Spread the Word: Because Homeless People Read Too

“I see someone! Park up somewhere.”
“He’s there, sitting by the freeway, holding a book.”

My cousin Sheena is the designated driver and I’m tasked with looking out for homeless people in California to interview for our “Hello 2015” project.

We pull up, get out and walk towards the bearded man sitting by the freeway. As we approach him I recall a young woman I know in London, Priyanka Mogul who founded a campaign called “Spread the Word”

The aim of the campaign is simple: to make life for those on the streets a little more bearable through literature.

It makes sense. And if we’re honest with ourselves, isn’t escapism something we all do through some kind of means? Escape our thoughts, escape our minds, escape our circumstances.

The campaign acknowledges it cannot solely solve homelessness but can provide something fulfilling and mentally stimulating for the homeless.


The man sitting by the freeway tells us his story: “See, I got out of prison. I did 33”
He tells us his plans: “I’m trying to stay out of trouble and I’m off parole, so now I’m trying get back on my feet.”

We ask about the book he’s holding in his hands: “The Broker”. He tells us details about the plot, the characters and where he’s got to.

Reading has the potential to teach us all lessons, reduce stress and encourages positive thinking for the future. We wish him all the best with his personal journey and hope he enjoys the rest of his book.

After leaving the freeway we find another homeless man walking his bike across the pavement. “As long as you’re not cops, I’ll tell you where you can find people to talk to. He takes our word and we take his direction.

Doistw2ng so, we meet another interesting individual sitting in a McDonalds. He tells us his new year’s resolution: “My grandfather published a book in 1973 called ‘Struggle for Survival’ but he also died in that year and the copies ran out which the publishing company printed… it hasn’t been reprinted. I want to write a new foreword to it, a new foreword and afterword, you know- add some things to it.”

These two interactions alone allowed me to truly understand the meaning of literature and books to those on the streets. There is value in every page. Along with emotive impact reading can also improve analytical skills, concentration and focus. This combined with an expansion of knowledge and vocabulary can all be of benefit in some way.

When I think of empowerment that comes from reading, lyrics of Akala’s Fire in the Booth resound in my mind:

Stuck on the block, READ, READ!
Sittin’ in the box, READ, READ!
Don’t let them say what you can achieve
Cos when people are enslaved one of the first things they do is stop them reading
Cos it is well understood that intelligent people will take their freedom
Cos if we knew our power we would understand that we can’t be held down
If we knew our power…”10393757_10205889600781235_2520604220738576563_n

Meeting these individuals on the streets also caused me to re-evaluate the role of books in my own life too- all the ones I’ve been “meaning to read”. Truth is, if I truly mean ’I’ve been meaning to read”, I need to make time and carry that forward. Intention and action should fall hand in hand.

5,000 miles away from where the Spread the Word campaign began, I thought about all the power and positivity that it must bring and how I hoped to write about it when I returned and encourage others to check out the campaign.

This campaign aims to get more books into homeless shelters through partnerships. If you haven’t already, check out the website here: www.spreadthewordcampaign.co.uk and if you can support, get in touch with them!


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