A unique homelessness approach built for women

The US is in a housing crisis, and with a potential recession looming and the cost of living continuing to climb, it’s becoming harder by the day to make ends meet.

People are ending up on the street, and as winter months loom that can be deadly in colder states.

To combat this, a New York City non-profit is taking a ‘housing first’ approach, especially for women in crisis.

What is HousingPlus?

HousingPlus has been around for about two decades. Its founder, Rita Zimmer, noticed that most homeless shelters were made with men in mind and saw a need for shelters focused on giving women a place to go and by extension their children.

 “When they’re homeless, the children are homeless,” Zimmer said. 

HousingPlus works a little differently than normal shelters. They offer everything from studios to 3-bedroom apartments at drastically reduced prices, being capped at 30% of an individual’s annual income. They currently have leased out 150 such properties sprinkled throughout Brooklyn with another 100 under construction. 

Tenants pay their share to the organization which then pays the rest to the landlords of the locations. 

The goal is to provide stable housing so these women can seek help for other problems plaguing them like drug dependency or mental health conditions.

“Our first tenants were formerly incarcerated women who had completed their sentences but could not find supportive housing that would accept them,” they say.

“Ever since, HousingPlus has helped women navigate the structural barriers encountered when re-entering the community following imprisonment—public benefit/entitlement services, the foster care system, and seeking living-wage employment.”

Rita’s work earned her the AARP Purpose Prize in 2022.

This article aligns with the UN SDG No Poverty.

Equality Wellbeing

The Ruth Ellis Center gives a home to LGBTQ+ people in need

Safe spaces, where you can go and be yourself without fear of rejection, are incredibly important for the LGBTQ+ youth community, who are at a disproportionate risk of being bullied because of their identities. 

Sometimes the lives that LGBTQ+ people are coming from are purely unsustainable and they need support or new housing, and that’s what a place like the Ruth Ellis Clairmont Center is for.

The Ruth Ellis Center began a foster program about a decade ago to little fanfare, not wanting to draw attention to themselves due to the overall acceptance or lack thereof of the LGBTQ+ community. In contrast, they recently held a ribbon cutting unveiling their new permanent supportive housing and services facility for LGBTQ+ young people. Hundreds of visitors and community members were joined by a parade of local and national politicians.

“Nationwide, up to 40% of all youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ, to combat this disparity Ruth Ellis Center has developed Clairmount Center,” the organization tells Smiley News. “This 43 – unit permanent supportive housing program for young people experiencing chronic homelessness and living with a disability opened in September 2022. This facility offers integrated health services, career readiness and skill building programs, community spaces, and a youth advisory art therapy studio. Ruth Ellis Center considered all social determinants of health and wellbeing when deciding the location and design of the building.”

The home is named for Ruth Ellis, a Black lesbian born in 1899 who always kept her doors open for queer people in need. 

The building offers not just affordable housing but also health services and even built-in, but well-hidden safety features to keep the residents safe in what is becoming an incredibly polarizing climate for the community. 

“Many of our LGBTQ community are at a higher rate of homelessness, exposing them to violence,” says Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib, who secured $1 million in federal funding for the Clairmount Center and was on hand for its opening. “[If] you live [at the Clairmount Center], you get the services you need, and the love that you need, and the public health access that you need.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


‘Conversations can change people’s lives’

We all have mental health, and – according to OurWorldinData – just over 10 percent of all people, or 792 million people deal with a mental health disorder.

While many places around the word have access to support – such as education, therapy, or even medications – not everywhere has that luxury. This is something that Vedica Podar, the founder of Kangaroo Minds, took to heart. 

Vedica has previously worked in schools in India. “One thing I noticed was the lack of awareness around mental health,” she tells Smiley News. “The stigma might be different between living in urban settings versus in rural settings but both have a lack in understanding.” 

This is where Kangaroo Minds comes in.

The name was inspired by kangaroos in the wild, jumping from one spot to another, much like the mind jumps from idea to idea, and also how they leap forward, hopefully to brighter pastures. Vedica founded it to offer people mental health support in the form of education. To do this they developed a technique called the A.S.K. model.

The A.S.K. model is broken up into three parts: Awareness, Support, and Knowledge. The first centers on spreading awareness of mental health disorders, helping people understand that anyone around them might be going through something. The second focuses on offering a helping hand when and where people need it. The third is about helping people learn how to help themselves and those around them. 

“I used to get from the students I spoke to,” Vedica says. “‘This is the first time I’ve felt seen and heard,’ or ‘this is the first time someone has had this conversation with me,’ and that is something that’s gonna stay with me that, you know, I actually feel more of a person.’”

To meet their ends, Kangaroo Minds employs just about every means of communication on the internet: educational videos, conversations with experts, social media campaigns, a collection of mental health hotlines for countries all over the world, and much more. 

They serve all over the world but with a particular focus on South Asian countries. While they started with small meet and greets early on, they moved to a primarily online model after the pandemic threw everyone online.

“I really believe in the power of conversation,” Vedica says. “Conversations can change people’s lives, and sometimes you just need to reach out and check in on someone.”

“There are gonna be people along the way who are still struggling, so just holding that kind of space, I think makes a huge difference.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


Volunteer letter writers spread festive cheer

Writing a letter or card to someone you don’t know might sound like an unusual concept – but it’s one that really does spread cheer far and wide.

That’s why Give…A Few Words – a Huddersfield-born nonprofit organisation – wants to encourage volunteers to sign up.

“We post letters out all year round but Christmas can be a really difficult time for many,” says founder Sharron Wilkinson.

“Whilst many people are enjoying the festivities, others are
spending it alone or having a difficult time. Our letters go out to anyone who needs a bit of cheer.”

Sharron set up Give…A Few Words in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, knowing local care home residents were unable to see their family and friends.

Now, she sends not just the gift of letters to organisations, but also runs pop-up positive events in the community – all with a view of bringing people together and improving social connections.

Letters for Christmas

The ‘Letters for Christmas‘ campaign is now in its third year. “We have hundreds of volunteers busy writing personalised and general letters, cards, drawings, for many others in care homes, charities or for people alone (or who need a bit of cheer) across our community,” says Sharron.

“Our volunteers are amazing. They are compassionate, kind and
genuinely lovely people who go out of their way to help others.

“They write about all sorts of things, such as theatre, astronomy, outdoors, history, sport, animals, films, art, knitting, musicals.

“People who receive our letters are astounded that a stranger has taken time out of their busy lives to write to them.”

Want to become a volunteer letter writer?

You don’t need fancy stationery – you can write on anything or, if preferable, email your letter though and Give… A Few Words will print it.

Last year, one person receiving a letter at Christmas told the organisation: “The letters made my year, I don’t see many people over the festive period, so knowing other people had gone out of their way to write to a stranger, meant so much.”

Sharron adds: “We need as many people as possible to pen a few
words or draw a picture to spread some much needed smiles this Christmas.”

If you’re interested, visit and they’ll send you a name of someone who needs a letter – or you can pop a general message or card to their Po Box or by email

The deadline for letters, cards or emails to be posted back is
Wednesday 7th December to allow enough time to check everything before their post heads out.

Find out more.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


The 10 happiest places to live in Britain

We love to hear news about positivity, optimism and hope – so it’s always interesting to hear where the happiest places to live are.

Every year, RightMove asks people in Great Britain to tell them how they feel about where they live. “We ask people what they love about their local areas, and what makes a place really feel like home,” they say.  

The annual survey is now in its 11th year, and this year they heard from more than 21,000 people living in towns, cities and villages up and down the nation.  

Residents score their local areas on things like community spirit, and how much access they have to nature and green spaces, as well as artistic and cultural activities. 

“Our Happy at Home survey really shows that the things that make people happy to live in their area are not so much the physical aspects of that area but more the personal aspects, such as our sense of belonging, the community and the people,” says our property expert, Tim Bannister.  

“The last few months have undoubtedly been difficult for many, and as we learned during another difficult period in 2020, this is often when we look to our local area and community for support and happiness,” he adds. 

So, which locations in Great Britain have been voted the happiest by the people that live in them?

1. St Ives, South West

2. Galashiels, Scotland

3. Woodbridge, East of England

4. Hexham, North East

5. Perth, Scotland

6. Harrogate, Yorkshire and The Humber

7. Anglesey, Wales

8. Bury St Edmunds, East of England

9. Stirling, Scotland

10. Cirencester, South West

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


This orchestra aims to reduce the stigma of mental illness

Music is an art. It brings people together.

From concert halls, to crowded living rooms or outdoor venues, people often bond through the music surrounding them. Yet still, there are barriers to entry. Classical music, in particular, is populated by elitism that makes it hard to break into and enjoy for the layman, even more if you’re in society’s margins. 

That’s where an orchestra like Me2 comes in.

Me2 started with one goal in mind: making classical music accessible, primarily by opening it up to people who are struggling with mental illness. The first conductor and co-founder, Ronald Braunstein, lost his previous role due to a bipolar episode he was experiencing.

“[Ronald] came to me one day and said, ‘I’m not going back into this the same old rat race, I’m not going to put myself in a position where I can be stigmatized and discriminated against because people expect me to fit into a certain mold as a conductor,’” the Executive Director and co-founder of Me2, Caroline Whiddon, tells Smiley News.

“‘My brain obviously doesn’t work that way. I need a safe space. So I want to create an orchestra for people like me.’”

Caroline and Ronald founded Me2 in 2011. “I started to Google and of course realized very quickly that there was no such thing like us, especially in the classical music world, it’s kind of like the antithesis of the way that we’re trained,” Caroline says.

“Ronald went to Julliard, I went to the Eastman School of Music. Any of these schools, they train you to show up, be prepared, play the notes, do your job, and it’s really stressful.

“[So he said]… I want to get together with people like me who may not be quite as consistent, who may need a little extra help getting to rehearsal functioning within the group.”

Attempting to break the formality that they were used to in the classical music world, Caroline and Ronald wanted to make Me2 – a registered nonprofit – accessible in ways that no other orchestra was. 

They started off by adopting basic rules that have been maintained until today. The first is that there are no auditions, if someone is willing and able to play in the orchestra they are allowed to join. Next, there are no fees involved since they “didn’t want socio-economics to play into it.” And finally, no stigma is allowed.

“We’re just really trying to set the example, through our words, but also through our actions from the very beginning that everybody is welcome,” Caroline says, “and that if somebody’s having a bad day, that’s cool. That’s okay. We’re there for you.”

Beyond the acceptance that they wanted to foster, Me2 quickly became a safe place for a lot of the people in it. Whether struggling with incarceration, drug addiction, or many of life’s other maladies, Me2 stood available. 

“We’re a once-a-week orchestra, and we’re a safe place and a place for people to be,” Caroline says. “We’re not therapists, and we’re not caretakers but what I’ve started to focus more on is making sure that we’re a safe place for people to land. So if somebody needs that time off, if somebody’s in the hospital or they are wrapped up.”

To join, support, or find out more about Me2, visit their website.


The World Cup Experience that’s way more than just football

The world has their eyes glued to screens right now to watch the World Cup… football, that is.

But there’s a different World Cup Experience that has a sole aim of doing good in our world: The Beder World Cup.

The Beder World Cup Experience is an exhibition and experience, harnessing the power of football during the World Cup to raise awareness around mental health and suicide prevention.

What is Beder?

Beder is a charity taking a unique approach to raising awareness around mental health and suicide prevention through exciting events and initiatives.

It founded in November 2019 by Razzak Mirjan and his family following the loss of Beder Mirjan who sadly took his own life at the age of 18 in April 2017. 

Beder FC is a football club open to all and one which intends to raise awareness around mental health and suicide prevention through playing football. It has grown quickly, despite only playing its first fixture in April 2021, and it has secured the support of leading players such as Harry Kane, Jack Grealish, Bruno Fernandes, Jordan Henderson, David De Gea, Wilfred Zaha and many more in addition to Nike and Pro Direct. 

So, tell me about this ‘World Cup’ experience

The Beder World Cup Experience brings together the “beautiful” side of the game through The Beder FC Hall of Fame, The Beder Boot Room, The Beder Bar and Beder Fan Zone where you can watch the knockout stages of the World Cup live.

It’s held between 6-18 December 2022, at Noho Showrooms, 67 Great Titchfield Street, London.

The Beder FC Hall of Fame displays signed shirts by some of the world’s leading footballers who are supporting Beder FC in its work, through football, to keep opening up the conversation around mental health and suicide prevention. 

The Beder Boot Room in partnership with Sokito contains hand painted football boots by leading artists with each piece of artwork inspired by the topics of mental health and suicide prevention.

There is also an auction, with all proceeds going to Beder.

You can find out more about the experience on Beder’s website – or follow @beder_uk on social media for more information. 

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


The college helping homeless cats on campus

They say a man’s best friend is a dog – but a close second is our furry feline friends, cats.

The animal, known for knocking over water glasses and causing general mischief in the household, is a staple of American homes and families. But sometimes they escape, are neglected, or abandoned, and they find themselves in the wild ending up sick, hungry or feral.

An ongoing program at the California Polytechnic State University has been working to address this and give these cats a chance. 

Introducing: Cats on Campus

The program to help homeless cats began in 1992 as a senior project designed to solve the rising population of feral cats on campus. It was initially concerning, trapping and then euthanizing feral cats but that was quickly scrapped in order to promote a more humane approach.

This work eventually led to what today is a cat sanctuary with the goal of rehabilitating cats and resocializing them while providing them a safe space from the wild. 

“We take in many scared, elderly, special needs, and shy cats that other shelters deem unadoptable,” they say.

“Our dedicated volunteers work with these wonderful cats to socialize them, relieve their stress, provide a safe and comforting environment, and help them adjust to new situations, resulting in a more adoptable pet.”

The program is fully non-profit and runs on donations, so consider donating to help keep the program running.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Life on Land.


Best friends share lottery winnings with local charities

Winning the lottery is life-changing – let’s be honest. But have you ever pondered over what you’d do with the money?

Two best friends – JoAnn MacQueen and Marlisa Mercer – who were already sharing the winnings have decided to give a lot of money back to their community. 

“It just came up as $1 million and a free play,” said JoAnn to OrilliaMatters, when talking about the win. “I thought I was reading the zeros wrong, so I scanned it again and it said $1 million, big winner, plus a free play.”

Instead of pocketing the money, they started identifying charities and causes near them that they wanted to help out and started distributing money. 

Some of the first places that they donated to were the Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, the Orillia SPCA, and the Farley Foundation, an Ontario-based charity that helps low-income pet owners take care of their animals, places that JoAnn’s recently deceased brother may have accessed while he was alive. 

They also decided to donate to the Salvation Army, the Royal Canadian Legion poppy campaign in Orillia, Mariposa House Hospice, the Comfie Cat Shelter, and the Sharing Place Food Center, which helps the economically disadvantaged get a hold of good, healthy food. 

“They are completely focused on how can they help to make this community a better place through this win,” Chris Peacock, executive director of the Sharing Place, told OrilliaMatters. “Not many people win a million bucks and have the core goal of spending it on others and improving this community.”

Any remaining money they have the pair plans to share with friends and family as well as doing a few home repairs.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Partnership for the Goals.


MusicTalkz supports wellbeing through music

“I thought of my life as a teenager … how listening to music had a big impact on how I felt and how I expressed myself. Because I was never one for talking.”

Aged 27, Huma Malik has spent a lot of time giving back to those less fortunate. From her work as a volunteer and, later, an employee at the children’s charity Barnardos, to her own social enterprise MusicTalkz, she has dedicated her life to helping others.

“I’ve generally always, someway or another, volunteered for charity since I was a teenager, but throughout the pandemic in particular, volunteering was one of the key things for me,” says Huma. “It was a highlight that kept me going.”

As a teenager, Huma – who volunteers for Leaders Unlocked, is a trained WRAP facilitator – struggled to open up about her own mental health problems and found solace and self-expression through music – something she now helps other young people to do, today.

“Through music, I realised I was able to talk about things that I wouldn’t have been able to necessarily have a conversation with someone about,” she says. “I was able to express myself and get things off my chest in a way that was safe and comfortable.”

As Huma worked with young people, she noticed other people could benefit from the connection between music, mood and mental health. “It’s just a good, useful skill to have,” she says. “It’s a different way than expressing yourself if you ever need to.”

This is why she set up MusicTalkz, a social enterprise, engineered and run entirely by herself, where she helps young people open up about their mental health needs by getting in touch with their creative side.

The non-profit organisation consists of three-week courses, where Huma leads young people through learning about how music can have an impact on their moods, and how they can use music to help their mental health. The course includes some basic lyric writing and helps young people learn how to navigate their emotions.

Though it’s currently based online, Huma hopes to soon begin running the courses in person, and for longer periods of time.

“The aim is to allow young people to express themselves through different creative art forms, allowing and supporting their self expression in order to support there mental health in a fun way,” adds Huma.

Because of her work supporting young people, in 2021, Huma won the 2nd annual Yorkshire Asian Young Achiever Awards, aimed at any young person between the ages of 18-30 of South Asian heritage who was born in, or lives and works in, Yorkshire.

These awards promote the achievements of young people who have been socially mobile and worked against disadvantages, broken through barriers, and could act as role models to other young people. A true inspiration.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.