What the Listen Up! hub means to me

16 February 2022

Today Groundswell is proud to launch the ‘Listen Up! homelessness insights hub’, which will collate raw reports from people experiencing homelessness in order to challenge stereotypes and help decision makers end homeless health inequalities.

In this blog, Project Officer and hub reporter Mat Amp, talks through what the hub is, the impact it has had on his journey out of homelessness, and how you can support us.

Photo by Mat Amp

The Listen Up! hub is designed to inform the public and decision makers, shape policy and elevate reporters’ voices by giving them a platform to share their stories and report on issues important to people experiencing homelessness.

Funded by a Comic Relief ‘Changemakers grant’, the hub is one element of the wider Listen Up! project. Working in partnership with On Our Radar our overarching aim is for people who are homeless to have equal access to good healthcare and increased life expectancy.

 

Why have we created the hub?

The way that homelessness has been frequently portrayed in the mainstream media has meant that even many good and caring people have developed strong, heavily misguided stereotypes of a ‘typical’ person experiencing homelessness.

As reporter Charlie from Winchester says, “People can talk about us like we are a sub species, even when they mean well or when they are talking about someone who has been in recovery for years.”

As community reporters with experience of homelessness, through the hub we want to help people and decision makers realise there is no such thing as a typical person who is facing homelessness. There are just people who are without a safe and secure place to call home, and because of this, face huge barriers blocking their right to access the public services we all rely on such as healthcare. It is just not right for example, that people experiencing homelessness are more likely to die young.

To do this we have to give people with the experience of homelessness – whose voices frequently go unheard – a platform in the hub to express themselves and clear routes for their lived experience insights to reach and influence decision makers.

Image: The Listen Up! hub reporters

One of the latest phrases to go into the service delivery blender to be echoed on Zoom screens around the country is ‘strength based’. I learnt about it on a course I did the other day. It made me realise that by utilising our humanity, respect, and empathy we have been using a strength-based approach with this project from the beginning.

Trust, power balance, building relationships, valuing capability, reflection, consistency, co-production and realising potential, have underpinned a project that has been transformative for reporters and has huge potential to kickstart change. Sheryle, a London based reporter says “This project has helped me with my confidence and with that process of getting back my sense of self-worth. This project gives you a voice, educates the public, drives policy changes and it makes me feel more that I’m a part of society.”

While reporter GG, says, “This project has given me the ability to use my voice after being silenced for so long. If you go through homelessness and poverty or other crisis situations you lose who you are, you lose your identity. This work here of telling stories and communicating in an expressive way is really huge because the system takes away your ability to be yourself. This project helps to give it you back.”

 

What has it meant to me?

Over the past five years my own recovery from homelessness and addiction has been rooted in storytelling. My work for the Pavement Magazine took me in to Groundswell to help deliver the project ‘From the Ground Up’, which also taught basic journalism skills to people with experience of homelessness. Some of those involved have since moved into full time employment and many of them are still reporting for the Pavement Magazine.

As with others now working full time on the project, this process of sharing our stories and encouraging others to do the same, has been at the centre of our recovery.

It has given us an opportunity to help others whilst flexing that creative muscle which can help with a sense of wellbeing. It also helps us deal with shame, allows us to learn new skills and can help open those doors and build those bridges that are so important to finding a way back when recovering from homelessness.

Like From the Ground Up, Listen Up! focuses on constructive, solutions-based reporting based on real experiences, that will help decision makers end health inequalities for good. This does not mean that we shy away from the difficult stuff, it just means that we try to find solutions to those difficult issues.

GG has talked to me about the problem of ‘toxic positivity’ and one of the factors she sees as a real positive about the hub is the way it gives her a platform to talk about some of the issues that society programs you to feel ashamed of.

It’s time we moved on from being judgemental and instead started to embrace the differences in each other and start to understand the impact that homelessness can have on people and their life expectancy.

It is hard to see how anyone can come up with the stereotype of a person facing homelessness when you meet the reporters on this project. Our humanity is ladled like syrup dripping into the cracks of the differences between us all. And while we celebrate those differences we are unified in our goals with this project.

We need your help – get involved!

We see the launch of the hub as the start of a movement of people, all united in the belief that elevating the voices and raw insights of our reporters will challenge stereotypes and help decision makers end homeless health inequalities.

Here are some ways you can support us and get involved:

  1. Read a report on the hub.
  2. Join our our mailing list for regular hub reports, research findings and event info straight to your inbox.
  3. Vote for what you’d like us to write on via this one question survey.
  4. SHARE! Please do share my blog and promote the hub on social media if you can using the hashtag #ListenUpHub. You could share our Twitter and Facebook posts about the hub, which are pinned to the top of our profiles, or visit our Instagram.

The impact on our reporters

"It's given me an ability to use my voice after being slienced" - GG

“[It’s given me an] ability to use my voice after being silenced… I was told I couldn’t write to my children and then I was told what to write. That had a big effect on me.

The letters they got me to write were so sanitised and boring, ultimately, they

tried to take my soul. My mental health was used as a reason not to be listened to or believed…

I have an ability to talk about myself at the core of who I am but if you go through homelessness and poverty or other crisis situations you lose who you are, you lose your identity.

You’re in a crisis and if you need some help dealing with the DWP and homeless charities it is very dehumanising to the point that if someone asked you what you like to eat or what music you like or what you like to do for fun at the weekend you would struggle to tell them.

This work here of telling stories and communicating in an expressive way Is really huge because the system takes away your ability to be yourself. This project helps to give it you back.”

"It gives you a voice, educates the public, drives policy changes and it makes me feel more that I’m a part of society." - Sheryle

“It has helped to rebuild my confidence and get over the shame from all stuff I did when I was drinking. Recovery is hard because you have to leave old friends and being a mum in recovery means I have to rely totally on myself and it can be really difficult to meet new people.

This project has helped me with my confidence and in that process of getting back my sense of self-worth. As for spending time on my own, I’m definitely starting to believe that I’m good company for myself. It gives you a voice, educates the public, drives policy changes and it makes me feel more that I’m a part of society.”

"It gives credence to our work so that people read it and notice it and take it seriously." - Charlie

“When you have been homeless you have this churning inside to help other people as soon as you are in recovery.

You deal with that feeling by helping others with stuff. It’s a double edge sword – but a positive sword whereby reporting on stuff you are informing the public and impacting service delivery by offering advice to homeless services which during the process helps us, because we gain confidence and self-belief as well as learning stuff.

The fact our views are being published on a good-looking website gives our work more credibility. People are more likely to engage with it and not just dismiss it as another article by a homeless person. The images we use purposefully buck the trend of tramp in a shop doorway.

If an article is published in the Guardian, people are more likely to read it and I know the microsite isn’t the Guardian but because it is a professional looking space it gives credence to our work so that people read it and notice it and take it seriously.

Also we have the backing of an organisation – in this case Groundswell and On Our Radar – and their backing makes people take notice. We learn different skills.

People talk about us like we are sub species, even when they mean well or when they are talking about someone who has been in recovery for years.”

"This project enables me to feel listen to and be part of drive for positive change." - Anon 1

“People experiencing homelessness are almost always inaccurately depicted throughout all media platforms. Stereotypes of homelessness are perpetuated in the media more than anything. News outlets, for one, too often take the humanity out of the information they provide.

This project enables me to feel listen to and be part of drive for positive change. I’ve gained new skills and met new people. It gives me sense of being connected and improves my confidence.”

"I'd like others to make changes in the way they perceive people experiencing homelessness." - Claire

“I’d like to get more confidence out of this project and become more knowledgeable in order to make a bigger impact and help others to make changes in the way they perceive people experiencing homelessness.”

"Maybe just maybe we can start to individualise and begin to treat our fellow human beings with the respect they deserve and the healthcare that they are entitled to." - Karen

“Well I feel very honoured to be part of the  Groundswell team, especially at the beginning of such a new and exciting campaign. I’ve had a really warm welcome from everyone and feel involved in The Big Launch on 16 February.

Reporting and research will be a new challenge for me, one of which I’m looking forward to. It’ll definitely give me a sense of purpose. I like to keep busy and learning new skills either through hands on or training sessions will be really interesting.

I’ve got a good feel about the next three years, I like Groundswell’s commitment in tackling homeless health inequalities and in doing so trying to educate people about this very real problem.

If we can change the preconception and stereotyping of homelessness then maybe just maybe we can start to individualise and begin to treat our fellow human beings with the respect they deserve and the healthcare that they are entitled to.

I suppose my only expectations are to receive the guidance, training, regular meetings and feedback I need to develop as a reporter and my promise to Groundswell is that I will give each theme my very best.

So in a nutshell my volunteering role is like a breath of fresh air to me, it’s going to be interesting, fun, maybe a bit demanding at times, rewarding and cathartic.

Thankyou for giving me this opportunity it means so much.”