I decided to study the homeless' situation before we went to England, so I tried to get information about it via the internet, but it was so much information that I soon gave up...
When we got to England I thought about changing subject to the pub culture because it seemed easier to write about, but after a few days I had seen so many homeless people that I got used to it and therefor dared to talk to them and ask them questions about their situation and why they where homeless. Many people just walked right by the homeless without even look at them (rather the reverse, look another way), but other people stopped to talk to them and buy their paper.
I've used the homeless people as sources and also their paper. When I came home I searched on the internet to get information and there was a lot of it, so I choosed some headings and took a closer look at them.
I thought, before I went to England, that every homeless person was that by his/her own choice, but after talking to them and read about it I know that some of the homeless is that by their own choice. They choose to be homeless for different reasons, like a protest against the society or just to try the homeless life.
25% of the homeless are war veterans and most of them from Vietnam. They are mentally traumatised by their war experiences, some of them are disable and others are just unable to find work so they can pay a rent.
25% of the homeless are children and many of them are alone. They're maybe run-aways who left home because there was no food at home, or because they're victims of rape, incest or violence. Many of them are "throwaways", whose parents tell them to leave home or won't allow them to return home once they've left.
Many of the homeless are elderly people with fixed income, and I guess that's not the traditional image of homeless people. They receive about £450 a month in benefits and if they pay £350 for rent it's pretty logical that they can't live a decent life. Many elderly people are living in poverty in an apartment with no proper heating, no water etc., and many of the elderly homeless are afraid to go to soup kitchens or shelters, so they aren't seen on the streets.
There's a lot of myths going around about the homeless. Very often these myths are told by someone without any or with just a little knowledge about the homeless people and their life. Here's some of the myths:
Myth: They want to be homeless.
Fact: Some of them yes, but less than 6% of the homeless are homeless by their own choice. I spoke to a man who told me he used to live in Scotland, and that he had a house of his own, a TV, a VCR and so on, but after a concert in London about a year ago, he decided to stay in Brighton to try "the homeless life". Now he tried to earn money, so he could get home to Scotland again.
Myth: They are heavy drug users and mentally ill.
Fact: About 25% of the homeless are emotionally disturbed, but that has a lot to do with that many of them has suffered from child abuse or violence. About 25% uses drugs, but many of them are included in them who suffers from mental illness.
Myth: They don't work.
Fact: 25% of the homeless work full- or part- time. The problem is that people earning a minimum wage doesn't earn enough to support a family of three or rent an apartment in the inner-city. There's also many of the homeless people who aren't able to work and there's many reasons why.
The homeless in England has their own paper called The Big Issue. They write about things that might interest themselves, but also about homeless people, so that the people buying it can read about the homeless' situation. The homeless people buys the paper for 40p and sell it for 70p, but to earn more money they say they don't have change for a pound.
In The Big Issue I bought I read about a girl who cut herself and walked in the streets with bleeding arms. Nobody seemed to care, she said, or maybe they were afraid...
How to help?
On the internet I found a lot of ways to help the homeless, but some of the things were not realistic...at least not in my opinion. There was a page called "7 meaningful things you can do to help the homeless":
1. Show the homeless respect.(Talk to them or give them a smile. This helps to break down the sense of worthlessness and isolation that a homeless person easily gets.)
2. Don't give cash. ("It can be used to buy drugs or alcohol, so it doesn't solve the problem" according to this page, but I think it's OK to give money so the homeless can buy food and other necessary things.)
3. Pray for them (as a non-believer, I find this useless, but for people believing I guess it helps.)
4. Realize that the homeless are not all the same. (As I wrote before, I discovered that when I spoke to the man from Scotland.)
5. Encourage them to get help. (Like the elderly I wrote about before, who are ashamed of going to a shelter or a soup-kitchen.)
6. Get informed! (To help the homeless and prevent yourself from being just an observer, but also to prevent all the myths.)
7. Give! (You have more property than a homeless person, and a lot of it you probably don't need, so give for example your old toys to a homeless child.)
These 7 things were just a few of all those on the net. I also found something called "54 Ways You Can Help The Homeless". It was, as it says, a list of things you can do for the homeless, but it was a little different from the things listed above. Here's a few of them:
What to give
A bag of groceries.
Tutor homeless children.
Take homeless children on a trip.
Educate your children (and yourself) about the homeless.
Collect toys and games for donations.
Play with children in a shelter.
Other things to do
Volunteer at a shelter.
Use birthday parties to help.
Employ the homeless.
As far as I know, we don't have anything like the English homelessness here in Sweden and I'm glad we haven't, because wherever I went in Brighton I saw homeless people lying in the lanes or standing in the streets, begging for money or selling their paper.
This has been an interesting work to do and I've learned a lot about the homeless situation, but the most interesting thing I discovered was that many homeless people was that by his/her own choice and many of them can get out of it if they struggle enough.
Source: Essay UK - http://www.essay.uk.com/coursework/homelessness-in-england.php