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Homeless Facts- how it affects a family
Homeless and out of sight
The archetypal image of a homeless person is that of someone sleeping rough in a shop doorway some where, or someone who has a drug or alcohol issues. The truth is; that many homeless people go under the radar because they are sleeping on a friends sofa, suffering from overcrowding or living in unsanitary conditions. In the UK the inconvenient truth is that homelessness is rife in many towns and cities, and through no fault of the individual.
My family have lived in a caravan, a tent, in a families spare room, and in a house that was eventually condemned by environmental health.
What causes homelessness?
There are many reasons for an individual or a family to become homeless, sometimes people have no choice but to make themselves homeless. Some of the main reasons are listed below;
- Financial- like us many people find themselves homeless because they cannot afford the rent,or mortgage on their home. Loss of work or a job can lead to severe financial difficulties leading to bills not being paid.
- Physical Violence- many people living in a potential life threatening and dangerous environment have to leave home for their own safety.
- Relationship breakdown- This is the common cause of individuals and families having to relocate and find another home, which often results in someone becoming homeless because they simply don't have enough money to move, or can't afford the upkeep of the existing residence.
- Eviction- Our family were illegally evicted from a rental property 5 years ago, and many people suffer the same fate.
- Natural/ household disaster- Flood/fire damage is the main cause of homelessness in the UK.
The psychological affects of homelessness
Having no home, and living in an unsatisfactory environment can be one of the most stressful experiences an individual can ever go through. The affects on our family has been immense.
My husband and I started struggling to maintain the rent for our home after I became critically ill in hospital. We didn't access any help,and struggled on by ourselves. One day we arrived home from the hospital with our two daughters ( under 3 at the time) to find we had been locked out of our home, and still with our belongings inside.
We were made to feel like criminals for missing rent payments, and we openly chastised by the letting agents, which led to us feeling degraded and a failure. Friends started to distance themselves from us, and even mock us for living on a campsite. Family were ashamed and embarrassed to talk about our situation, and accused us of not trying hard enough to change our situation.
There is a sigma attached to being homeless, and my experience is that this stigma and feeling of isolation, can be perpetuated by the very people that are supposed to support you. My husband and I are very strong, and there was never a time when our relationship was under pressure, but the relationships between parents and sibling were.
Socially I have felt very isolated and vulnerable, as a woman with two girls, I was always feeling somehow a failure and even to this day, I struggle with depression and periods of emotional crisis. When I have been homeless, the most basic of necessities like a hot shower, nice freshly washed clothes, and clean underwear seem a luxury. The psychological affects of being homeless is huge, I felt very much an outsider to society, I felt embarrassed to tell people that I was homeless.
The practical challenges of being Homeless
When you are without home, you are often then without belongings. We had to literally sale and give away most of what we owned, as we had nowhere to store are furniture. For a family with young children, this was hugely upsetting. Most of our essential items where put into large rucksacs, and plastic bags. We used our girls buggy to carry shopping long distances. Once we actually walked through woodland for about 4 hours to reach the town, so we could spend our last pound on some food- this was a really low point for us.
Not having somewhere to call your own means that you can never really have a settled job, without a permanent address, it was really difficult to access financial assistance. For a family I felt we were really forgotten, and due to the transient nature of homelessness, it was difficult for us to get anyone to help us. We did return to my home town to try and arrange accommodation, but the only suggestion was a women's refuge for me, and it was about 60 miles away in a town I didn't know, with no family nearby. It would have resulted in my husband sleeping in the car.
Have you ever been homeless?
How we solved our homelessness
Access to information and homeless charities is key to having assistance, but beware this never a straight forward process. We felt that we were just being pushed from pillar to post, and being forced into a situation that we felt would destroy our family unit. We were not given very favourable options for a solution, so my husband and I decided not to rely on anyone.
Being homeless does NOT mean that all your standards should be relinquished. Having a roof over your head at all costs is not sensible either. Once you are housed, it is likely that you will receive no further assistance because in the governments eyes- you have been re-homed regardless of whether or not it is suitable.
There are no easy solutions to homelessness for the individual, but communities can help by supporting families in their own locality. If you are homeless, make sure you introduce yourself in a pleasant and friendly way to local people, and network. By networking, you are not reliant on anyone, and you won't end up stuck in a system that is not serving your needs well.
Think outside the box, and look at camping on a registered campsite. I would highly recommend this if you are single, because it is generally really quiet, with toilets and showers on site, and the fees are low for tents. My family did this for 9 months with a caravan, and although it was by far ideal... I preferred this option as opposed to living in sheltered housing, without my husband, and in a city I didn't know.
Homelessness can happen to ANYONE, so resist from being judgmental. If you know of someone that is struggling, try and help support that person as much as you can- even if you cannot offer a roof. Offering to wash clothes, or lending out your shower, can really uplift spirits.
- BBC Three - Britain's Hidden Homeless
Four young homeless people try to find a more permanent roof over their heads.
- Facts and figures | Homeless Link
- Shelter England - The housing and homelessness charity
Shelter believes everyone should have a home. More than one million people a year come to us for advice and support via our website, helplines and national network of services. We also tackle the root causes of bad housing by campaigning for new laws
Practical ways to solve your homelessness
- Don't be ashamed, reach out to your community and explain your situation.
- Visit your local library and speak to as many locals as possible, ask if you can put up a flyer to engage with other possible individuals who are homeless.
- Take back your power, and create a group in your town
- Be proactive, and be presentable.
- If you are struggling for work, volunteer at a charity shop or similar, this way you will be interacting with local people on a day to day basis, and you will gain much needed support.
- Keep the pressure on your local council, and don't settle for unsuitable offerings.
- Find out where your local campsite are, and ask about work/ camping
- Check out diggers and dreamers ( we used this a lot) It will match you up with lodgings for work all over the world. We did this for a while, and although it is not a permanent home, it can sometimes lead to some fantastic opportunities
- Find out who are your local charities and find out whether they offer help for homeless families and individuals. They may be able to help with your a deposit on a home.
- Be positive, and believe that your situation is getting better.
- Some councils offer a 'deposit assistance scheme' but it comes with a huge amount of conditions, and hoops to jump through. This scheme was never offered to us.