The "Business" of being Homeless
Updated: Jul 25
I had the pleasure of interviewing Robin Burgess, CEO of Hope Enterprises/The Hope Centre, Northampton on NLive Radio who spoke about many of the hidden realities of homelessness - you can listen to his eye-opening interview here.
Last night my husband and I did the Hope Centre's "Big Sleep Out"...spending one night outdoors to raise awareness for The Hope Centre and their work, to fundraise to support them, and to gain a little more compassion and empathy for those who sleep rough regularly...and not by "choice". It marked the first of a number of charity events we're involved in this year:
- Swim22 (22 miles over 3 months), and a production of Steel Magnolias - for Diabetes UK
- 24hr Open Water relay, and the Dart10 for Level Water
...which I signed up for because I wanted to look back on New Year's Eve 2022 and say - I DID something cool this year...
But, already, I am beginning to realise it's not about the "doing", the "achieving", the "getting through"...but who I hope to be at the end of this year BECAUSE of these events.
Sleeping outside was difficult - we slept on cardboard, I bought my first ever sleeping bag (I haven't even camped before), and it was really cold. I also already knew we'd "fail at the first hurdle" because we did it in our garden, rather than as part of the main event because we have a diabetic dog who needs insulin at set times, and...apologies if this grosses you out...at my age, there's one day a month where I'm needing the toilet every hour (that bad, that heavy) - but what I decided to do was not try to "arrange" my period around the night as I have done for other events, but to go through with it, because you don't have that sort of luxury. But immediately, I was appreciative of the fact that I had access to a clean bathroom, that I could afford to keep our pup when she was diagnosed with diabetes, and that I had a permanent address so I could register with doctors (for monthly iron tablets), and vets. Already it was clear how different my life might look.
It was also a cold night. (I know because I was up every couple of hours - that it really turned around 2am). I was wearing leggings, jogging bottoms, and 3 jumpers along with my coat and a sleeping bag...and I still couldn't get warm...nor comfortable...because really the two are related! I was grateful not only that my husband had agreed to join me, but for his body heat.
Ultimately I probably got about an hour's sleep - so I was certainly grateful that I wasn't working today as I usually am, and even my husband said "I think I found it easier to sleep outside when I'd had a few drinks"...two things which already make one reflect...
- I don't know how well I could function in a job...especially one which requires concentration when if I didn't sleep well on a regular basis
- It says a LOT if a drink makes it easier to sleep
The "business" of homelessness
These realisations immediately made me think about what Robin Burgess had explained. Homelessness takes up your focus. Not only are you disadvantaged or excluded from basic healthcare if you have no address, but you are first of all, always concerned about where to sleep...I always knew I would be safe because our garden is private, and my husband wasn't going to take my stuff...in fact I didn't have any stuff with me because I have the privilege of "going home".
This is before you also think about personal hygiene, what to wear, where to wash - and also really, how to warm up in the winter...and bearing in mind, I also had a new, clean sleeping bag - what I was experiencing over one night is minimal.
"Self fulfilling prophesy"
I know I am struggling to write this as I'm tired. When I'm tired I don't think rationally, I struggle to reason, it's a huge effort to present myself as I'd like others to see me - then let's add "hangry". Robin Burgess reminded us that those on the street are often judged - and a lot of what they are judged on is simply survival:
- a drink to help you sleep
- a constant fear that you might suffer attack or injury leading to mistrust
- struggling to help oneself because you simply don't have the energy
Then, add to that the lack of sleep and the loneliness and sadness of sleeping rough - and people can easily begin to internalise those judgments and hold them about themselves.
Mental ill health
It is not necessarily mental ill health nor drink/drugs that cause homelessness, but they are certainly likely by-products? Why? Because the latter make the situation more bearable, and that, in addition to the other issues surrounding being on the street will attack your mental health. I discuss this in greater depth, along with the social issues of poverty here.
What can we do to help?
As well as, of course, making donations to services such as Hope who offer so much:
- a place to get clean
- a food bank
- training and support
- help with an address to access services, and help with filling in forms
- shelter on the very cold nights
...as a small example...Robin urges us to consider donating to food banks, as well as offering time to help out - for example if you can teach a class, or offer some sort of enrichment, because finding a place to live is, yes, very practical, but only one part of restoring someone's self worth.
Another thing you can do is use your platform to raise awareness, to call for social change...because homelessness is a societal issue not just a personal one, and like all good causes, you could even consider being a trustee as well as a regular volunteer.
Or get involved in a charity event
By getting involved in events - which do not require a regular commitment, you are also doing something positive, and for me, while I signed up because I wanted to challenge myself, and to do and to help...I think I've also grown, just a little as a person. I know to get me through one night where I chose to sleep out, I really did recognise the positive - the fresh air, which I do love, the warmth of my husband (and the fact he did it with me), the birdsong in the morning - which I don't often take the time to appreciate...rather than simply the fact that "I did it"...I think I grew from it too.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt