Like most people, I used to have very little interaction with the homeless. I’d see them every now and then on a street corner, or sometimes sleeping sheltered against a doorway if I was out early in the morning or late at night, but that was about it.
A couple years ago I started helping out with an operation that provides a meal for the homeless once a week, run by a local church here in Edinburgh. They do a fantastic job of providing a really good meal in a nice, warm, safe setting, and the thing I like most about it is they encourage their members to bring their families and attend and eat alongside the guests. It leads to some really interesting situations where you’re never really sure who is homeless and who isn’t, and it’s a dynamic that I really enjoy. It’s non threatening and they don’t evangelize, they’re just providing a community and a meal.
One of the things I learned through this experience is that the edge is often very fine – many of us are just a lost job, divorce, or mistake away from being out on the streets, and once that happens, it can be very difficult to get back into normal life. Another thing I learned is that most of these people are invisible. I see them a lot on the streets of Edinburgh, and they look like you or me. It’s quite nice seeing a guest and stopping for a quick chat, even if sometimes it takes a few tries calling their name because they’re not used to being spoken to while walking around. While the safety net in Scotland is fantastic, particularly when compared to America, there are still people who fall through and there are an estimated 35,000 homeless here. Often they’re afraid of something, running from something, or have mental health issues. Providing these people a way out is difficult, and that’s why we’ve been proud to support SocialBite for several years at Administrate – they often provide our weekly team lunch, lunch for our board meetings, and have catered various events for us, and they do so staffed mostly by the formerly homeless.
This year, I’m choosing to join a couple hundred other business leaders to sleep outside for one night in December in support of those of us who often have no choice. Money raised will go towards the construction of homes for those who have none. If you’d like to donate to this effort you can do so here, and you can read a bit more about this over on the blog at Administrate.