Tuesday, 22 November 2016

From the Ground Up: homeless journalists tell their stories

This is street-level journalism at its best.  These journalists make you feel the terror at being thrown out on the streets by a violent landlord or what the loss of social housing in London means.  They look at issues faced by people leaving the army. They write about the exciting Museum of Homelessness and they know the best squats in the capital and how these provide a sense of community to people who have none.

They are the 'From the Ground Up' citizen journalists. They all have experienced rough sleeping, so this gives them a unique insight into homelessness, the services and policies and their impact.  Homelessness has increased sharply over the past few years.  If society is to tackle the issue effectively, politicians, social service providers, charities and the general public should learn from them.

Ten citizen journalists have enrolled in ‘From the Ground Up’, a six-month programme run by the “people-powered” homeless charity Groundswell and the Pavement magazine.  Weekly workshops on news writing, communication, interviewing etc.  help them develop the confidence and tools they need to tell their stories and the issues that are important to them.

One of the key ways they raise awareness is by publishing their stories in the Pavement, a pocket-size magazine packed with news, stories, art, cartoons and useful information for homeless readers (as well as a website).  

And so, on a cold autumn morning, I met Jimmy, Mahesh, Julz and a few other citizen journalists at the Groundswell office near Vauxhall for a day-long workshop on feature writing.  We discussed how to use brain mapping to find story ideas and how you need both facts and emotions in order to turn them into engaging features.  We practiced how to construct a story, how to write a vivid introduction and how to show rather than tell, using the readers five senses.

At the end of the programme, the group will produce a special issue for the Pavement, planned for February/March. They have chosen to focus on changes in homelessness due to economic pressures and gaps in health care provision for homeless people.

Being homeless has always been very hard, obviously, but they say that things are getting much worse. Jimmy, who found himself on the streets as a young man some 30 years ago, believes he might not have made it today…

The number of people sleeping rough in England on any one night has doubled since 2010 and increased by 30% in the last year, with an estimated 3,569 people now sleeping on the streets across England, according to new government figures.  The number of families with children in temporary accommodations has also increased significantly.  And as we see more movement between countries, migration has also become an increasingly important part of the story.

From the Ground Up citizen journalists, get your stories out there!