No Hope for the Homeless?
Shockingly in 2009, 58,000 households were officially recognised as newly homeless by their local authorities in England alone. Although most these households are prevalent within London and the West Midlands, homelessness can be found throughout the entire country.
Homelessness is a prominent problem within the UK, you don’t have to look hard to find someone wearing tattered clothes, huddled in a door way whilst pleading for spare change; it can be seen everywhere. Being such a widespread problem begs the question why are the majority of us so quick to ignore, judge and discriminate against those with nowhere to go?
Lack of education and representation may be the answer to this. The homeless are rarely reported about in the media, those who live on the streets are seldom given a voice and as a society as a whole we tend just not to acknowledge nor mention the problem altogether.
The fact is that living on the streets is rarely a choice; the majority of homeless people have experienced extreme circumstances which push them into this lifestyle. These factors may include anything from mental and physical health problems, escapism from abusive relationships, loss of employment, divorce to simply insufficient income to maintain a place to live.
According to a recent report from Crisis, the national charity for homeless people, 32% of clients using homelessness services in England have mental health needs and 14% have a personality disorder. Mental health problems contribute a large percentage towards the reason why many are without a home, job or family. Those with mental health problems are often unable to care properly for themselves whilst maintaining a home and a steady job. Mental illness is still widely misunderstood, ignored or misdiagnosed, particularly by those closest to those suffering. As a result many do not receive the correct help or medication that they require, pushing them into a life of poverty and loneliness.
It’s not to say that a small minority have actually made the choice to become homeless, we must not however tarnish everyone with the same brush as each individual holds their own story and has faced different circumstances that which mayor may not be their fault.
Many of the public’s attitudes towards the homeless consist of: ‘It’s their own fault, they should just get a job’, when in reality ‘just getting a job’ may be impossible. The results from a survey conducted found that a massive 67% of people who were asked: ‘What is your opinion of homeless people?’ chose the option ‘I have no sympathy, it’s their own fault that they are homeless and they should get a job’, whilst 40% said they ‘feel sorry for them but would never consider providing them with money or any other item’.
Without an address, phone number, photo ID or even a smart pair of trousers, getting a job may not be a feasible option. This can make finding a way out from being homeless seem hopeless, sending many into a vicious cycle of a drink and drug fuelled attempt of escapism.
The reluctantly to simply give money to a homeless person is understandable; no one wants the worry that they may be helping to fund a drug or alcohol habit. However, there are numerous charities worth donating to that will put your money to good use, including: Crisis, Shelter and The Salvation Army. If you cannot afford to donate, nothing is stopping you from giving a homeless person something to eat and drink. Remember they are human beings too.
Martin, aged 51, has first-hand experience of the difficulties and prejudice that comes with being homeless. He spends his nights and days on the streets of Coventry, West Midlands, with nothing more than an old sleeping bag, the clothes on his back and a plastic carrier bag full of personal items such as photographs which remind him of a time before he was homeless
Martin was kind enough to agree to an interview:
Where are you from originally?
I am originally from Birmingham but moved to Coventry a few years ago because it’s easier being homeless here. In Birmingham the police kept moving me along, it’s hard to find a safe place and people don’t even notice you because it’s so busy.
How long have you been homeless for?
For around 7 years.
How did you become homeless?
I was fired from my cleaning job and couldn’t afford food or clothes, let alone the rent on my flat. Before I had the chance to find a new job, I was evicted from my accommodation and it left me nowhere to go.
Do you have any family that could help you?
My parents are both dead, they died about 20 years ago, way before all of this happened to me. I do have a daughter but I haven’t seen her in a long time, I don’t want to be an embarrassment to her or her to feel she needs to support her own father.
Is there anywhere you can go, such as a shelter?
I don’t think there are any close to Coventry, not in walking distance anyway. I did try and stay in one when I lived in Birmingham but there’s such limited space, I’d be lucky to get a place.
How do you survive?
Mainly by relying on others for change, food and something to drink, scavenging for food and anything that will keep me warm, especially in the winter because it’s more difficult then. Finding a relatively safe place to spend the night, where it’s not too cold and windy is really important too.
How do you feel other people treat you?
Most people don’t really even acknowledge I’m even there, I see some people quickly glance and look away like they’re scared of me or something. Now and then I get called things, I’ve had people walk past me and say nasty comments but you get used to it after a while. One time someone threw a carton of milk at me, it covered my clothes and I had nowhere to wash. I’m just thankful for the odd person who spares some money or buys me a sandwich and a drink though.
Do you feel there is a homeless community in Coventry?
Yeah, there are quite a few people living on the streets in Coventry, some of them I have got to know quite well. We all help each other out if we can, like we sometimes meet and swap things we’ve gathered, but at the end of the day it’s every man for themselves if we want to survive.
Do you feel like you have a way out of being homeless?
I’m not going lie, at the moment I feel pretty hopeless. I have no chance of getting a job; I don’t have a phone number, an address, decent clothes or even a CV so it’s impossible to get any employer to look at me. Without a job there’s no way of getting enough money to do anything with, every penny I get goes on food and water just so I can survive. I can’t see a way out of this and no one seems to care.
What do you hope for the future?
I hope one day I will have my old life back, I will have a job and a place to live again. If I can sort myself out I would like to get back in contact with my daughter again and finally meet my grandchildren.
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview, Martin.
That’s no problem.
Perhaps people would benefit from being educated about the homeless, rather than simply ignoring the problem altogether. Those in need may then be provided with help rather than face the abuse and prejudice which they so regularly receive. Widening people’s knowledge about why the homeless become homeless may even reduce the numbers of those sleeping rough in the future and eventually abolishing the issue altogether.