What would it be like to be homeless? Imagine not knowing where you will sleep tonight. On a practical level, how would it feel not to have a bath for weeks and to wear dirty clothes every day?
I think most of us would agree with the line from John Payne’s poem Home, Sweet Home: “Be it ever so humble, there is no place like home”.
Yet thousands of people in the UK have no home of their own. We have all seen people asking for money, who seem to have all their possessions in a plastic bag, and nowhere to go.
Although these people who are sleeping rough in doorways are the most visible, homelessness also includes those who are placed in hostels, bed and breakfast or other temporary accommodation, or local authority housing.
It is difficult to understand how people become homeless and research shows that they are all ages, from all areas and backgrounds. There are charities that support the homeless and Centrepoint is a national organisation that focuses on young people. It provides emergency night shelters and short stay hostels. Their research shows that more than 80% of the young people who turn to Centrepoint for help are homeless due to family breakdown, abuse or eviction.
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Some young people become homeless following the death of a parent. It seems a double blow to be bereaved and homeless. However, often these vulnerable young people find themselves sleeping rough before seeking help.
Many of these 16 to 20 year olds have no qualifications or means of supporting themselves financially. I feel that if our society wants these people to become self-sufficient, it is essential to offer help in the form of housing, and assisting them to either return to school, or to gain qualifications through training programmes to improve their chances of finding worthwhile employment.
Tragically, many homeless young people are “befriended” by drug addicts or encouraged into prostitution. For those who have run away from home as a result of abuse, one wonders how bad their home circumstances must have been if they would prefer to face the risks of addiction and sexually transmitted disease.
Of course it is not only young people who become homeless. Older people can face homelessness when they lose their jobs and are evicted from their homes because they cannot pay the rent. Sometimes these people have physical or mental health problems as well. Unfortunately in some circumstances these people either have no family, or their families are unable or unwilling to help them. Single homeless people are not a high priority for housing assistance and are therefore more likely to be sleeping rough, huddled under a bridge, trying to keep warm with newspapers.
Other homeless people are ex-offenders. They have paid for their crime and yet they find themselves unable to find a job and therefore without resources. It is sad that many people coming out of prison have nowhere to go and may eventually end up in prison again. Often these people have been exposed to drugs in prison and will resort to dealing as a means of making money.
Anyone is capable of turning to crime out of desperation, ending up harming others in an attempt to steal money. If people become homeless as a result of family breakdown or employment problems, should we not as a society make a stronger effort to help these people? Homelessness and having no money creates a climate for crime which is what we want to prevent. One of the ways of preventing it could be to offer more support to people before they find themselves homeless. For example, young people could have anonymous safe places to go to if they are in abusive situations. They should know that there is at least one adult at school who they can talk to, or a number they can phone. Although there are charities offering phone line assistance, it is not sufficient.
The people who receive the least sympathy, it seems, are the mothers with small children. Although they may not be sleeping rough, these families are often in very cramped accommodation and they cannot really make it feel like a home. If they are fortunate enough to be given council housing they are often envied or disliked by others and made to feel that they have been given something they do not deserve. However, we do not know their circumstances and they may have been the victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence. It would be far better for them and their children to be in a safe place than to risk further violence.
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Homelessness is a problem all over the world. Places affected by flooding and earthquakes suddenly have thousands of people whose homes have been demolished and who have no possessions. Places in Africa that experience severe drought conditions force people to try to find food elsewhere. Unfortunately the result is often groups of homeless people who are starving.According to the United Nations, more than 100 million people worldwide have no housing whatsoever. This becomes a serious Human Rights issue and although we might like to think it is mainly a problem in the developing countries, the truth is that in first world countries such as the UK and United States, the number of homeless is growing. Although it is helpful to donate to charities who offer help, or to give people food, more needs to be done. Adequate housing needs to be available and we have to change our attitude towards people who may be in dire circumstances through no fault of their own.
- Capdevila, G HUMAN RIGHTS: More Than 100 Million Homeless Worldwide
- Payne, J Clari; or, the Maid of Milan: an Opera. London: John Miller, 1823. See
- Pleace, N and Fitzpatrick, S (2004) Centrepoint Youth Homelessness index