MYTH: Homelessness is a lifestyle choice
If you asked our services users if they chose to become homeless, you would get a resounding “no”! There are many reasons why people lose their homes, but they generally fall into two categories:
Someone does not lose their home because one day, or one week, they do not go to work. When you live in rented accommodation, and experience difficulties in your life, the consequences can be catastrophic. Family breakdown, physical or mental illness, or both, can suddenly push people over the edge into homelessness.
The cost of housing is a huge problem. Rents in London have risen rapidly putting housing almost out of reach of those on minimum and low wages. The result is that any loss of work and income leads to an immediate risk of loss of home.
MYTH: Homeless people could move back home but would rather beg
There may not be a home to go back to. Often homeless people do not have support from family. Abuse or neglect in childhood, family breakdown, family stress brought on by crowded accommodation – all these can mean that there is no place for someone to return to. At the 999 Club we have people who have been on the streets since the age of 12.
MYTH: Once someone is homeless, they want to keep the homeless lifestyle
It is true that it only takes between 4 and 6 weeks of being homeless for it to become normalised. But it does not mean that people want to remain homeless.
Our capacity to adapt means that homeless people learn key survival skills – fast. If you are homeless you know where to go for a shower, where it is possible to get breakfast, where you can wash your clothes. You build a new set of relationships. Some or many of your friends are homeless. You share a language. You share knowledge. You help each other.
It may be a new normal – but it is not a comfortable normal. Not a normal you ever imagined living. All humans find change difficult, and for some the shift from being homeless to having a home can be desperately wanted as well as very disruptive. Your connection with your friends change. You invite friends who are homeless to stay, or perhaps they invite themselves, and suddenly your home is crowded and there are unexplained bills.
As a homeless person you have been used to having few possessions and hanging on to those you have. Now you have space and your life is more stable than before but still you hoard everything that comes into your hands. Nothing is thrown away. The boxes and plastic bags pile up, and then you are evicted because you have not kept the property in a decent condition.
MYTH: I want to help but if I give it to a charity it will be wasted, so I will give it direct to a homeless person
It may sound hard – but loose change given to a homeless person makes almost no difference. Enabling someone who is homeless to turn their life around requires intensive professional effort and support, effort and support that usually require a number of organisations to work together. We keep a rigorous eye on our costs to ensure that a very high percentage of our income goes straight into the services they are providing for their service users. Working with someone is likely to involve a mix of practical advice to deal with benefits and housing, a learning plan that starts with setting goals and builds a range of skills, and some therapeutic support. This takes time but the aim is to enable sustainable change. This is what we at the 999 Club aim to do.