How We’re Rewriting Homelessness Together
Rewriting homelessness starts with stopping. Stopping to acknowledge the person sitting in front of you. To say hello and offer a warm smile. To ask how they’re doing. To sit with them and listen to the stories they have to tell. To be human and to help however you can at that moment.
To rewrite homelessness we’ve got to start somewhere. Here at OutsideIn, we believe that starts with rewriting the perception of homelessness and those living on the streets.
We have a tendency to go through life without stopping. At some point, we’ve all walked past someone living on the streets. We may have even gone so far as to consider crossing the street, a short-lived alternative to facing the guilt and helplessness of not being able to offer a solution there and then. For so long, society has ingrained in us the idea that those that are homeless are dangerous and not to be trusted. We’re taught to believe they’re likely alcoholics or drug addicts. Sadly, it’s only when we stop and break that cycle that we realise the incredibly negative impact this belief has had on our ability as a society to end homelessness.
We understand that rewriting homelessness is a broad phrase and a bold goal but we’ve never let that deter us. The first pillar in our mission to achieve this goal starts with our ‘Wear One, Share One’ concept to empower and inspire society to shift their perspective on homelessness and get to know the needs, hopes, dreams and stories of those living on the streets. But that’s only the beginning. These are the pillars that make up the big picture and the work of OutsideIn.
Education and Raising Awareness
The reason we set up Oi was all about raising awareness. We believe that society wants to help in solving the issue of homelessness but it comes down to not knowing how. This is why we started with streetwear and focused on using products to start changing negative perceptions of homelessness. Our ‘Wear one, Share One’ concept encourages interaction with those who are homeless. The products act as a connection point while also providing value to the person the product is given to.
By educating and raising awareness around the issue of homelessness, we’re building a platform for everyone to get involved, to inspire others and to provide a direct call to action to do something about it. That might start with giving out our products but it leads to driving others to take stock of their own skills and abilities and what they have to offer as a means of helping.
On a global scale, with the aid of social media, there’s no limit to who we can reach and share our concept with, to raise awareness of the issue and how easily they can get involved in the mission to end homelessness.
From the very beginning, helping those who are homeless to gain employment has been a huge part of the Outside In mission. Before we inspire others, it starts with us as a company. Within our team, we have a group of diverse people from different backgrounds, some of whom have had direct experience with homelessness themselves. We want to educate other companies and encourage them to join us in our mission, offering employment opportunities to those who are transitioning out of homelessness.
Earlier this year we were inspired by the work of Los Angeles based company, The Giving Keys who have spent the last ten years building a company that directly addresses the issue of employment of homeless people. We wanted to understand how they were able to do this and how they have been using a product to build the skills of someone who is homeless, as well as helping them realise their dreams and goals.
As it stands we are a business with a purpose. Right now, we’re in the midst of setting up an OutsideIn charity which ties together the pillars of re-education, re-employment and re-homing.
Re-education will look at schools and businesses around the world, how we can further educate them on the issue of homelessness and how they can give back. That’s not just through our ‘Wear One, Share One’ concept but also through initiatives like ‘paying it forward’ meals and haircuts.
As for rehoming, we want to look at the opportunity to extend our ‘Wear One, Share One’ concept - perhaps to hostels and hotel rooms. We are exploring the possibility of using empty premises of all sorts to create homes for those who need them. Longer term the use of tiny homes, affordable accommodation and welcoming support/community system around it not only for Belfast but globally is our dream.
Through the charity, we aim to focus on long-term, sustainable solutions for ending homelessness.
Our streetwear is only the beginning. It’s a practical product that offers some small comfort in the moment, but the main purpose is to give people - both those giving and receiving the product - the opportunity to get to know that person who is homeless and to hear their story. Our experience tells us that this kind of support has a huge impact on a human level in bringing those who are outside of society, in. The continual conversation we hear is “You’re the first person to speak to me today”, “Why would you spend time stopping and talking to me?” or “Thanks for listening to me, I don’t get to share my story often.”
Rewriting homelessness isn’t easy but rewriting our perceptions of the issue as a society is the crucial first step.