Reflecting on the many guises of homelessness after World Homeless Day 2019


Being “homeless” doesn’t only mean that you’re sleeping on the street. It can mean that you’re spending prolonged periods of time sleeping on friends’ sofas, in shelters or hostels or on public transport amongst other things.

Before I moved to the UK, I was living with my Grandma, (as my parents had passed away) had a job, money and independence. When I moved here, I came with money, but quickly it ran out and, despite having good English, I struggled to find work.

As things took a turn for the worse, I contacted a charity that supports LGBTQI young people who are facing or experiencing homelessness. I said simply, “My name is Emily and I’m living in a hostile environment with no money.”

My journey began there with akt, who supported me with housing, got me into a winter shelter and then finally helped me to secure housing after I found myself a job.

But not everybody living in a hostile environment and facing homelessness or sleeping rough on the street know where they’re going to go.

While many need and want someone to talk to, who can support them with housing or the many other issues that can come attached to experiencing homelessness, often it’s assumed the answer will be, “No.”

People who find themselves homeless do so for a range of reasons, but the one thing they have in common is the judgement that they face from others. I, myself, witnessed two girls beating up a man who was sleeping rough on the street.

When I intervened I was told it was, “None of my business.” I threatened to call the police, which made them stop, but even when I asked the man if he needed help, (which he clearly did) he was still hesitant. 

When I see people who are rough sleeping, my heart stops and all I want to do is help. Even though I don’t have much money, I will buy them hot food or a drink and the reaction is often a mixture of surprise and love. It is clear that the treatment many of these people receive from the public is disdain or, as is the case I witnessed, violence.

There are other factors that can impact people experiencing homelessness, including identifying as LGBTQI. In fact, 24 per cent of young people experiencing homelessness come from the LGBTQI community, which is hugely disproportionate to how much of the general population they make up.

To tackle this, it’s so important that we introduce better education in schools around LGBTQI issues to help fight the discrimination people within the community face – often from the people who are closest to them.

In terms of wider homelessness, we need intervention from the Government, which includes investment in services, more housing and better awareness and inclusion training to support those who are rough sleeping.

For anybody who ever does face or experience homelessness or a hostile environment, I’d encourage you not to be afraid and to seek help if it’s available – I wish I’d sought it out faster.

Sometimes it takes time, and initial rejection can be so hard to deal with, but there are services out there that are there for you and can help you find the support that you need.

Reflecting on this year’s World Homelessness Day, I don’t think we should be thinking about “homeless” as a label. Instead, the label we should be focusing in on is that which groups together the people who continue to discriminate against people experiencing housing and homelessness issues.

We all have a responsibility to do what we can to look after one another, in particular in the current climate where so many communities continue to face staggering discrimination. Just stopping to talk to that person sat on the street corner, asking if they need help or even contacting the homelessness service closest to where they are could help to make a world of difference.

Because roof or not, funds or not, we’re all the same people and deserve to be treated with the exact same respect.

Thanks to Emily and akt for providing this piece

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