So I’m doing the rounds at the moment, trying to raise some dosh as I’m running the London Marathon to raise money for a charity. It’s a charity that is near and dear to my heart, but something has stumped me since I started shaking my virtual bucket at people: the response I get when I tell people who I am raising money for.
I am running for Crisis – the national charity for single homeless people – and it’s the word homeless that appears to be a bit of a sticking point.
Homelessness has increased over the last three consecutive years, partly because of housing shortages and cuts to benefits, with an estimated 185,000 people a year now impacted in some way across England.
Research conducted in 2013 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Crisis highlighted that almost one in 10 people experience homelessness at some point in their life, with one in 50 experiencing it in the last five years. Rough sleeping rose in 2013 by 6% in England and 13% in London. This pushes the two-year increase in the capital to over 60%.
But these are all just numbers. Think about the words for a second. Stick the word homeless in Thesaurus and you get a plethora of alternatives: destitute, forgotten, outcast, exiled, refugee, vagrant, unwelcome…
None of these are what I would call *nice* descriptive words.
Homeless people don’t bear a name badge or a special marking to identify that they are of no fixed abode. They are, in the main, just like me and you. They are human, and they thoughts, opinions and aspirations. And feelings too.
But even if they were identified in some way would it really matter? Why do we – or rather society in general – treat them differently?
Over the last couple of months the UK has been battered by bad weather. Record rainfall, record winds and record levels of damage are how we will remember the end of 2013 and the start of 2014.
But never fear. The powers that be have waded in (pardon the pun) to help the victims that have been affected by the floods. Money no object. Aces.
However, for the thousands of people who sleep rough on the streets every year in the UK, help is scarce and largely dependent on whether or not you meet a strict set of criteria.
To me it seems that we attach innocence to one group, and culpability to another.
One could say that culpability could easily be attached to the person that chose to live on a flood plain than to a soldier who, having served his country, has ended up incapable of dealing with the practicalities of life, alcoholic and homeless.
This would be ridiculous right? We cannot know the circumstances that led that person to live on that flood plain. So why do we make assumptions about what led that person to sleeping rough.
I don’t think we should prioritise one group above the other, I believe that we should be helping them both with equal understanding and energy.