I hope you have both enjoyed and were inspired by Go Tell Tales! Part 1 Garden Special.
Many consider the Homeless to be primarily middle-aged men and women, many suffering addictions or mental illness, with little or no pride in themselves. You may surprised to learn this is not always case.
You’re Crazy, You Smell, You Must Be Homeless’
Countries such as America and Britain have a rising number of families, executives, business people and children living on the streets. The reasons vary from person to person, as does the outcomes, but each deserves to be treated with dignity and humanity.
Nothing useful to contribute to society. How do we know that? Whilst some of these stereotypical images may be valid in some instances, this says little or nothing about what contribution this person may have had in the past or what they could be capable of contributing in the future. There is no way of knowing, just by looking at them, what their background is or what brought about their demise. Kurt Cobain was well known for sleeping rough and associating with the homeless. You simply cannot know what talent or value lies behind the grubby facade.
Our story continues with Matt’s blog Homeless Tales.
Why start your blog Homeless Tales?
At the time it was my intention to simply document my journey and provide insight into the obstacles I encountered as I attempted to reverse my circumstances. The reality of the situation meant that although many of the early articles were written while I was rough sleeping, availability of electricity and Internet access was limited and most were not published until I was in temporary/transitional accommodation. It was also a form of self-therapy. Today, it is growing to be so much more; it is an advocacy, an educative resource and with the introduction of the new Street Voices project, an exercise in social inclusion and a form of empowerment for homeless and formerly homeless persons worldwide.
We all hear about service to assist those who have found themselves on the streets.
Have you found any services available to assist you? And how helpful have they been?
I went through the housing service provided by my local council. I found the range of services available to be excellent but it was also a bureaucratic nightmare and funding was insufficient. Midway through the year and some of the assistance that I qualified for was not available to me because the entire year’s funding had already been depleted. They were helpful and supportive but I doubt they would be in a position to cater for someone who needs a much higher level of care than I did. It must be almost impossible for someone suffering cognitive disorders to navigate the housing process. As an example, I was turned down for a community care grant, which I undoubtedly qualified for due to an administrative error. This meant that I was placed into an allocated house, which had been stripped bare and had to sleep on the floor for several weeks and no cooking facilities. At least I had a roof and I was able to appeal and resolve the situation but many of those that need these services would not be capable of doing so.
One of the things I have found fascinating about the stories you are showing is how societies perception is, in many cases, wrong about those living on the streets. We see them for the most part, fringe dwellers and social outcasts, drug addicts, alcoholics and alike.
Many you have portrayed, are professional people who through circumstance, illness or a wrong turn have lost their former life.
Have you found this a growing trend more from the economic downturn and the present credit crunch?
Is our perception of the homeless correct in most cases?
There is no doubt that the economic downturn is having a huge impact and this is related in the latest statistics. Food banks and soup kitchens are reporting a significant increase in the numbers of housed and employed people requesting emergency food assistance. Funding in most cases has been increased but rising food prices and falling donations have seen a reduced quantity of food actually being delivered. Restrictions have had to be made and instances where people are turned away are increasingly common. Job cuts and wages failing to keep up with the cost of living mean that as a society, we are all that little bit closer to the brink of poverty and homelessness than we were previously.I have written a great deal about stereotyping of the homeless. Even today and even amongst the compassionate, homelessness is little understood and the extent of the issue unknown. The majority of homeless people are couch surfing, staying in shelters or living in transitional accommodation. Homelessness is only recognized by many only in it’s most visible form. The average homeless person is law abiding and pays attention to cleanliness and hygiene just as everyone else does. The problem lies in that people walk past them everyday without recognizing them as being homeless and as such the stereotype is not corrected.
Has your situation improved, what have you learnt about yourself so far and what plans for the future do you have?
I still believe I have a long way to go but things are certainly better. I have a proper place to live now, which is the main thing, and I think that I am a better person today for my experiences. I am one of the fortunate ones but there are many more still out there.
I have few personal goals but I would like to think I can do my part to help others who have not been so lucky. I hope that through Street Voices I can provide an outlet for some of them and possibly a measure of the social inclusion that can be lacking in their lives.
I also hope at some stage to be able to put computers and Internet access into shelters and provide training to develop skills that may help improve employability.
In regards to the homeless what things can the average person reading this do?
Avoid giving them money directly. If you do so, you must respect that it is then theirs to spend as they choose and you might well do more harm than good. Give food, or better, vouchers to food outlets. Simple things like warm socks make a welcome and useful gift too. Better still is the gift of one’s time, volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen. Take a moment to talk to them. Social exclusion can hurt more than the cold at times and even a brief exchange can make a real difference to their day.
In what ways do you think the available services can be improved to better assist those in need?
We need to provide a better standard of low cost accommodation backed up with improved support and after care systems. So many homeless people return to the streets after just a short time. All too often they are housed without actually addressing the issues that initially caused their homelessness. It is often thought that having provided a home the job is complete whereas in reality many of these people are in need of a much higher level of care. Sometimes they lack even basic skills such as budgeting.
Prevention is the real key though and for this we must establish a much better social safety-net. I find it astounding that mentally ill persons should be allowed by society to find their way onto the streets. The crazy old bag lady that people jeer at is no different from the wife/mother/grandma unfortunately struck by Alzheimer’s, only without the caring family.
Through adversity people come together.. is there a real sense of community within the homeless ranks?
Absolutely and this is why Tent Cities spring up all the time. People who live in them work together, form friendships and look out for each other. They trade skills. They often find it hard to understand why they are encouraged to conform and integrate into society and as soon as they try to build a community of their own, someone comes along and bulldozes it.
Do you feel you were perhaps lucky in that your experience was possibly a little softer than someone less able, given you had some understanding of the Bureaucratic Gauntlet you had to run and people whose understanding and perhaps capabilities are less may not have coped as well?
It would be equally tough for almost anyone but having found myself in that position, I was perhaps better equipped to reverse the situation than many would have been. As an example, most homeless people have no access to a general practitioner. If an unmedicated homeless schizophrenic were to present themselves to housing services very few would have qualified staff on hand with the capability to effectively deal with them. The chances of being able to sit down with them, question them and fill out a twenty page form to determine their eligibility are remote to say the least. A significant proportion of homeless people do not receive the benefits to which they are entitled let alone be able to navigate housing services procedures. It is only when they find themselves in an emergency room that some of these people might stand a chance of meeting people qualified to help them but even then they are all too often patched up and sent on their way.
What can we do to assist those services and assist in bringing this to the attention of the general public?
Services need much more funding than they are currently getting to be able to provide the level of care necessary to provide effective solutions to the complex issues of homelessness. The general public perception of homelessness is largely very negative and this probably plays a part in allocation of funds. Homelessness is generally greatly misunderstood and it is only through education and the breaking down of inaccurate stereotypes that we will be able to finally put an end to a problem for which we should all be deeply ashamed. Slavery was only abolished once white people started to recognize black people as human beings. Homeless people are human beings too. This is exactly what I am trying to achieve with my Street Voices project; to provide a voice for currently and formerly homeless people and put a human face to the issues, hopefully spreading some understanding of the homeless condition; who they are and the obstacles they face.
It has both been a pleasure and an honour to get to know Matt over the past weeks, he has both inspired and educated me to the plight of a much misunderstood group within our society. I can only wish him the very best for the future.
Although there will always be those who are homeless regardless of circumstance, I trust we have given you a little more understanding of those you walk past everyday. Giving those inspired some tools and knowledge in what can be done to help.
Remember Homeless not Heartless.