Ensuring All Omaha Residents Can Enjoy ‘The Good Life’ and live #NebraskaStrong
By Naomi Hattaway, Front Porch Investments
In Nebraska, we have some sayings that contribute to our narrative around housing stability: #NebraskaStrong, “a great place to raise a family” and “The Good Life.” Nebraska certainly can be a great place to raise a family, but for many of our neighbors who don’t have a safe place to call home these mottos don’t reflect their realities.
Stories are powerful. They convey what and who we value as a society. The stories we tell and the language we use shape the actions we take as a community.
Take housing, for example. We know that too many Nebraskans are just one crisis away from losing their housing, yet this is not the picture the public or media present. The words and phrases used by local media to describe homelessness and housing affordability feed a narrative that blames people for their housing situations, rather than exploring the lack of affordable housing we have, the terrible conditions many units are in, and our frayed safety net that results in our neighbors living in cars or on the streets.
To build on our Nebraskan pride and reshape the public debate about housing in our state, Front Porch Investments launched our #HousingMatters narrative shift campaign in collaboration with the Housing Narrative Lab.
This narrative research project will explore how our Omaha community currently talks about affordable housing and homelessness, identify the underlying beliefs people in our community have about housing, and transform narratives to shift public opinion about housing insecurity in the city.
By sharing stories and messages that increase public understanding about what causes people to lose their homes we can increase the number of people who support real, lasting solutions.
When completed, this project should cause a ripple effect. Our aim is that the tested messages become central to how community partners, and eventually the wider community, frame the narrative across Nebraska.
We’ve seen this approach work with other issues. For example, we appreciate the Women’s Fund of Omaha and their Changing the Narrative research.
Their leadership explains that, “Journalists have the ability to shape public perception about these issues. The media plays a tremendous role in ending domestic and sexual violence and this resource was written as a toolkit to assist in that work. When individual stories are used to illuminate systemic injustices, the public is given the tools to identify and respond to these crimes, the ability to draw links to systemic injustices and the necessary context for people combating these issues.”
A Local Lens on a National Issue
Research across the United States shows that the majority of people want their elected officials and their collective communities to address housing. They want to ensure that everyone can afford a place to live.
We are eager to see if the same is true in Omaha. Through our partnership with the Housing Narrative Lab we’ll get a much clearer sense of how our community thinks about housing, how urgent an issue they think it is, and who they believe is responsible for addressing it. That will inform the narratives that can help shift public opinion. You can see examples of nationally tested messages and learn more about why they work.
And we’re exploring other ways to increase public discussions about housing. The Front Porch Investments team recently co-created the Omaha Picks: Housing Stability and Homelessness Staff List from the Omaha Public Library, all on the topic of housing stability, homelessness prevention, and why the need for shelter is so meaningful. We also created a Reading Guide, including additional books for adults, podcast episodes and more!
We know that the more we tell the stories of people who are struggling to find or keep housing and connect their stories to systemic causes, the more likely we are to change those systems. We can’t fix what we don’t know is broken.
We’re excited to get started and hope you’ll follow our #HousingMatters progress here.