friends-and-purposeMaff Potts spent his professional life working with charities for the homeless in England. But he was frustrated that all of his work did not seem to be changing outcomes for the people he was working with.

The result of his reassessment is a program that focuses on addressing what Maff feels are the two psychological problems that bedevil the homeless… and affect many of us who are not homeless as well: the lack of purpose and the lack of friends.

He set up a charity called Camerados to try to address these two issues. Their first projects are a series of drop in centers called Living Rooms which are located in some of the worst urban areas in England.

We ran across his work in an article in the Washington Post. Quoting from that article…

Inside a library in a depressed seaside town in Northern England is a room converted into a cafe designed to look like a grandmother’s homey living room.

On any given day, there might be an elderly woman playing Scrabble with a man in his 20s. There might be a homeless man making coffee for a mother whose daughter recently died. Seated on the vintage-looking couches and armchairs there will be strangers sharing stories, offering counsel and friendship.

This community open space seeks to address the central issues that commonly lead to homelessness, addiction and poor health: Isolation and a lack of purpose.

Over the years during his work on homelessness, when he met people in their darkest moments, some talking openly about suicide, Potts began asking them to do him a favor. One man mentioned he’d been a painter, so Potts started talking about how the reception area could use redecorating and asked the man for his advice. The man ended up offering to repaint it himself. The task gave him a purpose, a reason to keep living.

“The thing that led to a lasting transformation was when they helped somebody else,” Potts said. “That was the magic moment.”

So Potts started thinking there must be a way to improve the lives of people who are struggling not by making them feel like they’re always recipients of charity, which can be demoralizing, but by giving them a space to help others — and by extension, themselves.

These are powerful ideas, not just for the homeless, but for all of us. Watch this video for more.

For more information

The Washington Post article

Camerados website

Sense of Purpose and Health