The often narrow perception of homelessness held within the public consciousness is something that Listen Up was designed to counter.
‘What does it matter what people think?’ was a question someone asked me recently. And part of me, you know, the part that ignores judgement and just gets on with it, kind of agrees with the insinuated answer to that question. It doesn’t matter one little bit.
But while it may not matter to my own view of myself as someone with experience of homelessness, from sofa surfing to sleeping rough, it does matter. And it matters a lot.
When people associate homelessness with a specific type of person their subsequent thinking about the causes, effects and solutions to it are built on the foundation of that misconception.
At the most extreme end of the stereotyping scale, we have white 50-year-old drug addicted men with mental health issues sleeping rough. If we let the blindfold down a bit you start to include those people who are young and homeless due to some sort of family conflict or another and women escaping domestic abuse.
By focusing on stereotypes in this way we exclude certain other groups and individuals, and we fail to see how homelessness impacts, as it does, many different individual people with their own stories.
We also fail to see homelessness as a systemic social problem, that alongside people’s experience of health issues, addictions, family dissolution or domestic violence, can often be the direct result of poverty.
Many of these perceptions and stereotypes are produced by the use of tired old images of broken people in shop doorways. These are often the type of pictures used by the media to accompany any article about homelessness but it is my understanding that it’s a practice that was first utilised by charities like Shelter and Crisis to illicit pity for the purpose of raising funds. Unfortunately, it has led to this idea that homelessness is a rough sleeper in a sleeping bag in a shop doorway with a begging bowl and possibly a dog.
Like I said, these misconceptions are not going to be very helpful when it comes to service delivery. And while there has been a marked improvement in the way charities have been run over the past twenty years these misconceptions and stereotypes endure within the public consciousness.
It is my hope that Listen Up is an important part of a true renaissance in the way we think about people with experience of homelessness.