Homelessness: Closer to home than you think

Having worked in housing for more years than I can believe, I always feel that the most obvious manifestation of a national housing policy that doesn’t work for everyone, is the all too visible signs of increasing homelessness.

Visit any city in the UK and the evidence is clear for all to see, poor ‘unfortunates’ sleeping rough, worldly possessions gathered in doorways, some with watery eyed dogs, sleeping on their lap, almost imploring you to offer some coins for a decent meal. 

A steady stream of passers-by, taking evasive action to avoid getting too close, perceptions of people’s failed lives already firmly ingrained, sadly based on ignorance and even unwillingness to take time to understand the reasons why.

There has been a great deal written about the 50th Anniversary of ‘Cathy Come Home’ and quite rightly, as here we are, still facing a national disgrace.

It is sometimes said that we are all, potentially, one step, or two, away from the same fate.  We don’t really believe that do we?  It’s very easy thing to say but unless you’ve been there, it’s really just words, it only happens to others, can’t happen to us?

My mum and dad, worked hard all their lives, in fact my dad was still dabbling in work when he was 80.  When he died 5 years ago, my mum moved out of her bought ex-Council home and was fortunate to find a private rented bungalow next door to my sister (who also privately rented) in the picturesque North East of Scotland.  Fabulous location, lovely property, a renovated farm cottage, a great family that owned both properties, who became personal friends of my sister and my mum.  A really idyllic setting to spend your last years.

However the world was turned upside down earlier this year when, out of the blue, the private landlord said that they needed the cottages, their sons were getting married.  No debate, no discussion, well within their rights to do so but for my mum at 87 years of age, the shock was palpable.

Fortunately, very fortunately, my mum, having been able to save for a large part of her life was in a position, financially, to try and seek out a property to buy.

With a bit of luck, a property was on the market within the village, an important factor, as she had built up her lunch club connections and new friendships, and they were able to make the purchase and move in together in June of this year, so a happy ending for one potential homeless family?

Unfortunately within two weeks of moving into her new home, my mum, after a very short illness, died, the worry and stress of the previous several months had seemingly, taken its toll.

My family and I were lucky in one sense, in that we had the means to avoid physical homelessness, unfortunately many people don’t have that ability, many are ‘just managing’ on low pay, insecure jobs and end up in poor insecure accommodation or worse, in the doorway on a big city street…. because over the years, as a nation, we have consistently failed to provide enough good quality affordable housing.

I suppose it depends on how you define “lucky”, but we, as a family, lost our mum. Maybe, it was her time anyway, but maybe, just maybe, having to cope with the terrible stress of not having a place to call home was the significant factor. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like if we weren’t able to find something else. I can’t imagine what it must be like, as a family, living in temporary accommodation, away from support and friends, with no idea when you might find somewhere to call home. What does that do for our future generations? 

Next time we see someone on the street looking for their next meal, don’t be judgemental, understand the importance of the basic fundamental right that we should all have to a secure and affordable place we can call home.

Homelessness is not a life style choice, and we need to get behind the superficial and understand the true cause.

Remember we may only be one step away ourselves.

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