Have you ever heard of the broken window effect? There’s this theoretical neighbourhood–it’s clean and pretty and everyone’s friendly. But then, through some accident, a window gets broken. It’s just a little crack, and the homeowners can’t afford to fix it, so they leave it be. What harm can it do? But then the next door neighbour sees it and lets his grass get a little too long–after all, it doesn’t look so bad next to the broken window. Then the neighbour on the other side doesn’t bother to fix her cracked driveway, because what does it matter if her neighbours haven’t cut their grass or fixed their windows? Pretty soon the whole neighbourhood spirals out of control. We’ve seen it happen. But did you know that the broken window effect also works in reverse?
Our campaign to open our first building was called “Broken to Beautiful”, with good reason. The house we purchased was, some people thought, irredeemable. Half boarded up, long associated with drugs and filth and neglect. She’d been badly abused. Maybe she had some good history, but any beauty she’d once had was long gone. Some people thought she should be condemned. But with a little care–no, a lot of care–she became beautiful again. A lot of amazing people banded together to gut out all the filth and brokenness and build something lovely and warm and hopeful inside. It was a long, painful process, and she’s still not perfect. But she’s come a long way. And a very cool thing has happened. The transformation didn’t stop at just one house. Pretty soon we started to notice things happening up and down the street. Roofs got reshingled. Railings got replaced. And, wouldn’t you know it, broken windows got fixed.
The Broken House became a beautiful house, and over three and a half years 97 people have called it home. They were women that some people thought were irredeemable. They were children who had been affected by unspeakable abuse. But in these walls they found safety and peace and hope, and, surrounded by a supportive community, they began the long, painful process of healing. They’re still not perfect. None of us are. But they’ve come a long way. And another very cool thing has happened. Those same women have gone on to make a difference in the lives around them. Their courage has inspired other women to take a step away from fear. Their kindness has started a wave of kindness reaching out to the wider community. It’s a ripple effect, one small change at a time. What began with a broken window can end with fixing one.