Scotland Leading the Way Internationally with Innovative Arts Projects for Homeless People
From theatre performances and song writing to choirs and creative writing, organisations across the country are using the arts to increase well-being for those who have experienced homelessness. This important work being carried out all over Scotland has unsurprisingly caught the attention of many, including With One Voice – the international arts and homelessness movement. Now it’s commencing work on the first ever Scottish arts and homelessness review. We sat down with Director Matt Peacock to find out more about With One Voice’s activities, and talk about some of the biggest issues and misconceptions surrounding homelessness.
Hi Matt, thanks for speaking with GlasgowLiving. For our readers who are unfamiliar with the With Once Voice movement, could you tell us about its ultimate goals?
Matt: With One Voice is a new network which is connecting organisations and individuals working with homeless people and the arts around the world. Homelessness is not just about housing, and when you face homelessness you often have your self-worth, pride, dignity and friendship networks taken away. The arts are a great way of restoring confidence, giving people a voice and visibility, reminding them they have an identity that is not just about their problems, and helping them find links back into the community. There are a huge number of brilliant yet hidden projects that help homeless people back on their feet – from dance companies in Tokyo to choirs in Melbourne and film projects in Africa. With One Voice brings these isolated projects together to learn from and encourage each other, and to help embed the arts more into the way homeless people are supported throughout the world.
With One Voice is now commencing work on the first ever Scottish arts and homelessness review – can you say what sort of activity that this will include?
We are starting the process by talking to as many people as possible to find out about art projects that are already taking place in hostels, night shelters, community centres, arts venues and everywhere in Scotland. There are amazing projects like Citizens Theatre and Chara Centre which run drama, writing, music and filmmaking projects, and Lodging House Mission, a Glasgow day centre which has a resident choir.
The research is being carried out by a brilliant team including Shelly Coyne, a PhD student at Edinburgh University who used to run Givin it Laldie, a group of community choirs in Glasgow. She is working with three other co-researchers from Glasgow who have all experienced homelessness – Ann, Pat, Jacqui and William. We’re really hopeful that the new Scottish Cultural Policy that is being created recognises the way the arts can support homeless people and includes some of the outstanding work going on in the field in Scotland.
We’ll organise a consultation event in September, publish the review towards the end of 2017 and then hold a second public event in spring 2018 to talk about what we’ve found and ‘what next?’. The ‘what next?’ is dependent on what the current projects tell us but it could include strengthening the existing projects, helping to start new projects and/or embedding the arts more into the day-to-day support of homeless people across Scotland. You can take part in the survey here.
How can the people of Glasgow support With One Voice?
We’d urge the public to find out about current projects in Glasgow (see the end of the article for full list). We’d also love to hear about other projects we may have missed or anyone interested in arts and homelessness (please get in touch with Ellie Raymont on [email protected]). After we have published the review, there may be more opportunities to get involved, so watch this space!
And how will this activity link up with the other movements happening across the world?
So much can be achieved if we work together; this is particularly important in a more politically and economically divided world. There is so much exceptional work going on in Scotland in this field and it is exciting to be able to link this more with work in other countries to learn from each other. The way national government in Scotland and some local authorities are enabling the arts to be embedded more in social welfare is quite unusual – this kind of approach is emerging in Paris and Manchester and getting those policy makers together would create even more impact and inspire more people. There is also an emerging interest from cultural spaces across the world – venues, libraries, museums and galleries – to come together to talk about how they can help homeless people access their buildings both as cultural and practical resources.
Why do you believe there is such a positive correlation between the arts and wellbeing?
The arts are such a powerful social tool and very much underused and misunderstood. In general, I think the public see the arts as important, but not fundamental, to daily life i.e. a hobby or a luxury. And yet, creativity is part of our DNA – most of our interactions with small children are creative (singing, dancing, drawing) but they gradually disappear from our day-to-day lives, partly as a result of a focus towards core subjects at school. And yet we remain creative people with needs around expressing ourselves, connecting with other people and feeling like we have skills and achievements. The arts can do all of these things and should be open to everyone in society. It is a little-known fact that the arts are enshrined in the UN Charter of Human Rights – Article 27 talks about all humans having the right to access arts and creativity. We need to talk about this more.
I have seen the power of the arts in many communities in many countries – how singing in a choir in Rio (Brazil) gave the 30 people the courage to get off the streets and into accommodation; how an isolated homeless man in Osaka (Japan) found companionship from people in the same art group and it came back from the edge of suicide; how a homeless man in Newcastle invited his daughters to see him perform onstage – he hadn’t seen them for 10 years and they brought his granddaughter who he’d never met before.
One of our co-researchers for our Scotland arts and homelessness review, Jacqui, who discovered the therapeutic effect of singing while she was homeless, said:
‘I was under a rock for a long time. I found the choir and started seeing some light. Basically, the choir reached its branches out to me – it embraced me; it was like a huge family.’
Has there been a specific standout moment so far?
I think it would have to be singing on stage at the Rio Cultural Olympiad festival in 2016 with 100 homeless people from new choirs that we had set up locally alongside other homeless people and projects from USA, Japan, UK, Australia and Europe. At the end of the event, an artist who had been on the streets in Rio gave a painting he had made to a homeless person from Tokyo.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions around homelessness?
I have noticed an attitude of ‘us’ and ‘them’ a great deal over the years – that somehow the public think that homeless people are not like them. But no one expects to become homeless – it can happen to anyone and if the public remember that, I think they begin to ask ‘why’, and from that position, you can support people more. You then find out that one of the main reasons why people become homeless is relationship breakdown.
Up to 70% of homeless people have mental health issues and people sleeping rough are seven times more likely to commit suicide.
It is also important to know that homelessness isn’t just about the people you see on the streets – there are thousands of more people who do not have a ‘home’ who are in a desperate situation – sofa surfing, squatting, being bumped from one hostel to the next; and the lucky ones who are re-housed can be chronically isolated with no community infrastructure. This is why around 25% of re-housed homeless people go back to the streets. Through all these challenges, the voice of homeless people remains small and under-represented – our charity system is good at giving people support but less good at
What’s the big picture shaping up to look like for With One Voice – what does the photograph look like in five years from now?
We have been talking about quite a visual representation of the future. We are so lucky in the UK to have a strong benefit and social welfare system, but one of the faults is that it is structured in a hierarchical way with practical solutions given more prominence and funding than ‘softer’ solutions. In one way the idea that a homeless person needs food and shelter is totally correct – on another level, you could say that he/she is a person and needs a wider range of support including food, shelter, training and ways to build their well-being. The picture we talk about is a ‘jigsaw’ of support – where support for people in need is seen as many parts of a jigsaw (food, shelter, the arts) coming together.
I can also see a picture of every homeless centre in Scotland having an art programme but that may take longer than five years! It would be the first country in the world to do this and I think many other countries would follow suit.
Many thanks to Matt for talking to us. If you’d like some more information, visit www.with-one-voice.com, and for a full list of current arts and homelessness projects in Glasgow, see below:
- The Citizens Theatre/The Chara Centre – Chara is a women’s homeless centre and Citizens has set up creative writing, drama, singing, song-writing, guitar, film-making
- The Marie Trust – centre running expressive arts and art drop-in class
- Glasgow City Mission – charity working with disadvantaged and vulnerable people – it runs photography, drama, art classes and has a music studio
- Lodging House Mission – drop-in day centre for homeless people which runs a choir
- A Moment’s Peace – running a theatre project with Big Issue Vendors, asylum seekers and primary schools on land and housing in Scotland.