A particular activity that has long fascinated me (besides what I did in my chosen career as a software professional, one of my early community activities was helping to produce the Southend Mental Health directory), and is one area where I think I have a certain knack, i.e. that of gathering and sharing information. Some while back, I saw the need to present in a succinct and cogent form a leaflet telling rough sleepers (and those who help them) where they might go for help, building on earlier efforts and realizing that information soon becomes outdated. I have just taken delivery from my friendly printers the latest version (issue 3) of the “where to go if you are sleeping rough” leaflet and have uploaded this onto the web and have begun the task of distributing to various outlets – for free.
I was long ago struck by the statement scientia potentia est (knowledge is power), attributable to Francis Bacon, and have come to see its truth for myself. Knowledge can bring power to the one that possesses it, especially when others don’t. It can also be used to empower others. I like to think I am more in the latter category than the former. A story I read about, also a long time ago, was how Nathan Rothschild, the founder of the influential Rothschild’s banking dynasty, applied this principle and made a lot of money. The story went that when the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo, it was a damn “close run thing” (to quote the Duke), with the outcome having considerable bearing on which way the financial markets would likely go. Rothschild got news of the victory first by virtue of a message carried to him via carrier pigeon and made a financial killing betting on the stock market, knowing something his rivals didn’t. Elements of the story are apocryphal but the principles, as one article argues, aren’t.
Going back to the leaflet, it is for me a labour of love (so I would like to think) because by making information available that may help the homeless this would likely prove beneficial to those needing help. It seems to me that in order to crack homeless issues many have to play a part. This is me playing mine. It assumes that the information is correct (which is why frequent updates are needed) and people know of its availability and they can access it. It also recognizes that two types of help which are particularly important, i.e. human support and accommodation, is often absent. Pertinently, the proverb “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” comes to mind. It was brought home to me for the umpteenth time today, when meeting with professionals from various agencies that try to help homeless people, that even when help is offered those who help is offered to do not always avail themselves of that help.
Empowerment is the key element in this particular example of information gathering, collating and dissemination. One hopes that by considering and writing about the many different types of pertinent help, in particular identifying the various services and how, where and when to access them, only some of which will apply to any one person, by having that knowledge that is implicit in the information contained in the leaflet it will empower some.