Listen Up! have been fortunate to build a relationship with Homeless Diamonds – an arts magazine which compiles writing and art by people associated with St Mungo’s. The latest issue featured an interview between Reporter Karen and Project Officer Tess.
You can read the latest issue here or continue reading below
Tess: How did you become interested in community reporting?
Karen: I became interested in it really by accident. My friend actually reported for Groundswell. In lockdown, we met for coffee, and I was on the phone to the doctors. It was a nightmare to get through. So, I was getting really irate and just quit. My friend said, “can I interview you?” And it started from there. Then Mat [Project Officer on Listen Up!] contacted me and said, “Would you do a guest report, and be a guest reporter?” So, I was like, “Yes.” And then I got asked to be a volunteer, so to speak, a year last January. So, at first, I didn’t think I’d be able to do it, you know, because I’ve not had any reporting experience or anything but with the topics that we do, mainly homelessness, health inequalities, addiction, mental health that type of thing and I’ve got little experience with all that. So basically, it was just I was interested because I knew about it. And the idea of doing reporting is just trying to bring to light what’s going on because, you know, it’s the things that people have actually gone through, those difficult times in the lives, you know. So yeah, really interesting things.
Tess: What does being a community reporter involve?
Karen: For me, it’s all about, I basically can choose what I want to do as long as it’s to do with homeless. So, anything that I see in my community, anything that I see or hear, and I just try and find out a little bit more about it. It’s, you know, to bring this really to the forefront of what’s going on, you know, because what you read in the papers or you see on social media, it’s not necessarily, I’m not going to say it’s not true, but it’s not it’s not getting to the root of the problem. And I think with community reporting, you see you actually see, you know, the man on the streets. You actually hear people say, you know, we hear about mental health, and you can discuss with people what their struggles are and their success stories as well. It was very rewarding. It’s been very appealing to me because I’ve written about the things that I’ve gone through, and I just think it’s a fantastic way to read it because, you know, it’s a great platform too, to be able to say, listen, you know, this is actually what is going on.
Tess: And what story you most proud of and why? If you can pick one.
Karen: If I can pick one.. there’s quite a few that I’m proud of. I’m going to say to the last story, one of the last stories I did, which was a video story, and the one I’m proud of myself for. I used to do written reports and then I was taken out my comfort zone tried an audio report. And then we had training with, you know, how to do a video. And I just felt this isn’t for me, you know, And, and I tried it. I enjoyed it and just thought, wow, it’s all on your phone. And so to me, it was it was appealing.
It’s been so successful in, you know, then sort of mastered and did the technical side of it. But as the content of the story, it was with a girl called Claire that you know and um her story made a story really is just heart-breaking and quite harrowing and explains how she was on the streets, some of the dangers that you know she faced. And she talks about mental health and how every day she wanted it to be her last day, you know, and then when she looks back, and she realised that she was like this in her teenage life, you know. And she gets her own flat and she’s quite settled.
So, for me, this is a story of tremendous hope, you know. Anyway, it touched me and just the sheer determination and hard work she’s put in. And she preferred to do this video. And she absolutely loved it you know; she feels very proud of it. And like you say, it did it did her good. It was very cathartic. She was telling me she was getting out, some of the really dark things that she’s been though. And she said, you know, sometimes it feels a bit prickly to do that. But she can’t wait to do the next one, you know, So it was a win-win all round. So, yeah, I’m proud of that one.
Tess: And rightly so. It feels very different watching it than if you’d done something written.
Karen: Yeah. And it’s easy to edit as well, you know.
Tess: Yeah. When you can see the person who’s telling that story it makes it easier to relate to them. It makes them realer somehow than if you’re just reading what somebody has written and that’s what we’re used to and having somebody actually talk about it. And especially I think with Claire, because you can tell that she trusts you. And then when you’re answering questions, you can tell that it’s not like sometimes on the news when you see people being interviewed, and they’re “I don’t really know how to tell you this,” but with you, it was like you were just chatting and it felt really natural, even though what she was saying was quite harrowing at times.
Karen: Yeah, I think was nice when you saw bits of it when she was smiling, when she said at one point, “I’m going to be really happy here.” You don’t see that in a report. You don’t see the facial expressions, you see. You know, we laughed all day. It was a really good day.
Tess: How would you decide between doing a film or doing something written? Because you now do both.
Karen: I think most of my written reports are about either what’s happened to me or something that I know about, you know, something that I have a bit of knowledge about, whereas the two videos that I’ve already done because I know that both of them and experienced homelessness. Both of them experience addiction. So, one was drink, one was heroin/drugs and then they’ve both got flats. So, for me, it was a nice, you know, beginning, middle and an end. I don’t want it to be the same, you know. But I think I think once if know it’s going to be a good story for me and also if I can take enough cutaways everything that are relevant to that story as well. I think other people’s stories are better with the video and it doesn’t necessarily have to be, you know, a good ending, a happy ending. I’m sure there’s going to be some I do that aren’t happy, you know. I think going forward, I’m really going to think about the video side of it because I really enjoy it, but it’s making me think that way. So yeah, I think the written reports are what I know about or what I’ve been through.
Tess: What’s been a highlight for you of being part of Listen Up?
Karen: I’ve got many things that that have been a highlight. I think at the beginning I was very nervous, you know, didn’t know anybody and I came down to London for a face-to-face meeting. And it was great to meet everybody and work out what’s it all about and everything. And so one of the highlights is actually getting to know some of the team, you know, project officers and volunteers, you know, and it’s been nice to experience that totally different way of life. Groundswell is a little bit of what I do as part of my life. So, it’s a highlight to be part of it to be quite honest with you.
Another highlight was when I went to Budapest and that was unbelievable. There was no-one more shocked than myself and I got to know Miles a lot which, you know, we’ve got quite a good friendship going. I mean, it’s nice, you know.
One of the biggest highlights is when I got my first report put on. You know, it’s just so exciting. It’s alright sending it in and then you get the feedback if it’s a good report. But actually seeing reports on the hub… It’s just as exciting as the first report. You know, I get a real sense of reward, you know, when I see them, that wow it’s gone on to see.
Another highlight was last week I went and did a little bit of a talk against violence and abuse. That was amazing, you know. Wonderful ladies. And I just tried to explain how volunteering has helped me and helped my confidence. And took the blinkers off and made me think a bit more. And I got this lovely feedback, you know, and I felt quite emotional. And that was lovely. Just all these little things like when someone says do you want to get involved in that? And you think ‘oh wow’, you know, um, cause my problem is that I think I’m not really good at it and I’ve got nothing important to say and all the rest of it. And then when someone says, um, you know, do you want to get involved in that this it’s really rewarding.
Tess: That’s lovely to hear. There’s lots of different things there. I think you’ve just shown kind of the range of things you can do and get involved in whether it’s going to go to Europe or speaking to other organisations or whatever it may be.
Karen: Exactly. You know, it’s just the sky’s the limit, really, to what you can do. You know, it’s so diverse. It really is so diverse.
Tess: Who would you want to hear or read your stories?
Karen: Well, I mean, obviously, I’m going to say the decision makers, you know, because that is sort of what we’re aiming for isn’t it, you know, to change people’s minds and to change views. And it sounds very cliche, but anyone that can change decisions, that can make a difference, that will listen. So, you know, I mean, I could say MP’s, local councillors, health authorities. So yeah, I think it sounds boring that, but I think it is such a person or anyone who has got a powerful voice that’s passionate about, you know, what is going on. Anyone that has voice that can bring our cause to the forefront again and be heard, you know, because it’s probably just discussed before. There are many platforms that we can use. We can try and get our voice over to.
Tess: If the decision makers heard you, what would you like to see changed about homelessness?
Karen: I would like for proper wrap around housing. I feel that that is the way forward. For one, there is not enough housing. But for two, I would say there’s no point putting someone that’s got issues just into a house. I did a report and said at the beginning of my journey, I thought that homelessness meant street homeless, didn’t realise I’d actually been homeless because I sofa surfed. And I lived in a pub for a couple of months in the attic. So, like I say, there is no point putting a roof over somebody’s head. I have learned that that person needs the wraparound care.
Very similar to when I started my journey in sobriety. I needed that support around me, and I still do, but not as much. But at the beginning, there was no point me just putting the bottle down and trying to live life on life’s terms. That was the main part of my problem. I couldn’t live like life’s terms. I would have gone back to drinking. And I think, you know, if you put someone in a permanent house and not give them the support they need, they will become homeless again. I’ve read many reports and some research that I’ve done and that’s exactly what happened. You know, they will just go back homeless, you know, on the streets.
My friend Andrew, you look at the report, the council gave him a house and that was it. And then it became a drug den. And then he went back on the streets. That’s no good. It’s not. It’s going around in circles. So I think if I could have anything changed nationally, we need to, first of all, build affordable housing – council housing, housing associations… We need the housing then we need the wraparound care and that could be anything – addiction, mental health… There is so many things, so many problems in this world today. You know. But I think if they got the fundamental things in place for me, I feel that we’ve got some hope in making a difference to what we class as homelessness now.
Tess: That’s a great answer. I don’t have any other questions, is there anything you want to add or that you want to tell people?
Karen: No, no. I mean, I think I’ve said in a few of the reports that this year of reporting has absolutely just opened my world, my outlook on it. Certain things I thought God I never knew that until I got involved in Groundswell, I never knew about all this side of things. I didn’t realise of all the individual charities, you know, that they might be fighting a different type of cause that might be against violence and abuse, for example. And might be what they are fighting for.
Groundswell is homelessness and health inequalities. And then you’ll get another charity that is just about housing. We are all different, but we are all connected, you know, And I never knew all that was going on, you know. So, it’s I find it really interesting, sometimes disturbing, you know, And it’s just shocking the way that the government, or the rich, just really don’t realise what is going on. So yeah, I would like to get more involved in how more people are being made homeless, you know, being evicted and all the rest of it. That’s the next big issue. You know, I’ve read different facts and figures saying that because of the costs rising, you know, the cost of living and people just can’t afford stuff, you know, can’t afford to pay the rent, to pay the bills and all the rest of it. And, you know, they’re facing eviction. These are people that could be two working in the same household, you know, and they could end up on the streets. A friend of mine has just been evicted recently, she’s got four children and that’s because she fell behind with the rent. So, there’s a lot of that going on. I think you’re going to see the evidence of it soon. So yeah, I just think it’s opened my mind. Opened my world. Yes. I’m just really grateful for it. I really am.
Tess: I just thought of another question to close with, what’s next for your reporting? What do you have coming up for Listen Up! ?
Karen: At the moment I’m still thinking of it and what my next video is going to be. And we’ve got our next reporter meeting coming up and I’m just wondering what sort of topics, you know, we’re thinking of, you know. Because like you and Mat and Jenny to come up with an idea and then I think we can go off on different tangents. And I like that a lot for ideas.