Take a moment and picture what ‘homelessness’ looks like… is it indoors or out? Is it hot or cold? What can you hear?
Now picture ‘homeless’… is anything the same as homelessness? Is anything different? Is anything you picture based on your own memories? What feelings does it provoke?
Finally, picture ‘home’… did you immediately relax at that thought? Is the picture created a happy one? Somewhere safe? Are there other people in that picture? How does it compare to the other pictures you’ve generated?
I’m going to try to guess what you pictured…
‘Homelessness’ is outdoors; it’s cold and it’s wet; you can hear other people distantly, see some cardboard, maybe some bags and a few bottles.
‘Homeless’ is a person. They are sat on a pavement hunched over. It’s still wet and cold but the noise is nearer. It’s a memory but not of anyone specific – a generic person, a generic street. The main feeling provoked is pity.
And finally, ‘home’… you physically relaxed at the thought. You pictured somewhere calm and comforting. There are loved ones there (be it human or animal). It’s somewhere you feel able to influence the environment of; you know where things are, you can move at will, there are things belonging to you… you feel safe and attached and that you belong.
Was I close?
Here’s what I picture when I think of those words
Homelessness. I see a person behind a desk asking for the impossible. I see forms. I see queues of people. I see hard plastic chairs. I hear sighing. I feel fear, sadness and judgement.
Homeless. I picture different faces of people I’ve known. I picture myself. I picture a bedsit with concrete walls, a concrete floor and with a lock on the door. I hear banging, shouting, doors slamming, intercoms buzzing, sirens. I feel fear, sadness and judgement.
Home. On this I’m pulled in three different directions. The first is one of the houses I lived with my parents. I try not to dwell on those memories but materially I never wanted for anything. The second is where my grandparents live(d). There was always love in that house and the smell of cooking in the air.
And finally, I stop picturing and look around me. Where I’m sat is home. It’s the best home I’ve had. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but it’s warm and cosy. It’s a place I hate leaving and look forward to returning to. It’s got more books than I could ever read. It has a cat in it who likes to yell at me for not turning the bath tap on so she can have a drink. In the last example I feel no fear, no sadness and the only judgement is my own against myself
There is a huge disconnect between homeless(ness) and home. There is a huge disconnect between versions of homeless(ness) and home. One person’s thoughts of what home looks, sounds, smells, feels like can be extremely different to another, and so we mustn’t ever judge another person’s thoughts on what homeless(ness) looks, sounds, smells, feels like.
The building I picture for homeless was technically not. It was accommodation. It was housed. However, it made me feel all the same emotions as when I really was homeless. So, who can tell me I wasn’t? If someone lives somewhere where nothing is amiss materially, but they live in fear that is generated from being in that building… are they not homeless? If someone is happy, they have all they want and need and are where they want to be but it’s in a tent… is that not a home?
Our own preconceptions and memories influence what we mean by home, homeless and homelessness. Maybe we all need to reflect on what we mean by those three common, complex words and see if we are talking about the same thing. After all, we are striving to ensure everyone has a home but maybe, just maybe, the image we have is someone else’s picture of being homeless.
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