An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?
In between sludging through snow banks to bring supplies to homeless camps in Utah and working at a homeless women’s shelter in Portland, Oregon, Bethany Haug took some time off to get her MFA in creative writing.
She spent two years writing poems about love, transportation, and motor homes. She also started teaching developmental writing and creative writing to young people. Put all of that together, and you can see where she might have gotten the idea for the art bus.
“Kids who are homeless and aren’t in school or have large obstacles in their lives could definitely use a creative outlet. They need to be encouraged to read and write and create. And even if you take self-expression out of it, being creative is just something positive to do with your time while you’re trying to survive,” she says.
Bethany wants to build a traveling arts education center and zine-making bus to give homeless youth the chance to express themselves.
She understands that drop-in centers don’t always work for homeless teens and runaways, but hopes a mobile center could bring arts programming and non-traditional educational resources directly to them.
“The advantage of mobile outreach is that even though you might be affiliated with a drop-in center that has rules and obvious hours, you’re outside of that. You are stepping into their space as opposed to asking them to step into yours,” she says. “Because of that, mobile outreach has been particularly effective in reaching people who live in camps or who might be for whatever reason uncomfortable in social service buildings—especially with homeless youth who might be runaways or have come from foster care and don’t want to share their identity with authorities.”
And while the opportunity to be creative is important, the secondary purpose of the art bus would be to team up with existing homeless service organizations to connect the kids who come to her bus with other essential services and survival resources.
“Only after those needs are taken care of can someone start to think about self-expression,” she says.
She envisions the bus working in one of two ways—either as a center that moves across the country teaming up with many organizations that might not have the resources to offer arts programming, or as the mobile branch of one drop-in center in a city where there’s a lot of need.
“I live in Portland right now, and we’re lucky to have some of the best homeless youth services in the country,” she says. “But I wonder what other communities could really benefit from this.”
Bethany has researched some existing creative mentoring services but hasn’t reached out to any organizations just yet. While she feels confident that this is a great idea, she’s never done anything like it before and feels pretty overwhelmed.
“I don’t even know if existing agencies would take me seriously. Like, do they even care?” she says.
Some of her biggest obstacles so far include:
1. Funding. Bethany currently works full-time as a caretaker for disabled adults, but she would rather be working on the art bus. She wants to know if there’s enough money out there that she could make this her primary job, or if any existing social service or community arts organizations would hire her to run this kind of program for them.
“I’m preoccupied with having to survive right now. I have student debt and I don’t have any savings—it’s just not financially feasible for me to think about doing this full-time right now,” she says.
2. Lack of business development and budget management experience. “I don’t have any knowledge or training in this. I have nothing to compare to and no experience, so where do I start?”
3. Building partnerships. Bethany wants to run this program in tandem with other organizations but isn’t sure how to start the conversation.
“I want to approach organizations that work with homeless youth but don’t have any creative writing programming, or with literary arts or community service organizations that don’t reach out to homeless youth but would like to,” she says. “But what do I say to them? And why would they work with me if I’m basically on my own and have no experience or money?”
How you can help
- Does this project already exist somewhere else?
- Can you think of an organization that might benefit from a partnership with the art bus?
- Can you connect Bethany to other organizations or programs that work in creative mentoring for homeless youth?
- Can you offer any advice about organizational structure or funding options for a program like this?
- Do you know of any other mobile programs Bethany could look at as a model, whether for social good or otherwise?
- Do you have any tips for how to approach a homeless youth organization?
If you have any bright ideas for Bethany, leave them in the comments below or send her a message through Idealist. If the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!
Are you a practical dreamer with an idea that’s just starting to take shape? If you’d like to be a part of this series, or know someone else who would be a good fit, email firstname.lastname@example.org.