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Boundless Leadership: Homelessness, doing good, and trolls

Homelessness is a terrifying experience. Living on the edge of society is alienating and horrific. As leaders, we can help.

Matt Collamer (Unsplash)

As leaders, we can be boundless. We can know no limits, hold the world as a wilderness of infinite possibilities, and adventure into parts unknown to create abundant experiences for all who travel with us.

To be boundless, we need to be well-resourced. We need support, good health, and a strong sense on personal purpose. If you’re homeless, as Zach Bryers said you’re -1 on the scale, and you’re just trying to get to zero – to the basics of safety, shelter, and food.

Zack Bryers is a youth worker. He was once a national gridiron player and before that, did tours of duty in Afghanistan with the army. He lived through homelessness as a teenager. 

Zack told his story at the CEO Sleepout. He lived with his mum as a kid. She fell in love and moved in with a fella. It turns out he was spending all their money on cocaine, and so they escaped, living in their car, parked in McDonald’s carpark for several weeks, off and on. Zack said he was an angry kid, and before long he split away from his mum and took to the streets. He slept during the day and walked all night. Sleeping on the streets at night is dangerous – you can get robbed, stabbed, and attacked. So he walked from one end of town to the other, staying awake, surviving.

When asked what can help, he said, “I never wanted your pity. I wanted an opportunity. Be that an opportunity to connect, to talk, a mentor to teach me something, an opportunity to work. To be seen as who I am, not where I am, where I’ve been. It’s incredibly lonely being homeless. Just saying hello makes a difference.”

Vinnies offers those little opportunities as best they can. They provide food through their Night Patrol, they provide emergency assistance, tertiary level education to help people re-train or get job ready, they have kids programs to help them build social networks, life skills, and self esteem.

Homelessness is a complex issue. Early childhood trauma often results in mental health issues that act as a catalyst to homelessness. Early intervention to help people build their personal resilience, resourcefulness, and resilience is critical to help them find a job, look after themselves, and establish a new sense of self.

What we can do

  1. Say Hello. Homeless people are human beings. Being homeless has a huge stigma attached to it, and it can be very isolating. This small gesture can have a huge impact.

  2. Give what you can. You can participate through workplace giving, direct donations, and fundraising. Vinnies has many programs that need supplies such as educational supplies for kids, or arts and crafts, women’s hygiene products (if it’s a choice between food or these, sometimes women need to make do), warm clothing and blankets. Toyota donated a whole new van so they could extend the Night Patrol service. If you have time, Vinnies is always in need of volunteers.

  3. Advocate. Talk about the services, share your experiences and insights.

What not to do

Don’t be a trolling asshole. I was really taken aback by some of the comments on social media when I posted about my participation in the CEO Sleepout. Some people feel quite strongly about this kind of activity. I value different perspectives. What is not ok is being gouged by others, for example, being told I am “virtue signalling and pretentious” and “chicksplaining”. And those were the less offensive bits! There are so many ways to present a perspective that invites conversation. Insults is not one of them. As leaders we need to call people out when we see others cyber-bully.

Let’s not hide behind keyboards – let’s connect with respect and compassion.

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Zoë is on a mission to encourage big thinkers with big hearts to make a big difference. She is passionate about showing leaders how to challenge limitations so they can live and lead with boundless energy, confidence, and conviction. With over 30 years experience developing leaders, she has published three books: Composure: How Centered Leaders Make the Biggest Impact, Moments: Leadership when it matters most, and Loyalty: Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and create lifelong advocates. These are available here – www.zoerouth.com/book/

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