Looking Ahead: Confronting Homelessness

Our industry — and our world — has a problem. Let’s work together as only we can to help solve it.

Author: Sherrif Karamat       

Sherrif Karamat, CAE

In this month’s cover story and CMP Series, Convene shines a light on the complex issue of homelessness and the many ways it intersects with the business events industry.

It’s important to keep the conversation about such pressing social issues at the forefront, so I’m proud we are publishing this story. As I’ve said many times before, the business events industry can be a catalyst for change in a way few other industries can — and as this month’s story conveys, homelessness is one societal ill we should use our power to help solve.

Homelessness has huge costs, first and foremost of which is human suffering. But there is also economic pain, which cities can feel as a direct result of the way our industry’s decision makers evaluate where to bring their events.

Forty-two percent of respondents to a recent Convene survey said they have rejected a destination as a meeting site because of homeless populations surrounding the convention center and nearby hotels. Even one such response is too many. We know what lost meetings can mean to a city’s bottom line.

And even if this is the only language our industry has that people who have the most power to enact positive change will listen to, it’s a tool we should use.

But we also know that we are tackling the issue at the same time in other ways. Our industry provides compassionate, direct relief to homeless communities. Survey respondents shared how their events include corporate social responsibility efforts that redirect leftover meals to food banks, raise money to alleviate homelessness, outfit shelters, and other initiatives that make a difference in the destinations where they meet.

Moreover, we play an even more crucial role when we lean into the mission of our work: bringing the best minds together to find and share solutions.

Our industry galvanizes disparate people; it connects people who have the will and the means to find solutions to complex problems. Events put city leaders, subject matter experts, professors, scientists, and practitioners in the same room. We unite the most innovative thinkers in cities across the world. This month’s cover story describes how collaborative action — what our industry does best — is addressing homelessness on many fronts.

This is far from easy. As we all know, homelessness is a symptom of wider issues. A person can be suffering from homelessness because of poverty, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, or any number of underlying causes. Affordable housing can’t be the only solution that’s offered. The long-term solution is to create social and economic equity. We want the rising tide to lift all boats.

As we gather in the days and months ahead, we must engage with stakeholders to make a difference in our communities. We need to send the message that as a caring society, we continually seek solutions to problems that cause human suffering and economic pain — and that’s where I see our industry having a tremendous opportunity to take the lead.