Transformative. That’s how Alice Sparks described Invisible, a homelessness charity that attempts to give the homeless a second chance. More than this, it is a project which attempts to stimulate and change how we all view those without shelter at night.
Alice, 21, has a degree from the University of Manchester, where she studied Politics and Modern History.
Alice was impressed by the idea of up-skilling homeless people to deliver guided tours of their respective cities when she visited Edinburgh in 2017. After lots of groundwork, in October 2018, Danny – who spent 4 and a half years on the streets – delivered his first tour of the city and has since gone on to show over 300 people around Manchester. She speaks fondly of Danny and how he has built his self-confidence through the scheme. Hearing about how much of an impact it has had on Danny was powerful. Alice has witnessed this first-hand and there is a sense of pride and achievement when watching Danny deliver tours of Manchester, for without Danny, Invisible Manchester would not exist.
It was striking that Alice spoke about the power of stories and the power that giving someone the ability to tell their own can have on the course of someone’s life. Humans crave and live off interaction and the ability to tell stories, without that we are resigned to loneliness.
According to Alice, the fact that tourists and locals alike pay £10 to be shown round means that there is a willingness to listen and appreciate what the guide has to say. Danny has a deep emotional connection with many of the places that he shows you and for him, your attention is far more valuable. People are also more willing to listen to new ideas and take on board new perspectives, which simultaneously breaks down lazy stereotypes of the homeless that they are worthless, and that they are dependent on alcohol or drugs. More importantly, they recognise Danny as human. She tells me the analogy that if a businessman was arched over in a doorway everyone would be rushing to see whether he was okay, and our everyday lives are evidence that we are unwilling to do the same for the homeless.
Charity Street Soccer Scotland recently commissioned research on public attitudes towards homeless people in Scotland, with 41% of respondents saying that they were fearful of approaching homeless people, with the least likely to stop and talk in the 16-24 age bracket. This is not only disturbing and alarming, but also shows the power of negative narratives on groups of people.
Strictly apolitical, Alice’s focus is on the impact of Invisible and changing perceptions, though it is telling that since 2010 rough sleeping has increased 134% with the number of families that are entitled to temporary accommodation rising to over 59,000.
Alice stressed that solving the problem of homelessness that exists in Britain isn’t simply about scoring political points, nor is it about just building houses. Organisations such as Invisible are attempting to up skill and change the course of someone’s life, and with 3 more formerly homeless people being trained up, the social enterprise is headed in the right direction. As for Danny, he is having a book published called, ‘Off the cobbles’, something he describes as being a hugely rewarding process.
Pressed on the future, Alice wants Invisible Cities to be top of the game. She remarks that the idea is simple, yet pioneering and in a city as socially diverse as Manchester with so much to see, why not exploit those fantastic features whilst also rewarding the hard-work of people like Danny? My resounding feeling is that there is a sincerity about Alice and what she is attempting to achieve. It will be a tall order in a country that has, in recent generations, forgot about the values of community and the care of one another. I would encourage you to reconsider your views, under the sleeping bag is a human like you and I, all with a story to tell.