As well as being World Mental Health Day, October 10th is also World Homeless Day. With Exeter being home to the UK’s 5th highest homeless population, this is certainly an issue close to home.
A post on the day from the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attempted to remind us that housing is a basic human right, just as much as we have a right to food, water, health, religious freedom and freedom of speech.
Like health and liberty, housing is not like other commodities – it shouldn’t be seen as a luxury, but as an necessity, something that should be taken for granted if we are to call ourselves civilised.
On a day when many people are speaking out about mental health awareness, we must consider the strong link between homelessness and mental ill health.
Around 84 per cent of all homeless adults consider themselves to suffer from some form of mental health issue, with at least 44 per cent of these having a confirmed diagnosis (this is compared to 25 per cent thought to have mental health issues within the general public).
We absolutely must increase awareness of mental health problems and approach those in need of help with open arms, but this means opening our arms and hearts to those people that so many people actively avoid on the streets – those people you avert eye contact with or ignore when they try and speak to you.
Because how can we as people talk about tackling mental health problems when we ignore the portion of society most affected?
Homelessness is a symptom of a broken system. We have over a million empty homes in the UK, and under 10,000 living rough on the streets – we could give every homeless person 100 homes if we really wanted (I’m obviously not suggesting that).
Homelessness is a symptom of a broken system
There will always be plenty of conservative arguments against this like “why should we have to pay for a house when they don’t?!” amongst other ‘free-riding’ dilemmas and talks of truncating aspiration. But isn’t it frustrating when the answer to our problems is lying right in front of us? Just like having a mountain of food and a group of starving children, but you have a boundary of bureaucracy and political play stopping the food getting to where it is most needed.
We need affordable social housing instead of the government having to subsidise private landlords billions a year, as well as new institutions to stop people falling through the ever deteriorating safety net.
Above all we need to tackle misconceptions. No they’re not all drinkers and drug takers – under half of all homeless adults suffer from an alcohol or drug problem, and the overwhelming majority of those who do didn’t end up homeless because of them, but have those problems as a result of being homeless.
Another misconception is that they are the ‘deserving poor’, that they are lazy and deserve to be in their position. A very Victorian way of thinking which allows us to live with ourselves without feeling guilty when we walk past a homeless person who has nothing whilst we carry bags full of superfluous commodities.
The majority of homeless people lost their jobs due to corporate downsizing, divorce, illness, disability or just misfortune. In fact a significant percentage of homeless adults are army veterans – people no one would consider lazy.
A homeless person could send out thousands of job applications, and many of them do, but the strong negative views held towards homeless people make it almost impossible to have any success.
strong negative views make it almost impossible to have any success
It seems ironic that the upper-class who usually espouse these negative views are probably excessive drinkers and drug takers themselves.
An American political philosopher John Rawls once talked about the ‘lottery of life.’ He spoke about how so much of who we are and the circumstances we find ourselves in is to do with luck – the type of family you’re born into, your ethnicity and geographical location. The list made by Rawls was seemingly endless, he even went as far as suggesting that so much of our ‘natural talents and abilities’ were also down to this. Our motivational drive and ability to harness our talent are all down to chance.
The conclusion he therefore came to was that in order for a society to be fair, to have true justice, we must make a society that takes this into account. This doesn’t mean not rewarding talents or some kind of world in which we’re all the same, but it definitely would mean that the top 1 per cent of the world wouldn’t hold 50 per cent of the world’s wealth. Basically things would be fairer, and having homelessness in the one of wealthiest nations on the planet would be a thing of the past.
A home is a safe place, it is the physical representation of security, and the foundations for success. Without a loving and uncrowded home I would not be where I am today, and without a permanent home, many adults, and many homeless women with children, have little to no chance of escaping the vicious cycle of homelessness.
To anyone who’s come home from a night out or finished work late and wanted nothing more than to escape the cold and dark of the night and get back to their warm home; or for anyone who has been walking at night on their own, feeling afraid – imagine this was your life.
Is it any surprise that mental illness is such a problem amongst the homeless community?
Don’t allow economic or political jargon to make you forget that these are people who feel just like you.
Most of us wouldn’t allow a dog to stay out in the cold at night – do we see these people as no more than animals?