Five Common Myths About Homelessness
JEN DURRANT undermines the common myths around homelessness, ahead of Student Volunteering Week.
Homelessness. You see a dishevelled individual at the corner of the road and you make assumptions about how they got there, their personalities and strength of mind and their resultant disposition. Their position seems far from our own.
However, it’s Student Volunteering week, so The Cambridge Hub speak to us to explain five common myths about homelessness. Believing the homeless should be blamed for their lifestyle and that it is their responsibility to get out of it, is completely Victorian.
1. “It’s their own fault.”
It’s not. There are lots of reasons why people become homeless. Often, it’s because of a mixture of relationship, money and health problems that come together at the wrong time and make people’s lives spiral out of control. There are broader issues, too: the supply of affordable housing in this country hasn’t kept up with demand, and the recent economic downturn and changes to the benefits system mean more people are being made vulnerable, through no fault of their own. Between 2010 and 2012, as the effects of the recession set in, the government estimates that the number of rough-sleepers rose by over 30%. Clearly, this is beyond an individual’s control.
2. “They’re all dangerous and aggressive.”
Homeless people are no more aggressive than anyone else. If they’re living on the streets, they’re 13 times more likely to be attacked than the rest of us, often by non-homeless passers-by. Many are too busy keeping themselves alive to even think about hurting others. And, if you stop to say hello, you’ll realise that most homeless people are friendly, interesting and grateful for the chance to chat. They are human, after all.
3. “They’re all drunks or drug addicts.”
Homeless people are as diverse and unique as the rest of us. As a group they are more likely to die from drug- and alcohol-related diseases. But that doesn’t mean they’re all crazy or dangerous. Many are teetotal. Others have an occasional drink to warm themselves on yet another night in the freezing cold. And of those who do suffer from addiction, the vast majority have never received the support they need to help address the childhood, relationship or mental health issues that got them there in the first place. But step inside a hostel, and you’d be surprised how many don’t do drugs or alcohol at all.
4. “If they wanted to, they could sort themselves out.”
Sadly, this is easier said than done. The sheer effort of keeping yourself alive with no food, money, shelter or support means you’ll have very little energy left to do anything else. Getting a job is out of the question. Even finding a hostel to sleep in is difficult, as there aren’t enough services for the rising numbers of people in need. In the current economic climate, funding for night shelters, addiction services and supported housing continues to be cut, making it even harder for people to break the vicious cycle of the homelessness trap.
5. “It’s got nothing to do with me.”
Think there’s no chance you’ll ever be homeless? Think again. I’ve met people with a first-class degree, a supportive family, a good job and no mental health issues, who’ve still been made homeless. It can happen to anyone. The good news is, we can all do something to help. Whether it’s campaigning for more affordable housing, donating to a homeless charity or simply stopping to chat with someone on the streets, we all have the opportunity to make a difference. The question is, will you take it?
It’s Student Volunteering Week from Monday 24th February to Sunday 2nd March. This is to celebrate the good work that many already do at Cambridge and ARU, and around the country. There will be sessions that team up with Student Community Action and a Skillsfest. One in ten students are believed to be unemployed six months after graduating, developing skills beyond the lecture theatre can only be a benefit.
Follow these links for more information on the layout of the week:
The Cambridge Hub fb page: https://www.facebook.com/CambridgeHub?fref=ts
Hub website: http://www.cambridgehub.org/
Hub twitter: https://twitter.com/CambridgeHub
Hub blog: http://thecambridgehub.wordpress.com/
Streetbite fb page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2202770123/