Meet The Present: a charity eradicating homelessness with practical empathy

For those of you confused about how to volunteer or donate: why not try ‘Tinder for giving back.’ The Present believes entrepreneurs are in a unique position to give professional help to social start-ups. Lianda Tel outlines one of their most exciting projects, which is set to challenge conventional wisdom about homelessness.

Based in Amsterdam, The Present provides a network of professionals and projects — giving them the opportunity to find each other. Initiatives can be long running projects, open volunteer positions, or even regular meetups. This successful concept has seen over 500 professionals sign up, launching campaigns that grew into full-blown institutions in their own right. 

One of their current projects, Give Me 5, has been covered extensively in the media, and joined by many well-known hotel groups. The project asks hotels in The Netherlands to donate five rooms, or 1% of their total occupancy, to accommodate economically homeless citizens, and give them the chance to get back on their feet.

Their ambitious goal is to get 300 homeless people permanently off the streets within 12 months. According to studies, it takes about 3 months for someone who lived on the street torecover from the stressful and cold (literal & metaphorical) reality of displaced life. This is what the project offers, complementing the help from De Regenboog Groep, which supports the hotel-guests in their transition back into stable citizenship. 

Personal success stories about Give Me 5 have been making the rounds, with participants bravely speaking about about their troubles and successes, as Give Me 5 helped them return to normalcy.

Marnix Geus, the founder of The Present, initially started this project after meeting a homeless man named Paul and renting him a room for the night. He shared Paul’s story and others joined in his effort to get Paul off the streets. Marnix is still in daily contact with Paul, whose journey has been anything but easy.  

In Dutch society, some assume that homelessness is almost “a choice” — but nothing is further from the truth. Economic homelessness is on the rise, especially since COVID-19 appeared. Begging and sleeping outside is punishableby law in The Netherlands. Fines are given to those caught sleeping or begging on the streets — and when they aren’t paid, jail time can be given; which, for someone without a paycheck, is pretty much unavoidable. 

Paul has unfortunately spent multiple months in prison for these “offenses”, even after the fines were paid off by donors. After being released he was helped by The Present; who gave him a small studio and guided him through job applications. Marnix and Paul wish to show that assumptions about the homeless aren’t always right; and that restrictive laws can actually hinder the person’s return to normalcy.

An episode of “Kruispunt” gives us another personable example; in it we meet Wilfred, who found himself in an escalation of simultaneous bad events, causing him to lose his employment and housing. After some time of couch surfing, it ultimately became clear the unimaginable homelessness wasn’t so inconceivable. In fear of relying on government handouts instead of finding new jobs, Wilfred juggled sleeping outside with accepting the kindness of strangers or community centers, especially during the cold winter times. Through the Give Me 5 program, Wilfred was offered a hotel room for 3 months to recharge his batteries, heal to a more presentable version, and find employment. He was able to get himself out there again and apply for a new job and a new start. You can find more on this here. (in Dutch.)

The Present organises meetups where like minded people get together to brainstorm new community initiatives and contribute in a meaningful way. You can find their next meetup here.

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