“Faces of Homelessness” Speakers’ Bureau: Giving the homeless a voice

faces of the homeless

HUB-BUB focuses on building and strengthening our community, with a particular focus on the arts and new ideas.  We’re always interested in learning more about Spartanburg’s needs and how we can all come together to address them.  In the guest post below, Lyn Radke shares with us her thoughts on homelessness in the Upstate.

Through a program called the “Faces of Homelessness” Speakers’ Bureau, Lyn Radke works with currently and formerly homeless people to dispel myths about homelessness. Based out of The Haven Shelter in Spartanburg, she spends her days educating the public and helping speakers share their experiences at churches, schools, and other local places. In return, they share their wisdom with her—and through their words, always remind her to see the proverbial glass half-full.

Spartanburg Speakers’ Bureau on Facebook

As an undergraduate and Creative Writing minor at Wofford College, I spent a lot of time crafting stories. With the help of some truly wonderful writers (who also happened to be professors), I learned the creative writing basics: avoid purple prose, don’t let your plot get away from you, and remember that the reader can’t read your mind.

So when I accepted a job as a Speakers’ Bureau coordinator for National Coalition for the Homeless, I thought I was more than ready for it. After all, I had a lot of experience helping (and being helped by) writers—surely helping currently and formerly homeless people tell their stories couldn’t be much different. But let me say something that I don’t say very often…I was totally wrong.

And it didn’t take me long to figure it out. One day, I met a potential speaker for coffee. He asked me to describe a typical speaking engagement, and I explained that he would have about ten to fifteen minutes to tell the audience about his experience of homelessness. “Only 10 minutes?” he asked. “How am I gonna do that? I was homeless for almost 10 years!”

I realized then that what I’m asking people to do is really hard. Not only does it involve converting years of struggle into mere minutes of story, but the telling requires speakers to relive some of the hardest parts of their lives. At Speakers’ Bureau panels, some speakers describe their experiences in shelters—still others remember life on the street. But always, they speak about a place that most of us can only imagine. After 3 months of coordinating a Bureau, I now realize the strength of the speakers. Because of the bravery of currently and formerly people across the country, communities are gaining a more accurate understanding of homelessness—one that goes beyond facts and figures.

Typically, Speakers’ Bureau panels last about an hour and feature three speakers—but this Friday, the Upstate community is invited to hear just one at a special community event. Local organizations are partnering with the UU Church of Spartanburg to host a silent auction that will benefit the Ali Forney Center in New York City.  The AFC provides LGBT homeless youth with critical services, including medical care and housing referrals.

In addition to helping vulnerable youth (LGBT homeless youth are seven times more likely to be victims of a crime than their heterosexual peers), the events’ sponsors are hoping to educate the public. At the event, member of the Speakers’ Bureau will share his story about homelessness. After coming out, he was forced to leave his home at the age of fifteen—sadly, his story is all too familiar. Although LGBT youth make up only 3-5% of the entire youth population, they represent 20-40% of the homeless youth population.

As a Spartanburg native, I’m happy and proud to coordinate a program that gives members of the Upstate community a voice—and I can’t wait to see more projects combine the arts and social justice issues here in the Upstate.






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