How #NowYouSeeMe is Revealing the Hidden Homelessness Epidemic
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London’s production community and End Youth Homelessness have come together to create a haunting campaign, writes LBB’s Laura Swinton
On May 21st 2018, a gaggle of producers crowded round a large wooden table in the Beak Street offices of the Advertising Producers Association. Everyone had an idea, a comment, a question, a criticism, a connection. Excitable and energised, people were talking over each other as thoughts flew around in a structure-less tangle.
Sitting quietly in the middle of all this sat Sofia Haque, senior development manager at charity End Youth Homelessness. EYH is an umbrella organisation that brings together youth homelessness charities across the UK in order to help share resources and experiences and to create a louder voice around the issue. She had come along as the APA had decided to adopt EYH as their charity, to see if they could help raise their profile. Despite the enthusiasm, that first meeting could have been a non-starter – so many different voices and ideas that it was hard to imagine quite what might come of this collaboration.
Ten months later and, it turns out, something very special. That’s the thing about producers. They’re bloody good at making things happen. This week, on March 21st, EYH launched their new creative campaign #NowYouSeeMe, designed to highlight the epidemic of ‘hidden homelessness’ among 16-25 year olds.
Artist David Oliveira has created a series of beautiful yet haunting wire sculptures which will be placed in prominent train stations and shopping centres around the UK. The fragile figures are barely there, representing the idea that youth homelessness is an invisible issue. They’re a forgotten group that is often forced to ‘sofa-surf’; sleeping on the floors and sofas of friends or acquaintances. Once they exhaust goodwill they often resort to more desperate measures – sleeping on night buses, injuring themselves for a hospital bed, trying to find a ‘date’ for the night, or worse.
“I wanted to create three-dimensional sketches of hidden homeless young people by “drawing” semi-visible human figures in wire. Inspired by traditional drawing techniques, I used the wire as a line moving through three-dimensional space, to create outlines. I chose this design solution because of its ability to express vulnerability and invisibility; both of which are important themes for hidden homeless young people. I chose to work with wire because it’s urbane, malleable and strong. The empty spaces between the wire add an ethereal quality and communicate the fact that the body isn’t fully visible,” explains David.
The launch has been supported by a beautiful film, produced by Ridley Scott Creative Group production company Black Dog Films and directed by Frankie Markot. Other companies who volunteered time to the project include Pitch and Sync, The Mill, Iconoclast, Prettybird and more [if I’ve left you off, give me a kick! Everyone who gave time, ideas and resources to this deserves credit].
So how did that messy scrum of ideas solidify into this thoughtful creative project? The answer is a lot of hard work and passion from across London’s production community. I was honoured enough to see it come to life – and it’s been a bit of a journey.
After the initial, directionless brain dump, the APA decided that what was needed was a bit of structure. Enter planner Charlie Snow, who managed to narrow down what EYH needed (to raise their profile to attract more corporate support) and who they needed to reach. The initial focus was around some sort of film – it is the bread and butter of the APA members after all – but without media buy, we figured we needed something that could have more impact.
That’s where the idea of creating ‘invisible’ sculptures of young people that could be placed in prominent places came about. From there we started talks with various artists, until David Oliveira emerged.
APA co-chair John Hackney was one of the driving figures behind the project, pushing things forward, hustling for resources and engaging with artists. "Having spent a working life in Soho, I am critically aware of the plight of homeless young people, so I was inspired to try and help End Youth Homelessness' important work nationally,” says John. “A veritable box of Liquorice Allsorts of volunteers, producers, directors, editors etc. were assembled from the APA to create a think tank. Homeless young people feel overlooked, invisible. And so, the strategy distilled down to one word - ‘Invisibility’. The idea emerged to create ‘invisible’ sculptures. We're delighted to be working with artist David Oliveira, whose wire figures not only describe ‘Invisibility’ but are arresting and provocative in their own right."
Then came the question of funds. EYH partners Eversheds Sutherland and the Design Museum offered help with the launch… but money was needed to create the sculptures and to transport them around the UK. A group of volunteers, including The Mill’s Tyler Hope Chambers and Kati Hall and the APA’s Becca Gribbin put on a comedy night with Pink Protest to raise cash and a GoFundMe page was launched.
And so here we are. On Thursday night, the Design Museum hosted the launch, showcasing the sculptures. Appropriately enough the museum is displaying the figures during its Home Futures exhibition. “With our exhibition Home Futures, our display with Peter Barber ‘100 Mile City and Other Stories’ and our designers in residence showcase which gave four young designers the opportunity to explore the theme of ‘Dwelling’, over the last few months we have been focusing on the theme of home and design responses to it. In that context, it makes so much sense to us as a museum to shine a light on the important issue of homelessness and work with our partners on staging this event,” says Alice Black, co-director, the Design Museum.
While the past ten months has seen the group focused on bringing the project to life, the launch gave us all a chance to reflect on just why we had been doing this. Youth homelessness is an enormous social issue. In 2018, 103,000 16-25 year-olds asked their local authority for help because they were homeless or at risk. 52% received no documented support. But to put the numbers into a human context, Prettybird’s Juliette Larthe gave a shocking and surprising speech detailing her own experiences as a homeless young person cast adrift in London – and the support that she got to turn her life around and get a job in the media industry. Those in the audience from the production community, who have known Juliette for years, had no idea about her past. Her brave decision to reveal her challenging early experiences brought home just how prevalent the issue is.
After a stint at the Design Museum, the project will go on the road around the UK. The first stop is set to be Westfield Stratford next weekend, and there are also confirmed locations in Manchester and Glasgow.
For Nick Connolly, MD of End Youth Homelessness, the project is a chance for the public and policy makers to really start taking the question of youth homelessness seriously. EYH’s local charities do what they can to support struggling young people but there are tens of thousands slipping through the net. It’s particularly sad as intervening early in the spiral of homelessness is the most effective time to help people turn their lives around.
Neuroplasticity, explains Nick, is greater among teenagers, meaning intervening in those early years allows people a better chance of healing - and with homelessness generally on the rise there's never been a more crucial time to end youth homelessness.
“Youth homelessness is overlooked and misunderstood. EYH's Member charities do their best for young people every day but unless society as a whole share this responsibility too many of today's homeless young people will become the rough sleepers of the future,” says Nick.” The #NowYouSeeMe campaign is a wonderful opportunity to remind ourselves of the inspiring capacity of young people to overcome the challenges they face if they receive the right support at the right time.”
I'm going to sign off with a shameless plea to adland - please share the video and pictures and the #NowYouSeeMe hashtag to support the hard work of your colleagues in the industry. I've seen just how much hard work has gone into this project!