Blogs Reports

Homeless Communities

Reported by Mat

Published on Tuesday, May 30th, 2023

Advocacy Community Creativity Support and Relationships
Blogs Reports

Homeless Communities

Written by Mat

Published on Tuesday, May 30th, 2023




Support and Relationships

As far back as my memory goes, my primary desire in life has been to connect to others and be part of communities (not all of them of course.) For example, it has never been a goal of mine to be a paid-up member of the Hereford National Front or the Women’s Institute come to mention it.  

I’m sure there’s more than a few psychoanalysts out there who would say that this desire in me was fueled by my constantly moving from one country to another as child.  You know, the idea that just as I was getting to know people they’d be gone, making me crave the security of belonging to a secure ongoing community. But I think it was a lot more than this. I love sharing. I love sharing experiences, skills and above all, love and respect.  

So, for me, growing up in Thatcher’s Britain was a dystopian nightmare. Self as everything was a belief system that was drilled into us. Caring and sharing was portrayed as a weakness and we were told that we would all be better off if as individuals if we all  tried to OINK our way to the top. The deserving would succeed, and the rest would get what we deserved – trickle down.  

The graphic image in my head is of successful and powerful people dinning at a huge table with gold plates. The more greedy these people are the better the rest of us do because their overflowing plates and awful table manners mean more scraps will fall towards the floor and the grateful hands of the wretched poor. Thatcherism was brutal greed dressed up as positive ambition. It was a baboon in a dinner jacket.  

I could write all day about the failure of monetarism, Thatcher’s grand economic policy that took the British economy to its knees, but that’s not what this piece is about. It’s about communities and I’m talking about Thatcher because she hated them. Perhaps it’s as simple as divide and rule but I really think there is more to it. I think she just hadn’t experienced the joy of being part of a community that was bigger than herself. She may have been a sociopath, incapable of empathetic connection or maybe her life experience had left her bitter, but whatever the reason, I can’t help feeling sorry for someone who fails to see the importance of community.  

When we think about the experience of being homeless, we often think about isolation and loneliness but there are different and powerful communities that people with experience of homelessness can be part of.  

Each of these communities has its own implications. While homelessness can be an isolating experience, there can be a strong bond created between people who share the same often difficult experiences. Here are a few aspects that can define the experience of being part of a community while being homeless: 

Support and Solidarity: Homeless communities can provide a sense of support and solidarity to people experiencing homelessness because the shared experience helps us to understand the challenges and struggles associated with homelessness. As part of these communities, we often share resources, information, and emotional support to help one another navigate our circumstances.  

Shared Spaces: Homeless communities can develop in any place where we gather, such as shelters, soup kitchens, or encampments. These spaces allow us to interact, exchange stories, build relationships, and offer a sense of belonging.  

Mutual Aid: In a homeless community, there can be a culture of mutual aid, where individuals help each other in practical ways. This may include sharing food, clothing, blankets, or other necessities, or collaborating on finding temporary shelter or job opportunities. 

Advocacy and Activism: Some homeless communities organize to advocate for rights and work towards improving our living conditions. By joining forces, we can amplify our voice, raise awareness about homelessness, and push for social and policy change. 

Creative Expression: Homeless communities often foster creative expression as a means of coping and communication. People may engage in activities such as storytelling, music, art, or writing, which not only provide an outlet for self-expression but can also contribute to building a sense of identity and purpose. Blogging means that anyone with a few quid can go to an internet café and write a piece that is immediately online for the world to see. And there are publications such as the Pavement and Homeless Diamonds that feature content from writers experiencing homelessness,  

The production of creative material is one thing, but society is starting to understand the importance of listening to people who have experience of the issue they are writing about. People with experience of homelessness can bolster their self-esteem by creating not just written pieces talking about what it is like to be homeless but also art in its broadest sense. Organisations such as Accumulate find and nurture talent among the homeless community. Established in 2014, Accumulate uses creativity to improve the well being of young people who are affected by homelessness. They work with hostels and housing organisations to deliver learning experiences and showcasing opportunities in art, photography, creative writing, audio-visual production, fashion and other creative disciplines. 

Other Communities. There are also a number of communities out there that offer support to people with experience of homelessness. Probably the best known and biggest of these is the Anonymous organisations – Alcoholics, Narcotics and more recently Cocaine and Dual Diagnosis. For some this community is everything and that level of commitment and a structure based on religions symbology sometimes leads to the misconception that these organisations are cults. My advice is not to be scared off by that perception. If you are finding it difficult to stop using drugs or alcohol and you feel like you’ve tried everything else, give NA or AA a whirl. Like any other community you can check out anytime but unlike addiction you can leave whenever you want.  

It’s important to note that the experience of being part of a homeless community can vary drastically depending on the specific context and location. Additionally, being part of a community does not diminish the challenges and hardships that come with homelessness, but they can offer a vital support system and a sense of connection for individuals who might otherwise feel marginalized or alone. 

Yes, homelessness can be isolating and lonely which is why communities are essential as a means of both practical and emotional support. When I was homeless, I was part of a community of squatters, shoplifters and friends that gave me practical tips on how to survive without a safe and secure home. Once I found myself in recovery, I sought out more formal communities such as the Pavement Magazine which led me to my job in Groundswell and I joined the Outside In project at the Recovery College in Rushworth Street. These communities gave me context and perspective and the opportunities flowed from there.  

No matter what people say, we are not better off on our own. Together we can support each other and utilise each other strengths to lessen the impact of each other’s weakness.




Written by Mat

Mat came to Groundswell in 2018 after several years as a volunteer for the Pavement Magazine where he is now Deputy Editor. Part of his role at the Pavement was to help deliver ‘From the Ground Up’, a partnership between the Pavement and Groundswell that taught core journalism skills to people with lived experience of homelessness. As a Project Officer he continues to develop his one on one interview skills and runs focus groups all over the country. Mat’s involved in all parts of the research process, helping to produce: research frameworks; the foundation questions for semi-structured qualitative interviews and focus groups,; the content of quantitative surveys and data analysis. He also has experience of speaking at conferences, working on grant applications, podcast production and as a consultant for film production.

Read all of Mat's articles


Advocacy Community Creativity Support and Relationships

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