Profusion Cares: Our theme for 2019
How much does homelessness bother you, and what does it have to do with Profusion? Content editor Louise Scott shares the pivotal moments that pricked her conscience, and invites you to make social impact with our philanthropic foundation Profusion Cares.
I have a few hazy memories from childhood of seeing people lying in sleeping bags on the streets. I think my initial response was shock that they were there, curiosity about why and awkwardness when these weathered faces asked passersby for spare change. Few seemed to want to give them anything or care much. I was confused about why they seemed to be so disliked.
These distant encounters were pretty rare. I grew up in a small suburban town in the northeast of England, and it was only really when wandering around the nearest big city as a teenager that rough sleepers entered the fringes of my world.
When I went to live in the middle of another northern metropolis as a student, homelessness was regularly in my face. And it bothered me. But I didn’t know what to do about it except hand over some coins every now and then.
Then at 22 I spent a winter working and shivering in Toronto, Canada. Suddenly rough sleepers seemed to be in every doorway. But this time, in temperatures of -30C (yes, minus) on a good day, many simply didn’t make it through the night. This is when I started to get mad. Vast buildings stood empty all over the place, yet members of the street population were frequently found dead outside them in the mornings. Call me an idealist, but to me, it was utterly unconscionable that this was ever allowed to happen. Here it was, a cold, hard issue of life or death right before our eyes, yet the dying of a few ‘down and outs’ was generally accepted as the way things were.
As for me, usually I’d give out loose change when someone asked for it, other times I didn’t since they “might spend it on drugs”. I felt tentative about approaching any of these people for an actual conversation. I was a very shy person back than and felt awkward going up to complete strangers for a chat, especially anyone living such a completely different reality from mine. Somehow I just didn’t know how to cross this imaginary ‘divide’. The gulf between our two worlds felt so wide, I had no idea how to bridge it with words, a look, a proper human connection. Buried underneath everything, I felt guilty. Through sheer good fortune, I had a home to go to, a bed to sleep in, and they did not.
A jolt from the ground
Then one day a friend and I were standing on a street corner counting out our last cents after a shift in the downtown café we worked at. It was almost pay day and we were running out of cash, panicking about how we were going to get the tram home. Suddenly a man appeared with his hand outstretched, offering us some coins. I recognised his face: he was one of the beggars we passed every day. Completely shocked, I said: “We can’t take money from you, that would be crazy.” But he insisted. “Please take it,” he repeated, looking right into my eyes. I knew he really wanted me to, so I did.
That was a profound ‘shake up’ moment, that turned almost every dehumanising idea I’d been conditioned to have about homeless people upside down. The unsettling irony of this momentary ‘role reversal’ hit me deep. It felt like one big, dark, sick joke.
Several years later, I found myself living in London. Slap bang in the midst of it again.
After a few editorial jobs on magazines, a lot of disillusioned soul searching and mounting discomfort with the inequality I saw all around me, I realised I needed to get under the skin of all this, understand what was really going on and do something to help people on the margins.
I became a volunteer writer at a regional YMCA, which supports and houses homeless young people. That’s where I got to meet the support workers, the unnamed on the ground running the services, and those who had found themselves without a home. I listened to them tell their gruelling stories that answered the whys and the hows. I learned about all the complexities and interlinked factors that cause and arise from homelessness. It closed up a gaping invisible chasm in my comprehension, bashed down barriers of ignorance and charged me up. I became deeply connected. Over the next couple of years I took on a writing project interviewing formerly homeless care leavers and ex-offenders, and joined the bid writing team at St Mungo’s – one of London’s biggest homelessness charities.
Philanthropy in unexpected places
Eventually I arrived at Profusion, which soon announced it was launching a social impact foundation called Profusion Cares and staff voted to make homelessness the cause. Here was something new and different – a commercial organisation that was serious and genuine about changing the game on an issue that mattered to me. This isn’t some tick-box CSR strategy or fluffy PR ploy to make the company look good. It’s about instigating and contributing to lasting change in society.
Do you want to get involved? Are you a like-minded organisation that cares about more than just making a profit? This could be your chance to join with us others and turn that into action.