The Power of Narrative: Why We’re Joining the National Conversation Around Homelessness
By Marisol Bello, Director
Narrative is one of those words that you ask two people for the definition and you’ll get five answers. Simply put, narratives are stories. They are the stories we hear, the cliches we repeat, the perceptions that seep into our brains over time and shape how we view, understand or remember an issue or event. Narratives are why 3,000 years later, we still compare underdogs to David standing up to Goliath. They are why we associate the Founding Fathers with our country’s ideals of freedom and liberty, even though several were enslavers who kept others in bondage.
Narrative equals power. Who controls the story and how, when and why they tell it holds power because narratives influence hearts and minds. But too often dominant narratives are harmful – even dangerous – and perpetuate inequities and exclusion of people because of the color of their skin, gender or how much is in their wallets.
For those of us working to solve homelessness and housing instability, tackling narrative is paramount. We have to disrupt the dominant and false narratives about people experiencing homelessness that are based on personal failing; narratives that render people invisible and strip them of their dignity. And we have to advance a transformative narrative that shows the public who actually experiences homelessness and why. A narrative that shows the reality of skyrocketing rents, jobs that don’t pay enough to secure – and keep – a safe place to live and housing policies that routinely exclude people based on race, gender and income. A narrative that recognizes the failed systems that led us here, and the disproportionate impact they have on Black, Latine, Indigenous and immigrant members of our communities.
Now, more than ever, America is ready for a national conversation about how we can work together to ensure everyone has a place to call home.
The Housing Narrative Lab is here to join that conversation. The Lab is a national communications and narrative research hub that lifts up the stories of people facing housing insecurity and the systems that keep them from finding and keeping a home. We work with grassroots groups and advocates working to solve homelessness and serve as a resource for journalists who tell the stories of who is homeless and why.
Advancing the real and truthful narrative of homelessness is the only way to build the public will to invest in solutions to solve homelessness. In advancing a new narrative, we must use language that is accessible to everyone and lead with the shared recognition that housing is the first priority. Only when someone feels secure that they have a safe and permanent place to live can they get on the path to a full life of health, recovery and dignity.
We can each play a role by joining together to push for policies that house every member of our community. But it starts with each of us understanding what’s happening to so many of our neighbors who are unhoused, forced to couch surf, cram into shelters, sleep in their cars or huddle in tents on the streets. Because no matter what we look like or where we come from, most of us just want to provide for our families. And we want to be secure in the hope that hardship won’t mean homelessness.