We needed to find someone who would share but also help shape our vision for the campaign.
Conscious we were asking a lot, but convinced of the incredibly exciting opportunity this might be, we weren’t sure what response to expect when we advertised the role. We kept it open for six weeks to ensure there was enough time to reach the right people; and advertised through our own services, homelessness networks, and in the Big Issue. We encouraged applicants to phone us for a chat before applying, so we could explain more about this unique role and support people with their applications.
We weren’t prepared for the volume and diversity of applications we received – over 130 in the end. Reading them was humbling and illuminating. We saw a vast range of incredible creative talent, and heard from bloggers, photographers, journalists, film makers and creative writers.
We asked three of our clients (we call them members) to form an interview panel alongside staff from the communications team, so we could look equally at creative skills and the candidates’ ability to put people at ease and ensure the dignity and respect of contributors was at the heart of the whole process.
We were thrilled to find George – a photojournalist whose images capture people’s individual personalities in a vibrant, empowering way and are a far cry from some of the stereotypical images we’re used to seeing. Through the recruitment process, we have met other talented writers and photographers, some of whom we hope we might also be able to work with on other projects in future.
George is now embarking on his journalistic mission and we’re seeing an enthusiastic response from contributors that he’s working with so far, and some stunning images and fascinating stories coming through. You can follow the campaign on Crisis’ Facebook page and on our website.
Storytelling is obviously a big buzzword in charity communications – and rightly so, as it’s through stories that empathy is built, stereotypes are dismantled and emotional connections made.
What we’re challenging ourselves to do with Everybody In is make sure that these stories aren’t about us as a charity, or even necessarily, primarily about someone’s homelessness story – they’re about people first and foremost. There’s also a danger in the single story, in that by focusing in on one individual we don’t communicate the bigger message, which is that homelessness is caused by structural factors in our society that we can fix. By creating and sharing a myriad of stories, we believe we can move beyond this and show that while there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ homeless person, there are typical causes and common solutions, and by coming together, we can do something about it.
Kate Nightingale is Head of Marketing and Communications at Crisis, the national charity for homeless people. She leads the charity’s marketing, brand, media and digital activity in support of its goal to end homelessness. She was previously Head of Communications and Marketing at Time to Change, a campaign to change the way the nation thinks and acts about mental health problems. Join Crisis’ Everybody In campaign and play your part in a movement that’s a force for permanent, positive change.