One of the common misconceptions within our society is that somehow we are solely responsible for the situations we find ourselves in. The belief that we are of our own making - attributing our decisions and choices to our circumstances - is not only highly inaccurate but it also helps to encourage misleading and falsified stereotypes. These notions serve to feed blame, excuse exploitation and avoid repercussions for our own actions as a society.
Homelessness is an area where individuals are dehumanised, and considered separate to our societal ideals because of a preconceived notion of choice. Let's be clear, this is definitely not the case. Any one of us could face homelessness in their life, for any number of reasons. Below are just a few I’ve outlined, and you’ll note that they are all beyond an individual’s personal control.
Homelessness could be caused by financial circumstances. If an individual lost their job or seen their hours cut, and cannot afford the rent or bills, this would be the immediate aftereffect. It would turn into a cycle; unable to afford housing because they don’t have an address to get a job, unable to get a job because they don’t have an address. You might think that the benefits system exists to catch these people, but we all know that universal credit isn’t fit for purpose, and leaves claimants without for five weeks.
These circumstances are aggregated further if an individual doesn’t have family or friends that are able to support them, leaving them without the support networks that most of us rely on. It would cause long-lasting debt, financial issues and eventually homelessness.
And what if that home life is damaging to an individual? Familial or spousal abuse might leave the victim with no choice but to escape under any circumstances, even if it means becoming homeless. It’s a terrible situation to be in, but sometimes that is preferable to staying.
This leads me to my third reason for homelessness which is often overlooked and that is health. A disproportionate amount of homeless people are suffering with mental health issues. It shouldn’t need to be stated that this can lead easily to homelessness, especially when a lack of support or help from society clearly exists. Similarly other disabilities and health issues can also massively impact homelessness. Likewise, homelessness clearly cause huge mental and wider health issues. If they didn’t have health issues before, they could be more likely to develop them as a result of their circumstances.
So very often, those who are homeless once led ‘acceptable’ lives the same as everyone else. They are doctors, lecturers, teachers, artists, musicians. People with real lives, careers, hobbies and interests. People who may have helped you, taught you, entertained you. So why aren’t we helping them? Why aren’t we nurturing these people, assisting them, recognising their talents and their achievements instead of just chastising them for their circumstances which are so often completely beyond their control?
It’s about time we started treating each other as we want to be treated. Homelessness could happen to anyone of us; all it takes is the wrong situation at the wrong time. We need to share people’s stories, listen to their voices and opinions, allow ourselves to hear the realities of what's actually happening with the world. Let's look beyond materialistic values, and leave the historic notion of hierarchy of housing behind. Focus on human values of empathy, concern and understanding. Let’s try to listen and comprehend rather than judge, or force our own values onto other people. Let's stop focussing on ourselves and start caring about everyone in the world, especially since we are all the same.