Mayday Trust PTS Manager, Sarah Hughes, explores the reasons behind homelessness, the importance of positive relationships and if we really are all 6 weeks away from homelessness
It was in a newspaper so it must be true, right?
I read an article in the Guardian once entitled ‘You are two pay packets from the streets, they say. Well, it’s true’. It recounted stories of middle-class individuals who lost their jobs and then their homes and relationships (1). It is a rhetoric I have heard many times which is either based on pay packets or weeks; 6 weeks, two pay packets. Its purpose is to remind us that we are all the same and homelessness is not a part of our identity, but a set of events that cause us to fall and go through tough times. This sentiment I can wholeheartedly agree with, but my concern is how it is framed. Whilst losing a job can start a snowball effect of negative change, it is not telling us the whole picture.
The importance of relationships
When I hear these statements, I often think about what I would do if I lost my job suddenly. Working in the voluntary sector, it is not unrealistic to think this might happen. I live in an expensive area and rent costs are high, so maintaining my home would certainly be a challenge, but I am confident I would not become homeless. Firstly I live with a supportive partner who would not only financially support me through this transition, but also emotionally. If in the worst-case scenario that broke down, I have a loving family who would not hesitate in giving me a helping hand if I asked them to. I also have an array of supportive friends who I know care enough to lend a bit of money or even put me up if the absolute worst happened. In order to become street homeless, I would have to sabotage all of those relationships.
My safety net is not my job or my house, it is the people in my life. People who are willing to step in and offer me support when I need it. I am in no doubt that it would be tough, but I know I have strong connections with others who would carry me through tough times until I am back on my feet and self-sufficient again. I also know they would believe in me and give me the strength to keep moving forward.
Simplifying the problem doesn’t fix the problem
I read another article which discussed a similar theme of the ‘middle class’ becoming homeless. It talks about an individual who has graduated with honours but found himself homeless after a negative set of events happened following his wife dying. He states:
‘I lost my wife, but I also lost myself – every ambition, every hope and dream, every enjoyment and passion, every possibility of happiness, and in short, everything that defined me as a person. If it happens that a person is stripped absolutely bare, becomes a stranger even to themselves, who can say what they are or are not capable of doing, and of becoming? The moral superiority of those who look down on drug addicts and homeless people, or presume to know what is best for them, hangs by a thread.’ (2)
I think the important element here is that he lost his wife, and then he lost himself. It wasn’t that he lost his job or house, which did happen, but it was the loss of his wife which changed the course of his life. By framing homelessness as losing a job or house, it simplifies this issue.
This is dangerous because it leads people to think there is an easy solution. Whilst for some there may be, this does not fit all. Having worked in homelessness services for 3 years, in my experience no one becomes homeless just because they lost their job; they became homeless because they lost their last relationship.
The power of building positive relationships should not be ignored
In order to recover from homelessness, people need relationships which can act as buffers and safety nets for the future. They also need relationships to build happy lives which are full of the joy we are lucky enough to have. It would be ridiculous to suggest that a job and a home are not important, because they absolutely are, but we must not forget the true cause of homelessness which is the loss of each other.
(1) www.theguardian.com/society/2009/mar/22/homeless-middle-class-recession LAST ACCESSED 27/12/2017
(2) www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jan/13/homeless-britain-personal-stories LAST ACCESSED 27/12/2017