Cardboard Citizens: The Stigma Of Being Homeless

Read the article I wrote for The News Hub on how Homelessness is perceived.

With 1 in 10 people saying they have experienced homelessness, this is an issue that society should not turn a blind eye to. But members of the public have done so in the past, and some still continue to do so.  

Homelessness is an ever increasing problem in the UK and because of cuts to our welfare budget; a lack of compassion, as well as a deteriorating support system, it is on the rise.  With 52 per cent of homeless people being under 25, our future generation are suffering seriously.  A home provides; stability, reassurance, a safe space to prepare for work, develop ambitions and build relationships with others.  Without a comforting and supportive environment, life becomes more difficult and ordinary tasks become increasingly challenging.

Homeless people are not different from you and I. Yes I said that right, we are all the same. It is only certain situations or circumstances that lead to homelessness, a tumbling fall of dominoes. Most people who are homeless, are so because of failed relationships or deaths of loved ones. Others suffer from serious issues such as drug addiction, alcohol problems or mental health issues, and need help and guidance- rather than being thrown on the streets. These people are human beings and need support more than you and I do. A certain stigma is attached to being homeless and I asked some homeless people in Kentish Town, London, what that felt like.

I spoke to U, who used to be a restaurant manager, about the associations of violence with homelessness. Like any other 35 year old Italian you meet, when I remind him of the incredible dough in his hometown of Naples, he precedes to tell me where to find dough “just like Naples”, in Kentish Town. He was keen to inform me of the well-kept secret of the restaurant that uses water from aqueducts like in Naples, making it taste so irresistible. A charming and passionate man, he reminds me of any other Italian man I have met, although he doesn’t spend his days stressing about work, or chatting to women. He lives from day to day, moment to moment, standing up for himself- which causes him trouble with the police. Despite society holding misconceptions about homeless people being violent and engaging in criminal activity, this is hardly the case. In fact, in most cases, homeless people come together to support one another and only rarely is there disputes, U is keen to highlight to me.

Statistics further highlight that the only criminal activity homeless people enact is shoplifting and drug abuse, which is unsurprising when for so many people, the future is so bleak. He speaks about the treatment of people ranging from day to day, “always nice people, always bad people,” and how each day varies depending on who he meets. Being homeless for a year, I ask him about the availability of hostels for homeless people. He immediately begins to shake his head, speaking about the extortionate price they charge and that “it’s impossible to get a room”. With 41 percent of accommodation projects that have experienced decreased funding this year-according to this comes to me as no surprise. He “prefers the streets,” where unfortunately now, he is used to, used to the comfort of his own sleeping bag and mattress, “it is mine”. Although he has his own bedding, sleep cannot always be granted.

I then spoke to 28 year old graduate Ziggy, about society’s prejudice with homeless people and unemployment.  Ziggy is new to being homeless and is continuously trying to immerse himself into the world of “normality” but it is a constant struggle.  At the start of his new life on the streets, Ziggy consistently tried and “faced interviews, making shifts”, however his personal belongings were stolen, leaving him with the only clothes he had on his back. Soon, he started to get fewer interviews and when giving his resume to potential employers “they would look at me and think I am just a tramp”. He “knows what they’re saying” when people cry to him “get a job” but he points out- how is a homeless person with no credit rate, references, national insurance number or even birth certificate access a job when some members of society who have these, “still struggle?”  He speaks of the trapped feeling in this cyclic routine he has fallen into, and despite still remaining positive, “some days you have low points”. With Ziggy having a BA in Creative Writing, I see truth in what he is saying. I personally, am struggling to find a paid job relevant to my future aims in life, constantly slaving at internships and voluntary positions- and I am privileged in comparison: with a home, a family and friends- unlike Ziggy. This further highlights to me that homelessness can affect anyone, and we need to make drastic changes to how society perceive these people, and implement some fundamental strategies to make a difference.

Sleeping rough has a devastating effect on people’s health and well being and the longer people spend on the streets, the harder it is for them to recover.  Society needs to make a change on how they perceive these people and how they themselves can help. Supporting homeless people by donating change or the rest of your lunch are just small steps in the right direction.  We, as a society, need to highlight the major concerns and issues that these people are facing, pushing the government and independent funders to provide better support systems. We need to value the small independent charities that maintain care for the homeless; that help house them, offer guidance with issues, create opportunities to learn and develop skills, finally being able to reach the end goal of becoming employed and owning a house. With the right attitude, all of us can make a difference.