Homelessness, Empathy and the Ethics of Campaigning

Today the #PETFconference organizers made the excellent choice of having Melissa Scavuzzo, a person with lived experience of homelessness, speak about her experience as part of the Raising the Roof “Humans for Humans” campaign.

This campaign video is powerful.

Melissa and Caitlin Boros, Marketing and Communications Manager of Raising the Roof, spoke about this campaign, which I’ll return to in a moment.

But first, a question: why do so few panels and conversations include members of the communities they’re discussing?

It changed the tone and the discussion in the room where Melissa and Caitlin’s break-out session was held. When asking questions, numerous conference attendees mentioned their own experience of homelessness.

Given the stigma around homelessness, I doubt they would have been so open had it not been for the presence of someone with lived experience on the panel itself.

As Caitlin said, it’s important to start “seeing people with lived experience as experts.”

Other takeaways from the discussion:
- part of the campaign’s success was in drawing inspiration from pop culture; in this case, Jimmy Fallon’s bit on reading mean tweets
- it’s important to consider how to protect the people that appear in such campaigns from the negative feedback that can ensue. Raising the Roof made sure the people appearing in their campaign had the supports in place to help them cope with any negative response
- it takes time to establish relationships of equality and trust to do campaigns like this one; Caitlin spent three months meeting with people, building trust and hearing what they had to say

Melissa said it beautifully. When it came to being asked to share her story, “there’s a huge amount of respect that comes with that.”

Raising the Roof and the Trudeau Foundation demonstrated respect in giving Melissa an avenue to share her story, to tremendous results.

Hopefully more charities, funders, and conferences will follow this lead.