Sometimes it can be hard to explain to people exactly why I spend as much time as I do chatting to friends, sharing what I’m doing or just watching the endless river of tiny moments flow past on whichever of my social networks interests me at that moment.
Once a year, though, it all makes sense. The ROI, to borrow a phrase from the paper-straighteners and fingernail-biters, is through the roof. What could, for most of the year, be cruelly perceived as nothing but a bunch of time wasters comparing breakfasts suddenly becomes a force for good.
Lifewise is an organisation that’s working to end homelessness in Auckland. Every July, it holds an event called the Big Sleepout. For one night, softies like me slip into their sleeping bags and snooze not under the roofs of our Grey Lynn villas, but the streetlights and stars of Auckland’s evening firmament.
We do it for two reasons. The first is to raise money for Lifewise to use in its programmes. I’ve learned quite a bit about what Lifewise does in the last two years, and have spent time with both its staff and its clients. I’m not much of a charity guy, but I found it easy to decide to support Lifewise. (Take a look at its site for yourself.)
The second is to raise awareness among Aucklanders of the nature and scale of our homeless problem.
Social media ticks both boxes. So far I’ve raised $2155 and my 56 donors have kept me on the leaderboard for most of the campaign.
As well as frequent Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn posts, I’ve spiced things up a little with the offer to win a scenic flight over Auckland in my plane. Last year, I decided to give this instead to one of Lifewise’s clients after a conversation sparked by the flying jacket she was wearing when we met. She had never been in a plane, so a few days after the Big Sleepout I rectified that and gave her a tour of the city she’s only ever seen from street level.
I’ve also invested in a Facebook advertising campaign, but so far my clicks haven’t translated into donations. I will, as Montgomery Burns once said, continue the experiments.
The thing I’ve learned the most from, though, has been my attempt to use people begging for money as a media channel, by buying their time for an hour or so to hold my QR code sign instead of asking for cash. While the results haven’t been spectacular (QR codes!) I’ve been privileged to spend some time listening to people I would ordinarily have walked right past.
While their stories are all different, the thread that connected them was that, in every case, they’ve lived the ordinary lives the rest of us take for granted, but something sudden and unexpected snatched it away. An injury, an assault, mental trauma, was all that it took to take these people from working 9 to 5 to sitting at the side of the street with a piece of cardboard.
There are three weeks left until the Big Sleepout, and if you are on social media I’ll probably bug you a fair bit between now and then. Homelessness is easy to ignore. I’m going to try very hard between now and July 4 to make it unmissable.
Please help me support Lifewise here.