Opportunity for all
What motivates you? Money, people – new challenges? Recently, I looked at the root of the word ‘motivation’, and it’s Latin root comes from the idea of ‘to move through life’. In my role at AND Digital, I invest my time and experience in understanding people’s motivation, and how to help them make the most of the opportunities ahead of them here. And that got me thinking. Every day, we learn something new by a simple motivational choice that leads us down a particular path, and all because we feel, at that moment, that the decision we are about to make is the right choice.
We all have choices. Choices we make can define the path we take throughout our life. Choices we make can be great, and can lead to new challenges. Choices we make can lead to opportunities, or misfortune.
All choices lead to experience – whether good, or not so good.
Homelessness in the UK
When it comes to the homeless in the UK, choices and motivation are endlessly discussed in the press and around the dinner table. When you see someone on the streets ‘begging’, do you acknowledge them? Do you look away; or do you walk past like they’re a ghost? Many of us feel ashamed, embarrassed or distressed when confronted by people living homeless on the streets. And how many of us inwardly condemn the choices we assume they made? How many of us feel, somewhere deep inside, that they did something to deserve their misfortune?
Yet, the stark reality is that we’re all much closer than we think to knowing someone who has been, came close to – or in fact, is – homeless.
And choices do play their part – but not at all in the way most of us assume. The causes of homelessness are many – and people who sleep on the streets do so through necessity. Often, it’s because they have had to make a stark choice, out of fear for their own safety and the security of the little possessions they have. You may feel that sounds extreme, silly, or even poorly prepared. Afterall, can anything be that bad? Why would anyone choose to sleep in a shop doorway?
There’s only one way to find out: ask.
The stories behind the statistics
I went walking on Sunday 24th June 2018 at around 19:00 to talk to some of the people who were on the streets close to me, and I spoke to both men and women, either on their own or in groups.
A group of three gentlemen, based around Piccadilly Gardens (I pass them regularly on my walk to the office) were happy to talk – and all were on the streets for very different reasons. Stephen, Russ and Marty were polite and friendly; they consciously adapted their vocabulary when talking to me, this I appreciated and believe their respect towards others shined through in that moment more so. I’ve written two case studies below of Russ and a lady called Suzie, to highlight how their homelessness came about:
Slim built, with greying hair and blue eyes, Russ is in his late 50s. He had worked for a ‘Blue Chip’ organisation for over 19 years. In 2014, he was unfortunately made redundant due to an organisational restructure. He lived with his partner at the time, when he lost his job and the support provided was not sufficient to help him as he tried to secure another role – or even to keep up the payment for the property without being left short on other living costs.
Russ discussed how he had tried to go for the roles that he felt best suited him within the industry and at a suitable salary – but he didn’t have much success. Russ became less motivated, and soon became depressed from the lack of opportunities that presented themselves to him. It wasn’t long until he missed payments on his home, and his relationship felt the pressures, causing it to end.
Russ felt he didn’t know the ‘right’ person to turn to, as he had never experienced or known anyone who had experienced this before. He was naturally very low, and started numbing the feeling of failure with drink, followed by drug use. He felt out of control, out of luck and soon had nothing to his name. He described to me how he went to the ‘obvious’ channels, such as the local council. They were only able to provide him on a ‘first come, first served’ accommodation option.
Russ told me how, when he was lucky enough to get to the accommodation early enough to secure a bed, hee then had other challenges. These included keeping his things safe, whether that was his food and drink, or his shoes. Despite all this, Russ told me that he understood that when people feel fear, they become desperate and can act out towards others. Russ has had his clothes stolen, been physically hurt by others – and yet the most endearing thing about Russ was how he still had empathy for why other people, facing their own ‘bad luck’, act in a certain manner.
Suzie has dark brown hair and light brown eyes, she is 23 years old. This in itself, her age gave me a strong feeling of sadness, but also one of anger.
Suzie told me she was in care as a child, and wasn’t the most ‘easy’ child to look after. She associated herself with a male dominated group of ‘friends’ who liked to stay out late, take drugs and ‘take risks’ through committing petty crimes. Once Suzie turned 18, she was given support to get a job and find somewhere to live. She ended up working in a convenience store, however still continued to associate herself with her circle of ‘friends’. Soon, Suzie was sacked due to these friends being disruptive whilst she was working. With the loss of her job, homelessness for Suzie became a real risk
Suzie next moved in with a friend – and the relationship soon became something more. However, the relationship took a turn for the worse, and Suzie still bears the scars of domestic violence. Now, she stays between hostels and on the streets. She told me there is a sense of community amongst the homeless, and they support each other in hard times. This helps her remember there are kind people out there.
Recapping on the statistics
Having talked to these individuals and learned their stories, I wanted to understand the scale of the problem – in my local area around Club Kilburn, and the wider country.
Total number of homeless people, June – December 2016
- Manchester – 2895
- Oldham – 73
- Rochdale – 237
- Wigan – 82
- Trafford – 240
- Tameside – 141
- Bury – 73
- Stockport – 152
- Bolton – 165
- Salford – 280
- Greater Manchester – 4,428
(Source: Manchester Evening News)
How many homeless people are there in the UK?
Approximately 4,750 homeless people were recorded in 2017, increasing from 4,134 in 2016. This statistic does not, however, include those who have been given a bed for the night in a hostel or shelter. 2017 statistics are yet to be broken down, but looking at the information found, the homeless crisis has increased by a further 21%. (Source: www.homeless.org.uk).
What are the main root causes behind homelessness in the UK?
- Stigma: as humans, we can be very good at judging scenarios, circumstances and others.
- Traumatic events: these commonly include unemployment (job loss, redundancy, lack of opportunity through uncertainty and little support), family breakdown, or loss of loved ones.
- Poverty: including a lack of affordable housing.
- Conflict and instability: domestic abuse, health challenges (including mental health and substance abuse).
It goes without saying that this list is non-exhaustive.
Time to make a difference
I have been one of those statistics. I have been one of those stories. Through making a decision that I felt was the only choice, I left myself in a vulnerable situation.
We all make poor choices at one point or another. Our motivation isn’t always driven by the best circumstances. We’re all human, after all. My own experience taught me that everybody deserves a second chance.
I’ve been one of the ‘lucky ones’ – that’s what some people tell me. I appreciate the sentiment, but it still leaves me angry: why should I be the ‘lucky one’? Why is homelessness even a thing in this day and age? And in today’s climate, where is the compassion and support for these people?
The saying goes that charity starts at home. So let’s start, because we are home: Manchester is my home. Russ and Suzie are my neighbours – not numbers, not stereotypes.
It’s time we became a lifeline for those who need it most. In the coming months, AND Digital will be working in partnership with Street Support, enabling more people to find employment – we’ll share more on this in upcoming posts.
We will be looking at sharing ideas and resources over the the coming months. For those who would like to get involved within AND Digital, keep your eyes on our central Slack channel #helping-and.
- Street Support – https://streetsupport.net/manchester/
- Big Change – https://streetsupport.net/manchester/bigchangemcr/
- Mayor’s Fund – https://uk.gofundme.com/GM-Mayoral-Fund
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