Find your starfish
Published 5 August 2018
In recent weeks I’ve had the opportunity to talk to lots of people and organisations that are interested in homelessness and the work of 3rd Space. Almost universally, people ask me “what is the cure for homelessness?” The first answer to that is pretty simple….housing.
There is more to it than that, of course and when we start to discuss the ins and outs of the issues our visitors face, inevitably things start to feel a bit complex and overwhelming. It interests me that for many people, the first place they head to is wanting to know what the largescale ‘fix’ is and when that seems inordinately difficult, they become disengaged.
I tend to get quite caught up in the largescale end of things (given my role as CEO) but every now and then, I get the chance to spend one-on-one time with our visitors. Last week I was working alongside a visitor sorting donations. I was impressed with his ability to appraise the donations in terms of their suitability for our service, sort them, recommend where we might send some that weren’t fit for our purposes and also tell me how to spot a fake Louis Vuitton handbag. He approached the work with precision and decisiveness. Together, we worked at lightning pace, sifting through bags and areas. I found myself pondering on the untapped potential of my workmate and whether he knew how talented and effective he was.
Someone told me the starfish story recently. I admit I have never heard it but it resonated with me:
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
Adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
The big picture is important. As we enter Homelessness Week, we know that a largescale targeted and evidence-based approach to the appalling state of homelessness in this country is needed. I also believe that for each of us, as individuals, we can do something effective, something that matters.
Go find your starfish!
3rd Space CEO