By Josh Spring
You may or may not know that our Homeless Coalition has a robust public education program. We strongly encourage you, your friends, family, employer and any group you may be a part of to take advantage of our education opportunities. Regularly people call us wondering if they can volunteer in some way. Often folks want to do something like a coat or clothing drive. We welcome people who want to get involved in our work by explaining that the best way to start getting involved is through listening and being educated.
We offer several different experiences for individuals and groups of any size. Our longest-running opportunity is our Speakers’ Bureau. Our team of individuals who have personally experienced homelessness are teamed up with our Director of Education, Dr. Mark Mussman. Together one of our Speakers and Dr. Mark present to crowds of all sizes from one or a few people to hundreds of people. They present to people of all ages; children, youth, adults and in many settings, whether it be at our office, a school, place of worship, business, community council, service organization, etc. Through Speakers’ Bureau, those attending learn about the personal experience of homelessness from someone who knows how to make their experience accessible to many different audiences. Attendees also gain understanding of what societal and systemic policies and decisions have caused, maintained and grown homelessness and the systemic changes we must make to end homelessness. And of course there is time for discourse, questions, insights and comments. In order to sustain the program, the hosting group pays $80, $40 of which compensates our Speaker for their time and $40 of which covers a portion of the costs to the Coalition. Most Speaker’s Bureau activities last for an hour to an hour-and-a-half, but we are able to work with hosts to hone the event to the needs of the group.
If you are reading this, you must know about our many committed Streetvibes Distributors. But you probably don’t know about our Streetvibes Distributor Shadow opportunity. Have you ever wondered what it is like to attempt to sell newspaper on the sidewalk while dealing with the stereotypes of some passersby, the eyes that turn away, the nasty comments, potential harassment as well as the good wishes and friendly responses? What is it like to attempt to get a person who likely hasn’t experienced homelessness themselves to purchase a paper about social justice issues, poverty and homelessness? Through our Shadow experience, groups can learn from an experienced Streetvibes Distributor about the many facets of their work and then the group joins our Distributor in going to the sidewalks and attempting to distribute the paper. To finish the experience, attendees and our Distributor spend time discussing what the responses from the general public were like, how those taking part felt, why there are stereotypes and how to deal with them. Very often, participants walk away with knowledge and increased understanding they didn’t even know they were missing. We charge $80 for this event to cover some of our costs.
As the Homeless Coalition we are constantly involved in organizing with people to stop gentrification and the displacement, disruption and scattering of communities that is inevitably apart of it. In Hamilton County we are short 40,019 affordable homes. But how did we get here? Our Over-the-Rhine Peoples’ Movement Social Justice Walking Tour is a great opportunity to both audibly and visually learn about how we reached our current affordable housing and homelessness crisis and to better understand why so many adults and children in Cincinnati and Hamilton County are experiencing homelessness or housing instability. Participants join Dr. Mark in walking up and down streets learning about specific examples displacement and how they happened. People taking part will learn about the public policies and private influence and control that has caused so many people so much hardship. Participants will also learn how we can do things differently, how we can leverage the powers of our local government to save affordable housing, prevent displacement and build new affordable housing. For this, we also charge $80 to cover some of our costs.
You may have heard of our Citywide Shantytown opportunity. Most often high schools and universities take part in this awareness raising opportunity. At times business have decided to join also. Shantytown can be honed to the particular group. Most often, groups of people sleep outdoors, learn about the personal experience of homelessness from one of our Speakers’ Bureau Speakers and spend an extended period of time discussing with our Speaker and Dr. Mark about why we have homelessness and what we can do as a society to end it. Attendees are able to spend time discussing personal experiences with each other and exchanging ideas of how they can get involved. Shantytown is not intended to mimic homelessness or experience homelessness, as that can’t be done by sleeping outdoors by choice for a night. Instead Citywide Shantytown offers an extended period of time to learn, discuss, debate, listen, teach and grow.
Finally, our Cincinnati Urban Experience (CUE) provides opportunity for groups of people to join us for an extended period of time; usually for a week or a weekend. During this time, groups take part in all of the educational programs explained above, but also spend time volunteering with some of our Member-Organizations and learning directly from our direct-service Member-Organizations about what they do and why and how they do it. The extended time, allows for education about more aspects of needed change, including more information about how affordable housing can be developed, the need for living wages, efforts to stop the theft of wages, immigration reform, changing the processes by which people exiting jail and prison so people have the opportunity for sustainability, the importance of medical care. In general, CUE allows groups the opportunity for a more intense look at the systems and societal decisions that cause and perpetuate homelessness and how it requires organized social movement to end it.
Of course, we are biased about the value of our educational programs, but our bias comes from years of honing these opportunities and receiving positive feedback from so many people who say their perspectives and even ambitions were changed for the positive.
If you are able, check out our website at www.cincihomeless.org. Please reach out to Dr. Mark Mussman, do discuss how we can work together to provide one or multiple of these opportunities for you and/or people you know. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 513-421-7803 and 117 E. 12th Street Cincinnati, OH 45202.