Outside In, rewriting homelessness?

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Our call to action has been co-opted by local for profit company Oi.

 

Outside In, rewriting homelessness?

This blog has been a long time coming. Our ‘SHOW SOME LOVE RADIO’ podcast will be coming soon too. We’ve been pretty busy!

Recently though the universe has conspired, or rather booted us in the hole to finally take action and to use our voices here as another medium for our activism and opinions. The irony of that is that this first article will not contain our opinions, only a brief highlight of our interactions to date.

Most importantly this blog is all about our questions for Outside In.

Outside In/Oi are a local for-profit company that purports to have an aim to “rewrite homelessness” by selling ‘streetwear’ (£16-£45) exclusively branded and marketed around the topic of homelessness, more specifically rough-sleeping.

 
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Included in the ticket price, is the cost of a beanie or blanket (not offered for sale to the public) to give to a rough-sleeper, using their giving guidelines.

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The two of us have been discussing this subject for a year, 6 months ago we decided to stop talking about it, and be open with, and fair to them by giving them the opportunity to tell us directly about their model and future plans (see our exact questions below), with a view to potentially working together to help people in Belfast City and beyond.

 
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Our first email.

 
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David Johnston.

 

When we went to meet Oi in January, David Johnston, CEO, didn’t turn up despite us sharing the purpose and outlined topics in the introductory email. Their head of operations (at the time) came alone and was unable to answer most of the questions, admitting that the giving guidelines needed to be re-thought when asked to consider them from the point of view of a vulnerable person.

They were unfamiliar with the concept of safeguarding and had consulted legal advice on liability only on behalf of the company and neither the general public, nor the potentially vulnerable people being approached for photos and stories, to be used without appropriate consent, for global marketing purposes. Both David and his head of operations quoted how verbal consent was sufficient to protect Outside In.

However, David did call us after the meet up initially for a rant, which he eventually admitted was aggressive and apologised for, and in the end thanked us for our interaction. We agreed that we would email the questions. We did that, but they declined to answer them. We decided to give them 6 months to get their shit together. It’s been 6 months to the day that we first got in touch. In that time, they’ve used our SHOW SOME LOVE message twice, without permission or credit, to sell their for-profit merchandise. Most recently yesterday. Making the timing of this blog almost poetic.

 
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Yesterdays Oi SHOW SOME LOVE post.

Oi told us in January that a charity is in the pipeline. They quoted this line again in April at an Ulster Bank social media event. David didn’t turn up then either, we were advised of this by an audience member who shares our questions. Where is It, what’s it called and whilst we are here, what are its aims and objectives? Oi couldn’t answer us on any of those points. We welcome all questions and accountability, hence our CIC status. Questions and feedback make us better at what we do. We proudly offer our FAQ’s and even use the ultimate shit-yourself medium of Facebook Live inviting the public to ‘ask us anything’ such is our commitment to transparency and accountability.

 
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We have spent much time discussing what we should do about this burden of knowledge. We’ve got to get it off our chests as discussing it is stealing valuable time and distracting us from our work. We know there’s a risk of people thinking it’s in some way sour grapes, or that it’s irresponsible to take a risk of going public with this information and it backfiring on us and ruining all our hard work. Our mums say we should ignore it, or go to the police. Peers and friends who share our questions, but have had their questions deleted from social media, are urging us to use our position of love, trust and respect to bring this odd situation to light.

 
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We have spent hours, even days, debating this blog. At times we have wrecked our heads and our moods discussing the right thing to do. We recently listened to a wonderful podcast where the amazing Brené Brown is talking to Russell Brand, and she shared a scientifically proven common factor in people who were compassionate; integrity, razor sharp boundaries and holding people to account. We do that in life, we’re far from perfect but we try really hard, we make mistakes, we grow, but we always hold ourselves mercilessly to account. We scrutinise ourselves that we operate with low ego, high capability (Thanks Benen!). If people cross our boundaries, we act, especially if vulnerable people are concerned. It’s our responsibility to do so as we have made huge promises to the world about our ambition and commitment to help people and the manner in which we achieve do so. The right way. If that takes a bit longer, or it would be easier to sacrifice quality or integrity we don’t do it. Simple.

We started in fundraising, moved to more sustainable making and selling but we’re activists for fuck sake! We have a platform and ability to speak up! We ask difficult questions! It’s literally our job.

We decided a while ago to simply do what we do best. Show Some Love. Trust people. So, we reach out to you, the people of Belfast to have a look for yourself and make up your own mind. We have met so many that seem like they already have.

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Fuck, that was difficult. We love opinions….

Below is the original set of questions we sent to OI on 31st Jan 2019

  • Where does the profit go? Now and the plan for the future.

  • You refer to volunteers often, what do they do? Do they ever sell?

  • Why is so little info available online?

  • What is OI registered under at Companies house?

  • Please describe the events around the £1955 “donation raised” for you by express surveyors over Christmas.

 
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  • When you were “robbed” at Christmas many people talked on Facebook about replacing the money “stolen from a homeless charity”. What are you doing to prevent this misperception and ensure people are not misinformed?

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  • Please describe in detail who you are currently helping and how they benefit? Be specific, individuals, organisations, age groups/nationalities.

  • Please also outline any plans to improve/change this in the next 1-5 years.

  • What is your ‘call to action’? After people have the recommended 1-2-1 chat- what next for the recipient? How does this help end or rewrite homelessness except from the Point of view of the giver?

  • Homelessness and rough-sleeping are very different. Rough sleeping is highly emotive but affects a tiny proportion >100 compared to the rest of the 126,000 people in NI that are defined as homeless, including families, young people, the LGBT community and refugees/asylum seekers. Why is there no activity raising awareness of these groups of people or their needs in your communications? All activity is directly towards adult, mainly white men.

 
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  • You recently said (On Belfasts Best podcast) 1 for 1 was a “saturated market” yet your ‘wear one, share one’ concept is inferior to this offer. This is at odds with your headline statement and your own giving guidelines.  By selling a £45 jumper and instead of sharing one the same, (or an easily redeemed voucher to manage sizing) you give away a cheaper item to the homeless person, by doing this you are actually creating a divide, not reducing one. How do you reconcile this conflicting message?

  • You have stated regularly that the reason you give away a small item- blanket/hat is so people can have it on them at all times. Giving guidelines suggests “Always go in a group of 3 to 5 people”, this is hardly a common way to travel. It would need to be a specific trip. Negating the need for a “small item”. How do you reconcile these two conflicting pieces of guidance?

 
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