Shermara Fletcher heads the William Seymour Programme at CTC, engaging Pentecostals in community organising. She is also the community organiser in The Open Table at St George-in-the-East. Last night, at a gathering of leaders from a wide range of congregations across London, she reflected on the role of community organising in the struggle to end homelessness.
Good Evening, it is great to be here amongst you. For the next five minutes I’ll sharing with you why community organising is a powerful tool in addressing homelessness.
This will be primarily based on the community organising that we have done here with the local homeless and ex-homeless community in Shadwell through the Open Table Project at St George-in-the-East. The Open Table project consists of homeless, former homeless and housed individuals who are committed to welcoming their neighbours and building the leadership capacity of former homeless and current homeless communities to be public leaders in the church and community. We also gather around a meal several times a week in the church and on the streets of Shadwell which welcomes all. As part of St George’s, we are members of TELCO Citizens.
Through our experience there are two key reasons why organising has been such a powerful tool to help us address homelessness and can be used by you in the room who work with a diverse range of homeless communities. The first is
The organising craft of one to ones ‘which seeks to build public relationships to find common issues that individuals can act together on’ has helped us at the Open Table to build relationships with homeless individuals who are beyond our sphere of influence and life experience. It has also helped us to find out what some of the pressing issues are within the community.
For example, I had a 1-2-1 with a homeless individual over a three month period that got involved in the life of the Open Table and heavily taught and shaped our approach. He used to refuse to engage with services due to a lack of trust with institutions, but since building his ability to be relational with the mainstream society through weekly trips to London restaurants he has since accepted housing in Mayfair and is getting his life on track.
The second reason is that
Community organising has also been a powerful tool that has helped us to develop former and current homeless individuals to be leaders who have a voice in the debate and rather than solely being recipients of change are at the heart of and shape the change. This goes beyond empowerment or advocacy, but transforms our systems of homeless engagement, our theories of change and helps people to share their powerful stories to implement change.
For example, three members in our team have openly shared their former homelessness or severe vulnerability with substance abuse and they are now key leaders in our Open Table movement. They are key agents of change.
Organising has been a powerful tool in helping us to engage and transform some of the lives of our current and former homeless community. However, we believe there is more to do. Organising can be a powerful tool in helping us to shape policy – and with our homeless communities at the heart of that change, if we work together it will be achieved.