Homeless or hopeless? Thinking Tank 20.01.2011

A thoughtful discussion with widespread empathy for the cruelty of homelessness and its impact not just practically but in a wider sense

  • it must simply be awful if involuntary
  • being homeless would be an extreme vulnerability nowhere to rest

Why does it happen?

There was reflection on the individual’s state of mind and external factors combining to create this situation

  • Causes: chaotic life style, inability to cope, loss of job, mental health issues, ill equipped to cope with life (life skills absent) lack of self esteem exacerbating chaos and belief of inability to cope eg forget to pay the rent so evicted
  • Cause: discharge from institutions definitely but also loss of financial resources, running away ( yes children but also adults), nowhere to go/maybe thrown out, no resources at all. That said a few do actually choose it.
  • I feel sorry for homeless women and children who have had to escape domestic violence
  • And those who are homeless because their home was destroyed by war or natural disaster

… as well as acceptance of shared responsibility for the issue.

  • [we need to] think radically about housing solutions that ignore everything we know and look afresh at the issues
  • The practical issues of being homeless seem secondary to the causes (practical or psychological). No point addressing the symptoms and not the cause


No talk of the homeless as a problem to others, begging or other negative issues raised in the popular press. The reaction was much more humane:

  • downside: wasted human potential
  • downside: children growing up homeless must struggle to ever feel secure / worthwhile
  • there is a big moral implication
  • downside: home has become associated with personal value. Someone with a big house counts for more than someone with a small house who counts more than someone with no house. A big house is a delight, but doesn’t make a better person
  • downside: the children get bullied/miss education and the cycle continues
  • temporary = feeling insecure
  • [feeling] Damp cold lonely miserable depressed unloved

Benefits of a sense of home

  • Home is not a building but a feeling of belonging which is essential to a feeling of wellbeing and worth
  • Home is an internal feeling not an external condition

Actions and Ideas

Both personal and political actions were suggested and these are the most supported:

  • One evening I took 2 homeless guys on the street to Pizza Hut. They enjoyed the meal but more importantly we all 3 had a great conversation. Gave me a lot  of insight and re-humanised the homeless for me.
  • Think radically about housing solutions that ignore everything we know and look afresh at the issues
  • Lobby government, read widely, school offspring to avoid debt
  • Redevelop the concept of govt housing but in a society based context, not just a poverty farm on the fringes of town. Ensure formerly homeless people are properly supported and become part of their new neighbourhood
  • Try to separate the wealth / ownership side of housing from the home related issues. eg Allow wealthier people to buy shares in someone else’s home. Not to live there  but get some of the benefit of value increase.
  • provide homes for people who are made homeless because they have left their previous “home” for good reasons ( abuse, …)

Note that all statements in italics are verbatim comments that received support and little or no opposition from the group. Those in bold had no opposition and the highest level of support.

The last word from one of our participants

  • thank you for providing such an important platform and a lively debate.

For further information on this subject see:

  • The Big Issue exists to offer homeless and vulnerably housed people the opportunity to earn a legitimate income. http://www.bigissue.org.uk/
  • Shelter – help us help who’s next to lose their home. http://www.shelter.org.uk/
  • and many others in your country or on twitter (search #homelessness)

Unemployment: no more jobs for the boys? Debate 24.09.09

Pause for thought

While it was sympathetic to the challenges of the unemployed, this debate focused much more on the value of unemployment to society and to the individual as a pause for reflection. The most supported statements from the whole debate were:

  • An opportunity to change direction should one wish to.
  • It can be a fantastic moment to rethink your goals and priorities, to make (new) choices
  • We were told twenty years ago about a leisure society yet we still work our socks off…

Compared to other Thinking Tanks, this debate was more reflective, less fast paced. In all however over 100 points of view were proposed by the group, evaluated and ranked.

Personal pain

There was clear acknowledgement of the downsides of unemployment for the individual, particularly in the absence of hope

  • I grew up in a town with mass unemployment (closed steel mill) – the new norm became hanging around feeling hopeless
  • Stress on families

And the detrimental impact on the economy / society:

  • If the unemployment rate is too high, so then, there is a negative economic impact for society
  • Waste of human resources – missing to include these people’s potential

Actions for business leaders

There was a belief that business leaders should be managing for growth and business success and this will in turn maintain employment requirements.

  • There must be very valuable workers in my company, so that, we should redefine new markets. (there are always new opportunities to discover)

Two sides of the coin

On the issue of our role as employers / business leaders, there were clearly two schools of thought. Bipolar Synthetrons (where a statement attracts both significant support and significant opposition) on actions that we can take to address the issues raised by unemployment included:

  • Maintain a relationship with ex employees eg as ad hoc team members while they are looking for next job
  • I can help employees to grow personally while being on the job and by such creating resilience in the face of unemployment.
  • Be aware of the research showing that the hard fast high cutting companies do very much worse after a crisis than the ones that keep some slack, fire in a humane way, let the employees keep in touch with each other, stimulate these contacts, …
  • I can coach people better

This bipolarity was also the case concerning some of the advantages to society of unemployment – maybe reflecting personal experiences.

  • I always learned that a certain degree of unemployment helps the economy to grow, change have a real labour market.. and I do believe that could be a benefit for society if we were all part time unemployed with time to do other important things. now a large group of people work more than 100% neglecting themselves, family and friends, while others do not have any work at all.

The word cloud (below) shows how the content of the debate went—the bigger the word, the more mentions and the higher the support. Most of the larger words are positive and focus on new beginnings. Of course many of the participants are successful in life—maybe due in part to this positive approach.

Join the debate

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