Updated: Apr 12
Community Leadership Interviews
First I had to decide on a community. Then I had to identify people and entities that act as leaders in that community. I chose the homeless community in Halifax which includes those who may not be homeless themselves but act as leaders in the fight against homelessness in Halifax. It’s all one community of people. During the completion of my interviews I decided to undergo an experiment of my own. I figured that the leaders that I would interview would have a more profound effect on me if I was doing something myself in order to attempt to understand the issues that they are trying to solve. I decided to conduct my interviews during a 24-hour homelessness challenge I created for myself. During the challenge I had no phone, no wallet, no food and no water. I used my resources in order to make it through. My largest resources were shelters led by Joe Morgan and Cherry Laxton. Joe Morgan (24 years) the current director of Hope Cottage(50 years), a homeless shelter on Brunswick Street in Halifax and Cherry Laxton the Chief Operating Officer of Harbor Rescue Mission (10 years) another homeless shelter in Halifax. Both interviews led to findings largely amplified by my experience and the headspace I found myself in. That the relevance of what they were saying was heightened because the experience of homelessness was so fresh in my mind.
The experience itself certainly was life-changing. a humbling 24 hours in which I was removed from multiple locations by police officers and security guards, melting snow to stay hydrated and walking everywhere. I met some incredible people and conducted interviews with some people living without homes. I better understood the struggles of living without a home but luckily got to return to my apartment when the challenge was over. This was not the case for Graig and Sara, whom I interviewed for The Empathy Walk. Within the challenge I walked over 30 km due to the lack of transportation. By assuming the role of a homeless person, it allowed me to better understand what I think leaders should be like in the fight against homelessness..
The first interview I conducted was Cherry Laxton. When I asked Cherry what she thought the most important trait was that makes a good leader and she responded with confidence. Confidence in your ability to lead. She said after confidence is approachability. Leaders must be approachable in order to lead groups. The groups they are leading must feel involved. Not tenadive in asking any questions and voicing concerns they may have. She mentioned that she thinks the key to approachability is her own ability to do all of the jobs that she is asking her group members to do. She said that there's nothing that gets done in the kitchen, that she is not willing to do herself. This leading by example mindset allows for team members to feel included and valuable. I then asked her how she chooses to exemplify this sort of behaviour on a day-to-day basis. Cherry told me that she tries to make sure she is always being involved. She says she tries her best to give directions and not orders. She recognizes that the time of her volunteers is just as valuable as her own and slowing down to coach them results in higher quality work and happier people. I finally asked her what leadership style she feels she uses the most. She responded with leadership by example. I gave her examples of leadership styles mentioning autocratic leadership which she told me she tries to avoid at all costs. She finds autocratic leadership unfair because all opinions should be evaluated the same at Soul Harbor. I began speaking further with Cherry and we began speaking about how leadership plays a role in the fight against homelessness. She brought up the example of the Salvation Army Men’s Shelter. This is a shelter that will lead veterans through the process of finding housing if they are struggling to do so. Transitional housing. Those who stay at the shelter will be coached through how to find homes and get back on their feet. (Ayers, 2017) After this incredible conversation I still had a lot of time to spend on the streets. I then went to Hope Cottage.
There I met Joe Morgan. Joe is the director at a smaller operation that incredibly serves as many people daily as the Souls Harbor location I was at before. I struck out my conversation with Joe and he was incredibly receptive about my mission and listened to me speak about my initiative called the concept project. When I pivoted the conversation to talk about leadership he told me that wasn't interested in speaking about leadership. I asked him why, stating that I believe he's an incredible leader doing great work. He mentioned the culture that Hope Cottage tries to uphold. He said this culture was created 50 years ago when the kitchen first opened. We spoke about the structure of the kitchen and the role of the board of directors in decision-making regarding funding and loss of donors due to the pandemic. I also learned about the Telus sponsor mental health van. Through the conversation I was able to learn a lot about services that are available in Halifax which include multiple kitchens that feed people and multiple shelters that can harbor people when it is too cold. He spoke about the Men's Shelter mentioning the importance of both the men's and women's shelters. Although representation from homeless men is larger, the women without homes in Halifax open time struggling more. This is interesting regarding the quality of life and mental well-being because when measuring physical health, physiological state, social relationships and environment it is much harder to be homeless as a woman. (Buccieri, 2020) He decided to deflect my classification of his leadership role and give it to father Joe Mills. Father Joe started the kitchen 50 years ago and Mr. Morgan was adamant that he was the true leader. He said this was because he was the one who took nothing and made it something. He said that actions speak loud and Father Joe’s initiative to start the kitchen and create a culture of community was the real example of leading the Hope Cottage crew. When I asked my question on leadership styles he had mentioned many partners of the Cottage. The SSVDP is the Church affiliated operation. He said that the owners of SSVDP use autocratic leadership to run the kitchen letting workers at the operation know how they would like things to be carried out. Mr. Morgan was an incredibly intelligent kind man. I watched him take his belt off and give it to a man outside the shelter. Joe said that he likes to lead by listening to people's stories and doing the right thing by helping people. When speaking about the concept project he mentioned that although he doesn't consider himself a leader he considers me one. He brought up a separate initiative called the Jacob project. The Jacob project was led by Jacob who first started the initiative when he was younger using his hockey team as resources to make donations to Hope Cottage. Joe Morgan mentioned that he believes Jacob is also an incredible leader because of his ability to take initiative and make something out of nothing.
Something out of nothing is my favourite life mottos. I'm constantly trying to workshop the right words in the right order to give purpose to various mental and physical challenges that I put myself through. I was able to complete three assignments during the entire challenge. I was assigned a paper called the empathy walk by my ethics and social responsibility class. This spurred me to put together a project for my research class knowing that if I were going to spend 24 hours outside also conducting relevant interviews it might be in my best interest to be well researched on the topic at hand. Welcome to My Life. Turning School into the concept project.
Buccieri, Kristy, Oudshoorn, Abram, Waegemakers Schiff, Jeannette, Pauly, Bernadette, Schiff, Rebecca, & Gaetz, Stephen. (2020). Quality of Life and Mental Well-Being: A Gendered Analysis of Persons Experiencing Homelessness in Canada. Community Mental Health Journal, 56(8), 1496-1503.
Tom Ayers. (2017). Tackling veteran homelessness; Salvation Army, VETS combine for quick action in Halifax project. Chronicle-herald (Halifax, N.S.), pp. Chronicle-herald (Halifax, N.S.), 2017-09-02.