“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”
- Barack Obama
Imagine suddenly waking up without a home.
No bedroom, no bathroom, no kitchen, no place of your own to lay your head. Imagine the icy air hitting your body from head to toe as you lie down to rest on the streets. Imagine the hunger pangs, the thirst, and the desperate desire for warm, soapy water. Imagine the loneliness, the shame, the endless days and nights of remembering how life used to be. You see, it wasn’t always like this.
Imagine the stares of those passing by, the looks of disgust, the judgmental mutters, the belittling whispers, or worse – the turning away of heads, the refusal to even acknowledge that you’re there. They have places to be, people to see, and you are just a mere nuisance in the way; an eyesore on their streets.
But you’re not. You have intrinsic value and a story to tell. Maybe if they knew about the events that brought you here they would finally understand. If only they would stop, give you their attention, and listen to your story. Don’t you deserve that?
You didn’t choose this, nobody does. Nobody suddenly wakes up without a home.
In 2014 The Belfast Telegraph reported that the homelessness rate in Northern Ireland was higher than anywhere else in the UK. In December 2016, 7148 people were homeless in the Republic of Ireland. The number of homeless families increased by 40% in the last year, and one in three in emergency accommodation is a child.
These are facts from which we tend to turn away. But why? Have we become immune to those sitting on our kerbs day and night? Have we truly allowed ourselves to become numb to the real life issues that many of us walk past everyday?
That’s certainly how Donna feels. Once a hard-working hairdresser and a mum of three children, Donna never expected to end up living on and off the streets of Dublin for 8 years. With a shrivelled body, glistening eyes, and a desperate plea for change, Donna shares her story with Outside-In:
“Before I become homeless, I was a hairdresser… I had multiple jobs – I did factory work, I was a secretary… This time 10 years ago, you wouldn’t have even recognised me – it’s due to the stress of the streets”
Tragic circumstances beyond her own control led Donna to call the streets of Dublin her home. She never chose this life, and yet, this former hairdresser and loving mother is judged and ignored daily by those who pass her by. Perhaps, she confesses, this is the most painful aspect of all of homelessness - the consistent tearing down of dignity through the neglect and judgment of those who don’t know her story:
“My dignity is on the ground. People constantly look down on you… You can’t judge others when you don’t know their circumstances… I would love to go back and have a normal life, and see my kids”
Women like Donna need to know they are noticed, valued and cared for. The homeless all over Ireland are crying out for change and acknowledgement, and that cry has reached you here in this blog that you are reading. Real change is possible, attainable and undeniably crucial. But how exactly can we go about bringing real change to this long-term overlooked issue?
Joe from “The Light House”, a homeless charity in Dublin, was able to shed some light on this question:
“What we have found is that what is needed the most is the means to be able to help them beyond their situation – it’s got to go beyond providing their practical need that sustains another day. Whereas it’s wonderful to provide the meals and a bed, we need to do a better job to provide solutions to help them get out of the circumstances that they find themselves in. For us, the key element in that is to build relationships with them. If you can build trust, it’s going to change how they see themselves, and with trust, we can truly get them the help they need to get out of their situations”
Outside-In is not about apparel. It’s about seeing real change come to the lives of the homeless that desperately need to have their stories told and their lives understood. Outside-In is about the establishment of relationships with those who live on the streets of our city, so that negative pre-conceptions of the homeless can be crushed, trust built, and value restored.
With the “wear-one share-one” concept, the products of Outside-In offer a gateway to connect with the homeless. Through intentional interactions, the telling of their stories, and caring for them holistically, we want to see those on the outside of society welcomed in, understood, and valued. This is what Oi is all about. This is where real change begins.
But we can’t do it without you. You have the power to make a monumental difference in the lives of the homeless in your community and a fundamental role to play. It’s time to stop looking away and start listening up. It’s time to shatter the separation that divides the homeless from the rest of society and start making connections. It’s time for change.
Listen to their stories, value their lives – and together, we can rewrite the story of homelessness for good.