Telling the world what it really means to be homeless

At our Leaders Together project, we match small London charities and social enterprises with business mentors, and offer workshops on different issues. Last week I had a great time talking to a group of resourceful young people about how effective communications could help to promote their projects, and I was truly inspired to hear about the innovative work they are doing.

Farah Mohammoud is co-founder of You Press, a youth-led agency in East London that works to explore and promote the opinions of young people.

One of its most powerful projects brought together two often neglected groups in society today; the homeless and young people. The result was ‘One Story, Our Voice’ in which individuals from both these groups were able to tell the world what it really means to be homeless.

Farah tells how the project came about:

From my research I found that 1 in 10 people say they have been homeless at some point in their life.  Last year 113,260 people in England informed their local council that their status was homeless, an 11% increase over two years.

I felt compelled to do something to give voice to the unheard stories and experiences of homeless people. I’ve always been interested in the art of storytelling and the impact that it can have on people. I come from a Somali background and in my culture storytelling and poetry is the method through which we pass on our history. Before the civil war poetry was one of the most powerful methods of communication used to inform people to tackle social issues.

Along with this I noticed how popular poetry and spoken word events were in London, particularly among young people. This inspired me to tap into this market and bring together young poets and musicians to empower those homeless individuals who are often vulnerable and socially excluded from society.

The idea behind One Story, Our Voice, was to give homeless people a creative platform through which they could express themselves. Despite having no resources, through a variety of avenues including a partnership with Caritas Anchor House, a residential and life skills centre for single homeless people, the idea developed to become a community interest project involving over 40 people including 10 homeless people, 14 talented poets, spoken word artists, musicians and 20 volunteers that also included filmmakers, photographers and a DJ.

We organised seven workshops in East London where homeless people worked with the creative artists and decided how they wanted their stories to be told.

The project culminated in a high profile, youth enterprise-initiated event at Spotlight in Tower Hamlets - a mix of poetry readings, spoken word and musical performances which were borne out of the collaboration between the homeless people and artists involved in the project.

Homeless people often live chaotic and isolated lives and so working toward the event in a positive environment empowered them. It not only helped to build their confidence but it also increased their employability skills by supporting them in rediscovering and developing their soft skills. In fact during the project two homeless young people found employment. It was also wonderful to see the impact this had on the artists and the way in which they were able to turn the stories shared with them into powerful poems and music that not only challenged the perception of homeless people but also educated the audience that homelessness can happen to anyone at any time. 

You can find out more about You Press here: http://weareyoupress.blogspot.co.uk or by emailing Farah

And if you'd like to get involved in our Leaders Together project, take a look here.