During the Christmas holidays, whilst most people ate their body weight in celebration chocolates and spent extortionate amounts on presents, I decided to do something a little different. Teaming up with the charity Crisis, I volunteered for 9 days at a homeless shelter. It wasn’t your typical shelter of serving up soup to a long queue; at Crisis, we had salsa lessons, played football, sang karaoke and simply talked to the residents.
For 9 days, over 150 people who found themselves homeless over Christmas became residents of this shelter. Meanwhile, doctors, opticians, dentists and hairdressers offered up their services to help them. As much as Christmas day was filled with singing and dancing and topped off with a beautifully prepared Christmas dinner, it was extremely disheartening and emotional knowing that these 150 people were warm, safe and full for only 9 days. One resident cried as he told me that “it’s nice to see a face, I only ever see shoes” whilst another said “homelessness isn’t just for Christmas, it happens every day.”
Homelessness is an issue prevalent throughout society, and those who find themselves on the street are often ignored by the mainstream. Even worse, individuals who live on the streets are often blamed for their fate received. After spending Christmas connecting with homeless people, it is clear that their reasons for becoming destitute were not so simple, and that all they wanted was a bit of kindness and to reintegrate back into society.
Years ago, Mother Teresa stated “we think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” The issue of homelessness is of vital significance across the globe and it affects all types of people. Homelessness is not confined to certain genetic makeup, religion, race, gender or age, but it can destroy the lives of any human being. The notion of homelessness is burdened with stigma and prejudice and must be emphasised as a serious issue.
The reality of homelessness must be abolished and forever prevented. It is sickening to know that even in the most economically developed countries and the most affluent of cities, people are sleeping on the streets and rooting through bins to find food. “Greater Manchester has more multi-millionaires than anywhere in Britain outside of London, according to new research. There are 375 super-rich individuals living in the region according to financial experts.” (Steve Robson, Manchester Evening News, September 2012).
Now, one would presume that in such an affluent, prosperous and modern city, homelessness would be a nightmare in history or a horrible element of the past, but this is far from the truth. To make matters worse, although one might agree that this should be impossible, it is apparent that the government and its official statistics are hiding the truth and severity of the situation. For example, the official figures in 2015, collected by town halls, showed that the number of homeless people in Greater Manchester streets was 24. But, homeless organisations believe the figure was, and still is, much higher.
An article from The Telegraph states that “research, published jointly by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), argued that official figures are masking the true scale of the problem.” Daniel Gillard, who has just recently concluded a Manchester Council inquiry on the issue that spoke to dozens of homeless organisations, believes that the number of people sleeping rough in Greater Manchester is six times higher than the official figure (Jennifer Williams, Manchester Evening News, December 2014).
Manchester is renowned for the small community of homeless people known as ‘tent city’. More than 40 homeless people live in tents, sectioned off with ‘gates’ made out of pieces of cardboard. In a world of isolation and alienation, creating a small community and having somewhere to call home, albeit a tent on the side of the road, created some normality for those individuals. However, last year they were evicted from ‘tent city’ as the University of Manchester gained a possession order for the site.
A year on, homelessness is still a significant issue in Manchester. Evicting the homeless from ‘tent city’ did not lead to the community being re-homed or put in temporary accommodation; they simply moved to another street. In order to tackle the issue, more needs to be done.
The root causes of homelessness like drug addiction, alcoholism, abuse, or unemployment, need to be addressed. There are many wonderful charities that have been founded to combat homelessness and offer a helping hand, including societies at the University of Manchester.
Often, all these people want is a kind word, a friendly smile, a cup of tea or a spare cigarette. Get involved with the charities at University or volunteer in a soup kitchen, so that one day homelessness can be eradicated.