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#WorldHomelessActionDay2021 – what is ‘homeless’?

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

By Ark Trustee, Annie Waddington-Feather.

The Inaugural World Homeless Day was on the 10 October 2010, and since then, it’s become a permanent fixture on the international awareness days calendar.

The purpose of World Homeless Day is to draw attention to people who experience homelessness locally and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness, while taking advantage of the stage an international awareness day provides.

So, let’s talk about homeless.

What is homeless?

Under the government’s Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities a person is considered homeless if ‘they do not have accommodation that they have a legal right to occupy, which is accessible and physically available to them (and their household) and which it would be reasonable for them to continue to live in.’

This clearly points out, being homeless is not just about sleeping rough on the streets. A person staying with friends or family, or sleeping in a hotel, hostel or B&B is also considered homeless. A person living in a house badly suited for residency, overcrowded or a victim of domestic abuse, is considered homeless.

Everyone is two pay checks away from being homeless, or so the saying goes.

Homeless is all inclusive; it doesn’t recognise gender, disability, religious belief, sexuality or socio-economic status. It doesn’t recognise illness, or education, hair colour, clothes, or anything else which might be used to differentiate us from each other.

Common assumptions and misconceptions

‘They chose to do it’, ‘those dirty crack heads’, ‘those scumbags are ruining this town’ – these are comments we regularly hear, and also see on social media.

It’s easy to make judgements about someone who is living on the street, or who is vulnerable.

Life throws different challenges. If you’ve been abused as a child, come out of care, prison or the forces, or even lost your job due to the pandemic, sometimes it’s easier to turn to something to take the pain away. And that something often brings about changes in personality and behaviour.

A person who has had complex life challenges often lacks the skills and knowledge to cope. Unlike a glamourous film or pop star addict, who immediately has access to resources and support to help them with their substance misuse, our town’s homeless are pre-judged and stigmatised.

Access to accommodation and practical support requires paperwork and assessments for an individual to be ‘in the system’. But homeless doesn’t recognise working hours. It happens at weekends, Bank Holidays and Christmas day. So, adding to someone’s distress when they are in crisis, they must wait until Monday (or beyond), before they can even begin the process to access support.

It’s a downwards spiral. According to the homelessness charity Crisis; “the longer someone experiences rough sleeping for, the more likely it is they will develop additional mental and physical health needs, substance misuse issues and have contact with the criminal justice system. The more complex needs someone has the more help they will need to move on from homelessness.”

This is why it’s so important that people sleeping rough, and other vulnerable people are connected to local support services as soon as possible.

Changing perspectives

"Homelessness is a profound assault on dignity, social inclusion and the right to life. It is a prima facie violation of the right to housing and violates a number of other human rights in addition to the right to life, including non-discrimination, health, water and sanitation, security of the person and freedom from cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment."

The picture we’ve chosen for this blog shows a £20 note, 2 x £10 notes, and a scrunched £20 note; they look different, but each one is still worth twenty pounds – even the scrunched and damaged one.

They are like people, all different but worth the worth the same; many of our towns homeless community have been ostracised, pre-judged and demeaned for so long they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a part of society.

With self-esteem now non-existent, what do you do, and where do you turn to for support?

The Ark is a refuge, a non-judgemental place of relative calm for people with chaos in their lives, and for those who chose to engage in practical support, a place of hope, and a stepping stone to a different life. And for those who are unable to make decisions or make that step, we are here to support them to live each day.

Last year Dougie shared his story with us for World Homeless day – you can read his story here. All of our clients have a story to tell, and each and every one of them has a human right to basic life requirements and to access support.

Thank you to all the individuals and businesses who’ve supported us in raising vital funds required to transform a much-loved pub into a new community hub for the most vulnerable members of our community.

The renovations are going well, but we do still have lots to do, so please do share to share and support our work via our gofundme page

And don’t forget to follow us on social media!

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