The one thing we all have in common is our shared identity of being human. CAPA Diversity Advocates scholar Danielle Tahan writes about homelessness in London and what we can do to support the community. She also talks about how she volunteered with a local organization to provide homeless youth a safe place to sleep overnight. Find out how you can also volunteer while studying abroad with CAPA!
We are all human beings above anything else. Period. Everyone has a multitude of experiences that intersect to form their unique identity, yet our one guaranteed shared identity is that we are all human beings. The group that is most likely to be disregarded as fellow humans are people who experience homelessness, making them the most vulnerable population in our society.
Bundled up and ready to help.
During my time abroad, I have witnessed numerous people living rough on the streets of London. Along with that, I have observed these individuals being disregarded as if they did not exist by those who scurry past them. For some reason, people tend to neglect to recognize the humanity in those who have been brought to living rough. This could be due to judgement on how they got there, fear of how they will respond, or uncertainty of how to interact with them - all of which boil down to regarding these individuals as something less than human. Most people refuse to acknowledge people who are begging; they are quick to assume where they will spend any money they lend to them. My boss does not question where I will spend my paycheck. Yes, I may earn that money through work, but I am only in this position because of my identity and experiences that have facilitated my personal and professional growth. My privilege as being someone who was given a safe home and ability to access a quality education allows me to have a relatively stable environment. We are products of our environment and lived experiences, so why are we degrading and punishing those who did not encounter the support or resources that they needed?
I admit that I am still unsure of the best ways that I can support people who are living rough. I often find myself walking past people who have resorted to begging outside of every tube station in the city. As someone who highly values supporting others regardless of what has led them to their current circumstances, I have been extremely frustrated with my passivity while abroad. During my time in London, I have found it difficult to support those who are homeless, possibly because I had new challenges to focus on. Following my minimal contributions with people who are homeless over the past few months, I decided to act upon my frustrations and somehow engage myself with this community while in London.
Throughout the term, CAPA connects students with volunteering events within the community. This allows students to gain a broader global and cultural perspective for where they are studying and interact with others within the community. In addition, it may expose students to social injustices that they were previously unaware of. Or, as for myself, volunteering while abroad may facilitate one’s social activism and spark interest in international justice. I took this opportunity to volunteer with Centrepoint’s Sleep Out event. Centrepoint is a charity that serves homeless youth across the UK by providing housing accommodations and overall health support to these individuals. The Sleep Out event is a fundraising challenge to support those who sleep rough by participants sleeping out for a night. I volunteered to help with the set up for the Sleep Out at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on November 21st. I joined fellow Londoners in dedicating a cold, Thursday morning to work with the Centrepoint team to organize the accommodations for the event later that night. After great deliberation, my group discovered how to accomplish our first task of flipping tarps because they became wet from prior days. Then, we laid out over one thousand sleeping bags that the participants would sleep in later that night. It is always so powerful to have a group of people come together with the genuine determination to transform a social issue.
Sleep out at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Through this experience, I was reconnected with my passion for providing direct service to an organization, which is something that I have not been able to engage with while abroad. I am inspired by the shared enthusiasm for supporting a charitable event among the volunteers. Participating in events like this allows me to recognize communities with similar passions and beliefs as myself. Collaboration is necessary to ignite social change; if you are interested or frustrated with a certain issue, odds are that there are others with the same thoughts. Personally, I was comforted that there are other individuals who dedicated their time because they also believe that people who are homeless deserve to be supported.
After we flipped the tarps, but before we set up the sleeping bags.
When reflecting upon this experience, I realize that homelessness is a complex international issue that has systemic roots. Unfortunately, there are numerous pathways to becoming homeless - many of which people may not give the time to consider. Let’s consider 16-year-old Jordan, someone who Centrepoint might support. Jordan experiences family violence and finds it safer to sleep on the streets or friends’ couches at night than their own bed. Jordan has always experienced anxiety and lacks the opportunity to seek support because their parents would likely respond with more violence. After a few weeks of couch surfing, Jordan’s friends’ families would no longer allow it. Jordan resorts to the streets, where they are taken in by a gang and was convinced to drop out of school. Jordan now lacks any family, friend, or institutional support.
After we set up the sleeping bags for the sleep out!
This is just one of the many possible lived experiences that may bring someone to becoming homeless. Jordan’s circumstances involved family violence, mental health issues, school exclusion, and gang involvement, all of which are common causes of youth homelessness that Centrepoint identifies. Centrepoint is a fantastic organization that combats this issue by providing homeless youth with housing, jobs, skills, and support. But what can we do? How can we support Jordan and the millions of others who lack adequate housing? Why might we have sympathy for Jordan and not others who are brought to the same circumstance?
With experience living in two different countries, I can recognize homelessness as a very large, complicated issue, making it extremely difficult to discern how to address it. I think we need to start basic. If everyone understood and accepted that everyone is a human being above anything else, we would be less hesitant to support people who are homeless. We would see someone begging on the streets as someone who is worthy of life, which starts with the minimum of adequate housing and support. This awareness could be done through education. All children should receive the message that they are just as worthy of a decent life as all others around them. The ability to recognize and appreciate the human identity should be incorporated into schools’ curriculum starting at a very young age. Then, this awareness among the upcoming generations will foster support of the current population of people who are homeless. Eventually, education will ignite social activism to end the phenomenon of homelessness.
I recognize that not everyone is passionate about changing the education system to bring more awareness and compassion to our society. We can look even smaller...
For current and future London CAPA students: Look at the environment around you and observe how homelessness and the responses to it appear in the community. CAPA does a great job with providing opportunities and support for you to engage with the local community - take advantage of this! You can volunteer with Centrepoint or discuss other options with staff at CAPA. CAPA’s involvement with Centrepoint was actually initiated by student interest! Consider using Streetlink during your time in London (information below). At the end of the semester, CAPA will collect gently used items to donate to local charities - think of the massive change that CAPA students can make with all of their excess items that they cannot transport back to America.
For everyone: seek to gain alternative perspectives and keep an open mind. Once you have a compassionate mindset, you will allow yourself to become more involved and support this issue however you wish to contribute. Whether this is by striking a conversation with someone sleeping rough, donating extra clothes, volunteering for a related charity, or providing someone who is homeless with the food they desire - any positive act matters. You will be part of the movement to end the unfortunate phenomenon of disregarding other human beings. You have the power to correct humanity and grant others the opportunity to live. Together we can see all as humans and end homelessness.
For more information regarding Centrepoint and the work they do, visit https://centrepoint.org.uk/.
If you're in England or Wales, sign up with Streetlink to help connect people living rough with resources to end the cycle. You simply send a message online or via the app to alert their team where you located someone sleeping rough. More information here: https://www.streetlink.org.uk/.
Danielle Tahan studied Psychology with minors in Domestic Violence Prevention & Services and Human Development & Family Sciences at the University of Delaware. She spent her final semester of her senior year abroad in London with CAPA. A Diversity Advocates Scholar with CAPA, Danielle hopes to use this experience to enhance her journey of discovering how to advocate for others in diverse contexts.
At CAPA, we seek to foster increased student diversity and to provide all participants with the opportunity to explore, challenge and redefine their identities in distinct ways. Launched in Spring 2017, the Diversity Advocates Program (DAP) is an extension of this philosophy and provides resources for advocates to pursue diversity initiatives of their own within their global cities.