Shining a light on homelessness

Shining a light on homelessness
Pictured is Catherine O’Kelly, Managing Director of Bord Gáis Energy, and Pat Dennigan, CEO of Focus Ireland at the launch of Shine A Light Night 2019. Bord Gáis Energy has announced an extension of its partnership with homeless charity Focus Ireland to sponsor its annual fundraising initiative, Shine A Light Night. Business leaders across Ireland are being urged to sleep out for one night and in doing so raise vital funds to help alleviate homelessness

Business leaders and staff will sleep outside on one night in October to raise funds for homeless services and to raise awareness of the ever-growing problem, writes Lorraine Courtney

The crisis of homelessness across our country is the responsibility of everyone, right? There are 1,733 families homeless in Ireland today and this number is growing daily even as the country’s economic vital signs are getting better. With far-reaching consequences – for the people affected and for our charities stretched and spent in trying to stem the growing problem – there are questions to be asked of us all.

In response, Bord Gáis Energy has announced an extension of its partnership with homeless charity Focus Ireland to sponsor its annual fundraising initiative, Shine a Light Night. While you lie on your sofa on October 18, kicking off your work shoes after a long week and settling in for the night, a group of Irish business leaders will be sleeping outside in the damp and cold.

The campaign does what it says: it shines a light on homelessness. It challenges business leaders across Ireland to sleep out for one night and in doing so raise vital funds to help the homeless. The support Focus Ireland gets from the business community is central to the delivery of its regular services, but also helps the organisation to end homelessness and especially to break the inter-generational cycle of homelessness.

A total of €4 million has been raised through Shine a Light Night since 2012 to help fund Focus Ireland’s work. These funds have helped the charity to support a record 15,500 people last year who were either homeless or at risk of losing their home.

Bord Gáis Energy’s sponsorship is in addition to the company’s ongoing partnership with the charity, which since 2015 has seen Bord Gáis Energy commit more than €2.4 million to help fight family homelessness. The partnership aims to minimise the chance of losing a home, to ease the disruption that homelessness can cause to everyday life and to aid the creation of a sustainable long-term solution to the issue.

“Focus Ireland works tirelessly with people experiencing homelessness to help them secure their home or to ensure they leave homelessness for good,” said Focus Ireland chief executive Pat Dennigan.

“We also work extensively across the area of prevention to make sure many other families and individuals never become homeless in the first place. We rely on the support of organisations like Bord Gáis Energy to make a success of fundraising events like Shine a Light Night.”

The rate of homelessness in Ireland is increasing at an alarming rate, with 10,378 people currently without a home. While there are many worthy causes out there that deserve support, Bord Gáis Energy based its selection of Focus Ireland on employee and customer research. Bord Gáis Energy HR partner Lorraine McCullen said: “There has always been a strong volunteering and fundraising spirit in Bord Gáis Energy and when we asked where we should direct our efforts, the research pointed us to the fight against homelessness and more specifically, the prevention of family homelessness.

“After careful consideration, we felt the charity partner that had the best fit with our values and our brand was Focus Ireland and we formed the original partnership in 2015. At that point homelessness was an emerging social problem which concerned our customers and our employees equally.”

Committing to a partnership with Focus Ireland gave Bord Gáis Energy a very practical way to show support for those struggling in our society. “Having already committed to €2.4 million and significant volunteer time, we took the additional step of sponsoring Shine a Light Night because unfortunately the homelessness crisis is the worst it has ever been and quite simply, more is needed,” she said.

Bord Gáis Energy is very proud of its partnership and what that has achieved so far.

“There is a strong emotional connection with the fact that 3,821 children in Ireland today have no home and that our support has both helped prevent further homelessness and funded very practical supports which we know make a difference,” said McCullen.

“For us it was always about doing more than providing a cheque. In addition to €2.4 million committed by Bord Gáis Energy, and the volunteering leave that we offer all employees, people have chosen to give so much more.”

Staff have shown huge creativity, drive and generosity whether fundraising or raising awareness for this cause. “Having participated in Shine a Light Night for three years, our teams know the difference that this one night can make and will be out in force to show that support,” McCullen said.

“We started this partnership simply wanting to make a difference. There have been so many positive consequences beyond the core benefit of combating homelessness. Companies can spend a lot on away days, development programmes and team-building events. We put a greater proportion of effort into our calendar of corporate responsibility events mainly resourced by volunteers within our organisation.”

This is smart thinking for any company doing business today. Employees are looking to work for companies that care about the impacts of their decisions on society and the environment, companies with a strong sense of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Corporate social responsibility used to be more of a box-ticking exercise, with the CSR department of company A talking to its equivalent in company B and nobody else being involved or really understanding what it meant. It’s not like that now. Many companies find their employees and potential recruits asking: what they are doing for the local community or the environment or local schools. People care about these things and they realise organisations can make a big difference in our world.

There has been a spike in the number of socially committed workers - people who want their employers to have a powerful social conscience. A report by employee benefits specialist Unum and the Future Laboratory revealed that, based on a survey of 3,000 people, 61 per cent of workers felt strongly that companies had a duty to make a positive contribution to society, while 59 per cent said they wanted to work for a company with a powerful social conscience.

“Apart from the obvious feelgood factor evidenced by very strong scores in our employee engagement survey, giving teams responsibility for coordinating events such as family sports days, telethons and children’s Christmas parties is an inclusive and motivating way to develop skills,” said McCullen.

“Some events, such as the Four Peaks Challenge we take on this week are more physically challenging and demand that people both dig deep and are open to accepting support from the team.

“Shine a Light Night is a unique experience in that it develops perspective and gratitude but it also a great leveller. It does not matter what your education or seniority in the organisation is . . . huddled in a sleeping bag on damp ground, beneath a dark autumn sky, we are all the same.”

Bord Gáis Energy managing director Catherine O’Kelly said: “The current homelessness crisis in towns and communities across Ireland is worse than ever. It is heartbreaking that 3,821 children in Ireland today have no home. The team and I are committed to supporting Focus Ireland in the crucial work it does to address the causes of homelessness and increase support for those who are at risk of losing their home.

“Shine a Light Night is an incredible initiative that has gathered more and more support year on year. However, with the alarming rise in homelessness, we need this year’s event to be bigger than ever in raising vital funds to support this devastating social issue. We are extremely proud to sponsor this year’s campaign.

“I urge every business in Ireland to join me, sign up and give one night to make this the most successful Shine a Light Night yet. It may be one night of your life, but it can save suffering for those who are homeless.”

On Friday, October 18, the eighth annual Shine a Light Night will see business leaders sleep out at the Law Society of Ireland in Blackhall Place, Dublin, and at Cork’s historic Spike Island. Businesses around Ireland can also sign up to support the initiative by pledging to fundraise and sleep out at their workplace. People can choose to sleep-out in the office, lobby, car park or garden.

If you can’t sleep out at your workplace, join staff from other companies at the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin. In 2018, more than 230 staff from more than 24 companies slept out at the Iveagh Gardens.

For further information and to sign up to participate in Shine a Light Night 2019 visit focusireland.ie/shinealight

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