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So I'm back safe and sound on Mancunian soil after the most incredible, humbling and inspiring research trip to the USA. Thankyou thankyou thankyou to all my on and off-line cheerleaders who have been by my side along the way - as a lone wolf in unfamiliar land, I have needed the love more than ever!
In all honesty, this experience was probably the most mentally, emotionally and (being struck down with a severe flare of a historical auto-immune disease shortly before I departed) physically-challenging period of my life.
I was warned to be shocked when I arrived in America - but in truth, at times I was horrified by what I saw. My experience of the USA to date has been filtered entirely through the big screen, with the bright lights, shiny filters and clever camera angles. This was not exactly the America I encountered as I made my solo trek.
Whilst I fell ridiculously head-over-heels in love with this amazingly welcoming country - and even more, with it's amazingly welcoming people - the vast divide between the rich and the poor is nothing short of staggering to the new and objective eye; the normalisation of the depravity certain members of society are forced to live amongst left me breathless at times.
The sheer magnitude of homelessness in the USA is incredible when compared to the UK - and being honest, it's very hard to stomach, even for those classed as 'experienced professionals' such as myself. When people refer to California as 'Mecca for America's Homeless' they really aren't joking. The words 'This is homelessness on steroids' left my mouth on more than a few occasions.
By the time I arrived in New York, I admit I felt emotionally void and a little broken. There were a lot of tears as I digested the previous three weeks and the desperate, helpless situations I had been exposed to. Skyping home became my saviour; alone in the big city, I felt a deep ache in my heart when it dawned on me that many of the people I had encountered ultimately wouldn't find - or even seek - adequate help.
At the forefront of my mind, I tried to keep my focus that I had set off on a quest to find innovation - as well as hope for the future. As I journeyed from West to East, at times I was like a kid at Christmas, finding darers, dreamers and doers in an abundance at every stop.
It was a very special feeling to be surrounded by people who were so similar to myself; people who believed so passionately about creating positive change they were going after it full pelt, letting nothing stand in their way. I felt an invisible bond to my global colleagues, as though we were bound by something that was bigger than any of us. I felt that we were one - and for the first time in a long time, I was no longer alone.
I can't begin to express the respect and admiration I have for the super-humans I encountered during my time researching in America, ordinary yet extraordinary people who are climbing a relative mountain in their fight to conquer issues associated with homelessness and poverty. Amazing professionals, volunteers, innovators, founders, business owners, religious leaders, governmental figures and members of the public - as well as the countless individuals I met who were surviving homelessness and poverty first hand.
I feel so blessed to have been in the company of so many special people as I toured across the magnificent USA. I was inspired to do good like never before and couldn't help but be deeply affected by the creativity, passion and unwavering conviction that seemed to linger in the air. I hope I've brought at least a tiny part of it home with me.
I will be forever indebted to those supported, guided and encouraged me along every step of my journey - and what a journey I went on. From touring Los Angeles' Skid Row, to meeting a real life unicorn whisperer* for brunch in Beverley Hills, visiting the jungle camps in Silicon Valley, to experiencing a charity fundraising ball in New York - my journey was nothing short of incredible.
I am now accessing an international platform in order to disseminate my research findings and my recommendations for transformation to services for homelessness prevention and response. I am so grateful that my WCMT fellowship is opening doors at a senior level across the globe and after the disappointment of being unable to access public sector support in Manchester, I am now finally meeting amazing people who are both willing and able to assist.
Over the last 18 months I have been designing a 10 year social enterprise plan for the eradication of UK homelessness and thanks to my trip across the pond, it is now close to it's completion. I have had the opportunity to pitch the concept to industry leaders around the world with great response and I feel we are very close to at least a test run of its implementation.
I'm now being supported by the National Housing Federation, as well as Salford Universtity's Urban Studies Department and the WCMT; with their guidance, my report and recommendations will be available publicly from around October - I'm currently working day and night to create an evaluation which I hope will add great value and inspire change across our sector.
Fingers crossed the signs look good for the future and we really are pressing forward towards radicalised response to homelessness across the UK - one that really works.
I'll be blogging lots about my findings in America over the coming weeks and months, but for now you can enjoy a short video of the highlights below. Please get in touch if you'd like to work together in any way - I'd love to connect :) firstname.lastname@example.org
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